Cheers takes place in a dive bar, because, ultimately, all of the characters are people who need to be in a dive bar. They’re a collection of failures. Sam (Ted Danson), the owner/bartender, drank himself out of a major league career. Carla (Rhea Perlman), the waitress, hates her family and most people in general, both in the bar and out of it. Diane (Shelley Long), the other waitress and Sam’s ex, is a constant failure as an intellectual, and really only stays at the bar because it’s the only environment in which she is the smartest person… unless you count Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), who’s only there because he’s alone (and, at this point, divorced once and left at the altar once). Norm (George Wendt), probably TV’s biggest alcoholic that isn’t animated, is there to escape his wife, and Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) is there because he’s an oft-wrong know-it-all who lives with his mother. Woody (Woody Harrelson) is the closest thing to a success, because he’s so stupid that he is coming close to living to his potential. Plus, his girlfriend is super rich… and also dumb.
In this episode, the cast’s failures are highlighted, when it’s pointed out that everyone is alone at Thanksgiving: Sam’s fiance is gone for the week, Norm’s wife is at her mother’s and left him alone, Cliff’s mother is volunteering, and Carla’s kids are at her ex-husband’s house. Carla invites everyone over to her house, making it one of the first episodes to be set someplace other than the bar. Once they’re all there together, however, they largely behave exactly as they normally do. They watch sports, rag on each other, reminisce about the times their lives had promise, and Diane crashes the party dressed up like a Pilgrim. Okay, one of those is unique, but still within Diane’s normal behavior. As expected of a group of people who have mostly messed up their lives to this point, everything about the day goes wrong. Everyone is sad about their personal states, the food fails to get cooked, Diane makes everyone wait too long for dinner, and the whole evening starts to fall apart, right up until the food fight starts.
The food fight is the definition of the word catharsis on Cheers, both for the characters and for the actors. They get to do exactly what a group of losers who serve as a surrogate family have always wanted to do to one-another: Pelt each other with yams. Everyone is angry at everyone else, but also angry at themselves and their lives, and they all just really need to do something to destroy their status quo. This isn’t really a negative, because they’re doing it surrounded by the only people who will understand. To cap off the fight, a pie thrown at Sam by Diane misses and hit’s Norm’s wife Vera, who has shown up at that moment. Vera, whose face is never shown in the run of the show thanks to that pie, immediately ends the festivities by telling Norm to take her home.
This episode is a fun reminder that, while it is cliché, it’s true, family is not just blood, but heart.
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