One for the Road

We knew it was going to be big. For at least two weeks before, there had been commercials and teasers. It was the same sort of disruption in the TV world that tipped us off to very special episodes and presidential addresses. The network was devoting three half-hour slots to one episode. It was going to be big. But unlike very special episodes and presidential addresses, we actually cared about seeing this one. Cheers was ending after an eleven-year run. We buckled our seatbelts and we waited until Thursday night.

It’s hard to explain the all-encompassing phenomenon of network TV to someone who didn’t live through it. If you were born before 1990, doing just that will be your World War II or your Great Depression. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, in the days before a trillion shows existed on one website, we TV-watchers were forced to watch something called “a television.” Television networks organized their TV programming into schedules, and if we wanted to watch one of those programs, we had to be in front of our TV at the allotted time. Once in front of that TV, there were more agonies yet to navigate. These TV programs were riddled with commercials which viewers had no ability to pause or fast forward. Instead, they were forced to time their bladder evacuations and snack creations into those 2.2-minute slots. This is why people over 40 have very good bladder control and can make a ham and cheddar sandwich on rye (with two condiments) in under 50 seconds.

It had its good parts. Though a schedule forced you to watch something in real time, people all over the country watched the same thing. This meant that in school or work, you all talked about what had happened on TV the night before. It was part of our weekly conversation. And since we were forced to wait a week to see how things would pan out for our favorite TV characters, it made the time with them more enjoyable. Perhaps it was that limited time and delayed gratification that made us all the more invested. When a series ended, it was, for all intents and purposes, gone. It wasn’t on a file in our hard drive or in a stack of DVDs on the floor of our Hyundai. We simply had to say goodbye to our favorite characters.

A big part of what made Cheers so enjoyable was that it took place in a corner bar. Only two or three of the characters (at most) were working and they were working near good friends. The others were often in their peak leisure hours. And who wouldn’t want to spend all of their time at their corner bar? Or, rather, who wouldn’t want to spend all of their time at Cheers? Because while Cheers had all the comforts of a perfect corner bar – sports on TV, friendly faces, a warm atmosphere, a bathroom that always seems free – it had none of the real problems that arise in an actual corner bar. For eleven years Cheers characters guzzled beer after beer and yet we never really saw anyone get ugly drunk. There were no slurred shouting matches across the bar. No bitter, aggressive, un-take-back-able comments. No regret-filled day after call of contrition. More than that, in Cheers alcohol was treated more responsibly than in other shows. Sam was a recovered alcoholic. Cabs were called for those who’d had too much. Belligerent drunks were shown the door before they overstayed their welcome. It was as ideal as a corner bar can get. After all, Cheers was the place “where everybody knows your name” not “where everybody knows your name because you got hammered and grabbed your friend’s wife’s ass.”

So we could come to grips with Cheers ending, but not the idyllic Cheers bar universe. We wanted to believe that though they weren’t going to be on TV anymore, they’d still prank battle with Gary’s Olde Town Tavern. We might not see them on Thursday nights, but Carla would spend many more years torturing Cliff Clavin, who would spend an eternity regaling everyone about the crocodile alphabet. In the last moments of the last episode of Cheers, “One for the Road,” owner of Cheers Sam Malone realizes that the bar is the love of his life. And we know we will get our wish. He straightens out the picture of Geronimo, grabs a box of cocktail napkins, and walks off down the hallway towards the pool room. It’s a perfect ending – a nonending. We are left with a warm and fuzzy feeling, comforted that the gang at Cheers will continue their responsible brand of drinking and conversing for many years to come. And who doesn’t want that?

So to squeeze in one last drink for last call, let’s keep it Corner Bar Simple – Beer. No particular brand, flavor, or accompanying fruit. The only requirement is that you drink it in a place where you feel at home, where you’re surrounded by friends, and where everybody knows your name.

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