The bar is there. It occupies space. 84 Beacon Street. You have given directions to the bar more than once — so often that you begin to talk about the bar that inspired Cheers, but no one’s interested. No one’s taking. The fish who have grown legs — who walk about the city and ask for directions to Cheers — aren’t biting. It’s still the same as it was in 1990, where —
Half a million nonregulars, aiming their Instamatics at the brass railings and Tiffany lamps, wolf[ed] down burgers and buffalo wings, drinking ale, crowding the two souvenir stands and invariably addressing the bartenders as “Woody” and “Sam.”
Cheers is next to The Greek Consulate. You wonder about whether or not anyone will wander in from the Greek consulate at some point during the run of the show. You can’t quite recall. You press play.
The show begins with Sam Malone emerging from the back room getting ready for the day. He is unboxing, looking at, and examining a set of coffee mugs. A cocky kid in a red sports jacket enters and wanders all sitcom-like up to the bar as Sam pours himself a cup of coffee.
“How ‘bout a beer, Chief?” The kid asks. This is the spot — this bar — where the kid’s audacity has a go at exploring. Does he genuinely want a drink? Is he just following the momentum of a kid’s impulse? Does he have an older brother who drinks who he desperately wants to emulate?
Dianne enters with her fiancé. Dianne’s fiancé’s name is a man named Sumner — and so we think of names like Charles Sumner, the Sumner Library, and a thousand other Brahmin-like riffs and puns.
Sumner wanders over to the bathroom. The bar is empty. The phone rings. Dianne wanders over to get it. (It makes one wonder if there isn’t a loopy way in which the restoration of landlines and party line phones in the U.S. could help stave off gentrification.) Diane fields a message from a woman telling Sam off. Sam opens up a brief window onto the possibility of flirting with Dianne and closes it again when Sumner comes over from making a phone call to his ex-wife to reveal that he and Diane are about to get married. (How do Television Writers recapping episode after episode stand it?)
“Oh, well, hey!” Sam says. “Then this” — as in, a bottle of champagne — “ — is on me.”
Things seem surprisingly settled — already, even so. If a world emerged where you’d have to tie a tie around your forehead as you peer up through the windows to examine the world around you, then Sam’s behavior seems to be magnanimous enough to allow it. It wouldn’t be out of place to imagine a bookshelf organically growing in some part of the bar — despite whatever protestations Sam might offer it.
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.
Sumner returns and prattles. Dianne approvingly cites the John Donne he quoted (though one wonders if Sumner ever really knew what Donne actually meant — in the same way that Professor standing in line at The Sorrow And The Pity ever really knew what McLuhan meant in Annie Hall.) Sumner drops Dianne off while he goes to see his ex-wife and asks that Sam keep an eye on her — which is the kind of thing one would imagine Dianne would notice but not necessarily remark upon. The idea that she could be maneuvered like a prop. (Consider later in the episode, where he refers to her as “a beautiful child.” (Though — given that — it’s also worth asking why on earth does Dianne defend Sumner to Sam as well-bread?))
But before we can let the plot take its course, the Coach comes barging in complaining about the Patriots. (People don’t quite understand how caked into the DNA of the region the entire history of each and every sports team is. People have a casual knowledge of Ted Williams or Babe Ruth the same way that someone in Glasgow might have a casual sense of when the Old Firm first became the Old Firm.) Sam offers up a gentle challenge to the Coach’s opinion — which somehow sways Coach entirely.
As the bar fills up, it appears that Dianne can’t escape the pull of socialization: Norm wants to know what book she’s reading. The bar applauds the fact that she’s off to get married, which offends her even more. A bar-wide discussion emerges at some point about which movie is the sweatiest movie, and so I check Reddit to see how the glittering lights of contemporary culture would echo that:“What’s the largest animal you could beat in hand to hand combat?” Reddit asks. “Blue whale,” comes the reply. Others chime in with challenges of their own: what was the actual height of Clifford, The Big Red Dog; where does the Kool-Aid end and the Kool-Aid Man begin; and why hasn’t The Speed Force gotten its own movie yet. (This last one is mine, furtively keeping dreams of visiting a comic book shop on the sly.)
It’s revealed to Dianne that Sam used to pitch for the Sox — and that Coach coached him in Pawtucket and with the Sox.
And what makes a good reliever? (Does being one of the three founding editors of The Paris Review help your case at all?) The Washington Post posited that no one knew in 2011 and that it was a valuable skill in 2017. The Kansas City-Star offers up a decent string of qualifications, noting that —
Relievers can get away with throwing fewer pitches because they’ll see each batter once; they don’t need three ways to a batter out — they need one … if you know you only have to throw one inning, you can let it go — throw your best stuff. A guy who throws in the low nineties as a starter might throw in the upper nineties as a reliever; he doesn’t have to pace himself.