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Paramount Studios presents
Frasier Crane: You know, you perplex me.
DVD ReviewIn its 11-year run, Cheers underwent many changes, some subtle, others huge. In many ways, Cheers: The Complete Fifth Season marks a turning point in the whole series in terms of storytelling and the cast of regulars. Although Sam Malone (Ted Danson) still owns and tends bar at his drinking establishment, making his living off the patronage of Cliff (John Ratzenberger), Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), and—c'mon, let's all say it together—NORM! (George Wendt), much happens during the course of these 26 episodes that forever changes the dynamics of America's favorite tavern.
As the season begins in The Proposal, Sam kneels to his on again/off again girlfriend, the brainiac Diane Chambers (Shelley Long). Yet, despite his romantic maritime setting for the event, Diane declines and is forced into Boston's aquatic. All of this comes as a relief to the bar's regulars, especially Diane's co-waitress Carla (Rhea Perlman), because it is clear that the lowbrow Sam and the stuffed shirt Diane are incompatible. But upon further reflection, Diane changes her mind and agrees to marry Sam—only it is too late, for he has come to resent her and chooses to pursue his old womanizing ways.
The entire season is linked together by this ongoing story, with Diane trying to convince Sam to marry her. Considering the urgency of Diane's conquest, it is no wonder Sam eventually caves in Chambers vs. Malone and proposes again. This memorable episode features yet another denial by Diane, which causes Sam to chase her through the streets, only to find himself sued by her for assault. But love triumphs over all and the charges are dropped when Diane finally accepts Sam's proposal in the court of law.
In fact, numerous members of the gang at Cheers find themselves falling in love. The endearingly sterile Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth) is introduced as Frasier's perfect counterpart in Abnormal Psychology. Some of the best dialogue is exchanged between these two psychiatric professionals, as they blend professional critique with foreplay. However, the character of Lilith is poorly handled, for after her initial introduction she disappears for the entire mid-portion of the season without a single mention until it is revealed that she and Frasier have moved in together in Dinner at Eight-ish. Though this is a minor complaint considering how observant the writing and direction are in that episode as Lilith experiences several breakdowns while playing dinner host to Diane and Sam.
Not only does Frasier find his life's love, but Carla also may finally have found her perfect match in Boston Bruins goalie Eddie LeBec (Jay Thomas). The highly superstitious lovers need to decide in Never Love a Goalie— Parts 1 and 2 whether to keep dating because Carla is a jinx on Eddie's goaltending. Cliff also just about scores in Dog Bites Cliff, as he uses the threat of a lawsuit against the beautiful dog-owner, Madeline Keith (Anita Morris), to finagle her into dating him. Even Woody becomes engaged to the late Coach's niece, Joyce (Cady McClain), in The Godfather, Part III. Sam's knee-jerk reaction and pathetic attempts to break up their engagement, culminating in him referring to Diane for help, are hilarious and may even make this version of The Godfather, Part III better than Coppola's. And, of course, Norm continues his life-long adulterous affair with...beer.
There are many memorable moments in this season. The intellectual Frasier losing in chess to the maladroit Woody in Spellbound, a Thanksgiving dinner run amok in Thanksgiving Orphans, Norm's get-rich-quick scheme in Tan N' Wash, and the reemergence of Carla's ex-husband, Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya), also in Spellbound. However, the season finale, I Do and Adieu, trumps all of these. Sam and Diane are about to be married, but she learns that one of her unfinished novels is on the path to publication. Will she stay and marry Sam or leave to pursue her career as a writer? Even the most casual viewer of the show knows what happens, but I find myself always moved by the closing scene of this episode. It's a beautiful vision of what might have been in the lives of these characters.
As always, the writing staff delivers a variety of laughs in every episode that are just as fresh today as they were in the 1980s. For the most part, the humor is not topical, but even the rare jabs at Reagan and the Soviets still pack a punch to this day. In no small part this is due to the direction by James Burrows, who helmed all but two of the episodes, and who uses camera moves, focus racks, and scene transitions with such skill that this easily feels like you're watching an old 1930s comedy by Ernst Lubitsch. However, I believe the success of the show is even more intricately related to the cast. The original cast members like Ted Danson and Shelley Long were already comfortable in their characters, but the addition of Bebe Neuwirth to the cast (her presence would only grow after this) and Woody Harrelson's continued success make this one of the best ensembles ever assembled for television. Their punctuation of punchlines is perfect and blends the comedy of the show with the characters. Rarely does a joke feel forced because these actors deliver their lines naturally.
Some fans of the show may see this season as the peak of Cheers' success. Undoubtedly it is very near the top of the show and the consequences of the finale created a lull in the next season, but the show did rebound quickly and, to my thinking, reached even higher heights. It sets up many of the hallmarks of the subsequent seasons and has moments of pure hilarity and tender drama.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The images are crisper than the syndicated re-runs, with nice contrast and rich blacks. Some print defects occur throughout the run of the season, but otherwise this is a fine, though unnoteworthy image.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix is fairly mild, even in Pro Logic. Barely a trace of audio can be heard coming from the surround speakers, but the dialogue is always audible and the track is devoid of any hiss or crackling.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 104 cues and remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Happy Days: The Complete First Season DVD, Laverne & Shirley: The Complete First Season DVD, Mork & Mindy: The Complete First Season DVD, MacGyver: The Complete First Season DVD, Charm: The Complete First Season DVD, The Brady Bunch: The Complete First Season DVD
Extras Review: Apart from the promotional trailers for Happy Days: The Complete First Season, Laverne & Shirley: The Complete First Seaso, Mork & Mindy: The Complete First Season, MacGyver: The Complete First Season, Charm: The Complete First Season, and The Brady Bunch: The Complete First Season DVDs, there are no supplemental features on this set. However, each disc does provide a "Play All" function for the included content.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThe barebones release of Cheers: The Complete Fifth Season is worthy of purchase, but only on account of the high quality programming. The audio and image transfers are nothing extraordinary, so purchase accordingly.
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