Judge Adam Arseneau knows your name. In fact, he's watching you right now.
Our reviews of Cheers: The Complete First Season (published July 14th, 2003), Cheers: The Complete Second Season (published March 8th, 2004), Cheers: The Complete Third Season (published July 12th, 2004), Cheers: The Complete Fourth Season (published February 9th, 2005), Cheers: The Complete Sixth Season (published October 10th, 2005), Cheers: The Complete Seventh Season (published November 15th, 2005), Cheers: The Complete Eighth Season (published June 21st, 2006), Cheers: The Final Season (published February 12th, 2009), Cheers: The Ninth Season (published April 23rd, 2008), and Fan Favorites: The Best of Cheers (published March 8th, 2012) are also available.
Sam: "Can you believe that? She canceled on me!"
Having reviewed the last three seasons of Cheers single-handedly for this site, I find myself once gain reviewing number four, suddenly in an unenviable position, one I never imagined I would ever find myself in…running out of good things to say about Cheers. Or, at the very least, non-redundant things.
Luckily, I can go out with a bang here. Season Five is the best season of the show, hands down.
Facts of the Case
Sam: "I'm kinda worried that Diane may get hurt."
Paramount keeps up its brisk DVD release schedule with Cheers: The Complete Fifth Season, a four-disc set containing all 26 episodes:
• The Proposal
• Knights Of The Scimitar
• Simon Says
Sam: "Due to our desire to be conjoined, Diane and I would like you to
celebrate with us by toasting our nuptials."
Season Five. This is the golden season, the brilliant season, the season where every element becomes incredibly cohesive, well-oiled, perfectly executed, and flawless. Jokes are perfectly timed, the cast is lucid and relaxed with one another, and everything just works on such a profound level that it could make a cynical, jaded sitcom writer weep. Season Five also marks the last season of Diane (Shelley Long), which, in my mind, marks the end of the best episodes of Cheers. Everything past Season Six features Kirstie Alley, who admittedly goes a good job with the material available, but the show never felt quite the same to me. It is a credit to the disturbing longevity of the show that it managed to stay consistently funny for…hell, until the very last episode, but the best episodes were in the first five years.
I raved about Season Four, and if there was a season that might actually be better, it would be it; but Season Five edges it out in the end, at least in my eyes. We have Frasier (Kelsey Grammar, Frasier) who has integrated himself as key member of the bar gang, graduating from the ranks of walk-in filler to fully functioning, bitterly analytical cast member. All hands have embraced Woody (Woody Harrelson, Natural Born Killers from the get-go, filling in the shoes of the departed Coach with even more naïvety and sweetness than his forebear, which is hard to even imagine. Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth, Law & Order: Trial by Jury) even starts appearing more regularly; her one-shot appearance in the last season proving so popular that the show's producers decided to make her a semi-regular character, moving her in with the good doctor, the perfect ying to Dr. Crane's yang. (And yes, I typed that sentence just to use the expression "Dr. Crane's yang." Sue me…Don't, actually.)
In all honesty, Frasier and Lilith's fledgling relationship, in of itself, could carry the entire season of the show alone; the intensely analytical-slash-animalistic relationship between the two psychiatrists laid all the deep emotional baggage for Frasier's ultimate spin-off into infamy (and my all-time favorite Cheers episode, which I will go into more later.) Luckily, Sam and Diane manage to keep pace with the on-again, off-again marriage proposal; Diane initially rejects Sam, then tries vehemently to convince him to re-pop the question. Admittedly, it gets slightly silly between the two of them, compared to previous seasons of romantic tension, but the heartbreaking departure of Diane at the end of the season more than makes up for the lighthearted fare.
Two of my all-time favorite episodes appear this season: "Cheers: the Motion Picture" and "Dinner at Eight-ish." The former involves Diane making a movie about Woody's life at Cheers to convince his parents to let him stay in Boston, which becomes so avant-garde and hilariously pretentious ("derivative of Godard," says Woody's father); and the latter involves Frasier and Lilith inviting Sam and Diane over to their new apartment for a nice, pleasant dinner…until Lilith finds out that Sam and Frasier used to be engaged, a fact Frasier conveniently failed to mention. I cannot claim that I have seen every single episode of Cheers, since I occasionally do things like go outside, have a job, and maintain relationships with the opposite sex; but I can say with all certainty that, out of the absurdly large number of episodes I have seen, that these are the best, hands down. This DVD set is worth buying simply for these fine episodes alone, and I cannot properly articulate how happy I am to retire my ratty VHS tape of syndicated reruns from 15 years ago, especially since I threw away my VHS player last year.
Cheers: The Complete Fifth Season boasts comparable audio and visual presentations as the previous seasons, with excellent sharpness, decent black levels, and the earth-tone color scheme that popularized the look of the show reproduced faithfully on DVD. I actually felt that the quality took a slight dive in Season Five in terms of visual quality, but this may simply be due to the fact that the source material is slightly more damaged and grainy. Why, I have no idea. Edges get slightly jagged and aliased more frequently than previous seasons as well, but overall, the show still looks great considering its age. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track is totally functional, rarely required to reproduce anything more exciting than the dialogue (nice and tight in the center) and the yuks of the studio audience, pumped into the rear channels. Overall, the presentation is entirely acceptable; lacking zest or zing, instead opting for meticulous functionality, which does the job just fine.
As with the previous season, Paramount has kindly provided a "play all" feature, in merciless exchange for all supplementary material of any kind. This is at best, a mixed blessing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I had to think long, long and hard to find something bad to say about the most glorious season of Cheers, beyond the normal griping of previous seasons that never got resolved: lack of subtitles, lack of special material, and all that crap. I wasted my breath in three reviews complaining about that; five DVD releases later, and it doesn't seem likely they will ever be addressed. So I'm moving on.
I came up with something, finally, after many hours of deliberation, taxing my precognitive abilities as a long-standing Cheers fan. And here it is: they did not include the fake season finale ending.
At the end of the fifth season, to mask the fact that Shelley Long was leaving the show, a false alternate ending was shot where Diane and Sam wed happily. This proved to be a completely useless maneuver on the part of the studio, since the gossip columns were abuzz with nothing else except Long's imminent departure for movies (and I cannot help but add a "ha ha" to that). It was a totally pointless endeavor, as the cat was so out of the bag that this was like throwing the bag at the cat as it ran off into the distance.
If this lost episode exists somewhere, it does not exist on this DVD set. And that is a crying shame. Because now, odds are nobody will ever get to see it.
Sam: "Now after everything I just said, do you think that Diane and I
will ever get back together again?
Cheers: The Complete Fifth Season will probably be the end of my Cheers collecting on DVD, and I am okay with that. I feel no need to continue with the series beyond this point. The following seasons are certainly full of goodness (the bar wars with Gary's, for example), but for me, all my good memories are wrapped up in Season Five. It is the best of the best of a show already beset with 11 seasons of pure goodness.
If you had to buy just one season of Cheers to personify everything good about the show, this is the one to add to your collection. Carve that in stone. Then buy it.
A verdict is not even required. Cheers is free to go, along with my watch. And my wallet.
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