There’s something still very comforting about “Cheers.” While DVD consumers drool over first-season compilations of relatively current hits — “Family Guy” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” are retail giants — the basic treatment afforded one of NBC’s signature series doesn’t dent the fact that situation comedy rarely gets more clever and more touching than the little bar show that become an institution.
The trajectory of a sitcom will never happen again the way it happened with “Cheers.” After kicking off to dismal ratings, NBC’s then-entertainment prexy Brandon Tartikoff stayed the course, trusted the critics and eventually rode the skein to Nielsen’s top spot. In 1982, Ted Danson and Shelley Long brought sparks to viewers who had been forcefed lame freshmen like “9 to 5” and “Silver Spoons,” and, to this day, their sparring still remains a standard to which all programming aspires.
That said, extras cupboard is bare. Without audio commentary on any of the 22 episodes, discphiles will have to get by only with clip reels. “Coach Ernie’s Rules of the Game” features Nicolas Colasanto dishing out skewed wisdom; “Love at First Site: Opposites Distract” is a rapid-fire collection of Sam and Diane’s best arguments; and Geroge Wendt takes centerstage in “Stormin’ Norm-isms,” a gathering of his famous entrances. The one featurette, “A Conversation With Danson,” just offers up the usual praise for colleagues.
Except for ‘Seinfeld” and, to a certain extent, “Friends,” America hasn’t had a half-hour since that defined the times as much as “Cheers” defined the early-late 1980s. And the kickoff year’s plotlines remain fresh, from Coach’s daughter’s doomed marriage to a total jerk to the closing two-parter, when Sam becomes jealous over Diane’s love for his much more sophisticated brother. Value of the package is the disc-ability to follow Carla’s evolution from evil to dastardly, Cliff’s failure to impress anyone, and even Harry Anderson’s few appearances as the local scam artist. There has not been a more skilled ensemble on TV since.
Besides, has there ever been a better theme song?