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Cheers and Frasier and Everything In Between: A Double Review
A Few Necessary Notes
I was introduced to the show Frasier when I was young, and even though I enjoyed it, there were nuances that went over my head. Some of them were pop culture or political references that I wouldn't have understood at my age, but most of them were because of the subtle and not-so-subtle references to the previous show Cheers.
The two shows are inevitably connected with the character of Dr. Frasier Crane as he moves from Boston to Seattle. Both shows are humorous and timeless, with witty banter and strong character development. While Frasier most certainly holds merits on its own, it becomes stronger with the reference of Cheers when previous characters reappear and references to the bar surface.
Cheers was produced in the mid-80's up to the mid-90's (that's a total of 11 seasons!) as a situational comedy revolving around the employees and regulars at a Boston bar. There are characters such as Sam Malone, Norm Peterson, Carla Tortelli and Cliff Clavin who remain consistent from the first to last episode, but most characters come and go as appropriate. The series can arguably be divided into two sections: Diane Chambers and Rebecca Howe. When Diane is in the show, Ernie "Coach" Pantusso is a staple character. Certainly there's no determined cut-off between the original and then newer set of characters, as Frasier indeed appears during Diane's time as a bartender. His introduction into the show allows him to be a regular that stays through the exiting of Diane as a character and the entering of Rebecca. With the "era" of Rebecca also comes the new bartender to replace the deceased Coach (whose actor unfortunately died, thus dictating his sudden disappearance from the show). Woody Boyd becomes the sort of "younger" version of Coach, and arguably the last major character addition. Indeed Woody's soon-to-be wife and Frasier's infamous Lilith play major roles, but their characters are dependent upon the strength and presence of their male counterparts.
The show itself remains almost exclusively within the context of the bar, though as the series progresses the viewer gets a more intimate look at the lives of the characters. Many of the personal dramas and situations that arise are set within the bar and its character conflicts, or they are solved/addressed throughout the episode without much involvement from outside sources. Each character, as well, has their own little personality within the bar's setting. Norm, while a mundane and unproductive husband at home, has a clever quip to share at his every entrance and can be seen as the permanent installment at the bar's corner. Cliff is known for his horribly timed facts and his inability to be a normal or competent man. Sam of course is known for being the Casanova of Boston, while Coach and then Woody seem to lack in book smarts and/or common sense. These are just a few of the personalities that appear within the bar - everyone, however, no matter how insignificant to the actual story or how impermanent, has something about them.
Frasier has many of the same qualities that Cheers does, in that sense of strong character development and distinctive personality traits. The major difference (aside from a change in cities) is that events tend to take place in several difference locations around Seattle ranging from Frasier's home to his radio station, etc etc. The characters also tend not to change quite as significantly.
Frasier revolves around the Frasier Crane from Cheers and his family in Seattle. After his divorce from his wife Lilith, Frasier moves to Seattle to start anew and gets hired as a radio psychiatrist. At the very beginning of the show, Frasier's family is introduced around the context that his father needs to move in with him. Frasier's brother Niles Crane, his father Martin Crane, and his father's health care assistant Daphne Moon are the main characters of the show, along with Frasier's radio producer Roz Doyle. Although the cast list seems minimal, the show definitely makes use of them and their comical connections with other fleeting contributions. In fact, radio call-ins that occur throughout the seasons can often be recognized as established celebrities.
Frasier takes place most primarily in Frasier's radio station booth, his apartment, and his regular coffee house that he frequents along with his brother Niles on a daily basis. As the show continues the characters slowly begin to intermingle and take on personal lives independent of their place of work. Daphne slowly becomes a more prominent character, and Roz's role begins to extend past the walls of the recording booth. Even Frasier becomes more disconnected from his show (in the sense that it is no longer essential for following and relating to his character). All in all, the personal stories of each of the characters develops and expands as the series continues.
Some Interesting Parallels
Roz vs Carla: Both of these characters, while hardly twins, do exhibit similar character traits that make them interesting parallels to one another. Both are known for getting around their respective cities, as well as their harsh and blunt attitudes towards many subjects. The difference of course is the actual content of their life: Roz has always been and remains unmarried while Carla is a divorcée along with a mother of eight who occasionally becomes seriously involved in her relationships. The humorous caricature each adds to their shows, however, is notably similar and neither fail to make the audience laugh as strong, independent female figures.
Vera vs Maris: These two women, though perhaps completely opposite both physically and personality-wise, are strikingly similar in the roles that they play in their respective shows. Both women are profiled by their husbands and the opinions of the characters around them. This makes them unique because of the fact that they are so well detailed and characterized through their contextual significance. There is an odd sense of knowing both women but having no idea about them, an interesting phenomenon that connects the two inevitably. Neither women are actually seen in their series, either, and they are more or less negatively described by their spouses. One of the mysteries that revolves around each of the women is the fact that the overzealous descriptions of their characters leaves the imagination to see physically impossible figures that could never actually exist. In spite of their lack of actual presence, these women are not only characters in themselves, but serve as highlights to their husbands and others that they might have interacted with or that have strong opinions about them.
Witty Banter: Both shows are similar in part because of their similar sense of humor. Quick puns, plays on words and speedy reparte make these two shows clever and constantly fascinating. In both shows, each individual character has his/her own strong personality which comes with their own speech patterns and syntactical discrepancies. These, mixed with one another and scripted carefully, collide to make interesting dialogues that stay true to the characters and keep the audience at attention.
The Humor of Miscommunication: This is a tool used universally in sitcoms wherein the characters are involved in an elaborate miscommunication that warrants hilarious results. Cheers and Frasier stand out, however, because of their particular skill in this field. The miscommunication runs from start to finish with each detail of fault being carefully conducted. This ranges from the placement of the characters, the speed of the scenes themselves, the words spoken and the words left out, as well as the dramatic irony the audience is allowed by knowing what is happening while the rest of the cast does not.
Favorite Places: This is obvious in Cheers, considering the fact that the show revolves around this "neighborhood bar". However, the sentiments continue with Frasier, in which the amount of regular sets increases. While in Cheers the two main places remained the bar and the seafood restaurant that ran above it, Frasier hosts scenes regularly in not only the radio booth but also in the local coffeehouse and in Frasier's own home. The odd quality of being outside of these sets remains throughout both series, however, and exposure to the outside world is minimal at best, with an obvious digression in detail and personality.
The transition from Cheers to Frasier is a relatively smooth one. Although I was obviously not there to actually experience the transference, there still is a strong sense of connection when Frasier becomes the focal point. References to the old bar and Boston life help to build a subtle context that becomes much richer with the background of Cheers to go off of. Thus Frasier feels more like a continuation as opposed to a completely new show, but it still remains independently interesting and holds its own merits. While Cheers perhaps portrayed many of the characters during their 30s to 40s, Frasier appropriately settles down the atmosphere. Cheers' cast, while generally consistent, underwent some major changes and alterations throughout the seasons that caused a more fleeting effect in a way. Frasier, on the other hand, remains consistent in all major characters and there are few changes to be noted other than secondary or tertiary contributions. Life feels a lot more stable and a lot more settled in, and even as old Cheers characters come into the light, their lives seem more solid as well.
The Compare and Contrast
Both of these shows are ones that I could watch without hesitation several times over.
That being said, I think I'm more inclined towards Cheers. The reasons most certainly are not concrete, but it appeals to me just slightly more. I think part of it is the idea of the slightly more youthful atmosphere of a bar where people more often come and go and no one character is in the spotlight the entire time: each character has a story that holds its own.
That's not to say that Frasier's characters aren't equally as compelling, but they are most certainly more dependent on the context of the main character. Pull away the witty banter and classic humor and Frasier ends up being a relatively static show that focuses mostly on Frasier and lives that have already been established.
Each new permanent character in Cheers is introduced so meticulously as to introduce the audience right away, a method that makes introductions a constant and stimulating quality of the show. Frasier's newer characters, while dynamic and interesting, are not generally long-lasting. Thus, they are introduced as guest characters with less of an emotional attachment associated with their arrival and sometimes their departure.
A show that revolves around a bar is more interesting to me because everyone has to be well rounded to hold their own, while a show that revolves around a singular character has its limits in character development.
Which isn't to say that I don't love Frasier, but I think that Cheers appeals more to me. The characters also seem more relatable than those of Niles and Frasier, whose pretentious natures get in the way sometimes and become an annoyance that never really changes.
Conclusions and Suggestions
I would give the shows, as a coupling, a 9/10. Both have their merits and they serve perfectly together as 22 seasons of humor and drama. The characters are easy to connect with (and just as easy to hate sometimes), and the witty banter never gets tiring or overdone. Neither do the classical comedy scenes of miscommunication and overzealous participation with dramatic irony to serve as a humorous anecdote for the audience's pleasure. Both shows also move at a steady, believable pace that gives the viewer time to connect with each situation and feel the emotions that come along with it.
I would highly suggest watching Cheers first, and Frasier soon after so that you keep the characters fresh in your mind. As I said, I first watched Frasier without the context of Cheers. While it was still a fantastic show, it is now much better with the history of Cheers to back up some of the more obvious and even some of the more obscure references to Frasier's old Boston days. The level of consistency between the two stories is also pretty astonishing.