“Coach’s Daughter” (season 1, episode 5; originally aired 10/28/1982)
In which, well, Coach's daughter comes to visit, fiance in tow.
Keith Phipps: Cheers’ fifth episode isn’t about Diane, really, but the role she plays in it says a lot about how easily the series has settled into a groove this early on. She’s gone from outsider to insider. Not only is she comfortable reading Jung at the bar, she’s decided to take on the role of “the Cheers caricaturist” to amuse herself and the patrons because, after all, it’s a form of art “that the common man loves.” That phrase suggests she still thinks she’s working below her station, but everything else about the way she carries herself here—both on the job and with Sam—says otherwise. She’s trying to fit in and even Carla has come to accept, however grudgingly, that she’s not going away.
It feels like the show around Diane has similarly found its footing. We know Cheers and its inhabitants. Even that postman with the thick accent is starting to make his presence felt. And in this episode for the first time—right?—we get a look at Sam’s office a, to put it mildly, lived-in environment filled with sports memorabilia, bar supplies, and what looks like a lot of junk. But it’s a comfortable sort of place, a kind of den away from home where intimate conversations can take place away from the prying eyes of the bar. (That happens in both “Coach’s Daughter” and “Any Friend Of Diane’s,” a device the show will use up to the point Sam shows Carla his toupee in the final season.)
About that conversation: This episode features the only appearance of Allyce Beasley, best known as the daffy receptionist on Moonlighting, as Coach’s daughter, Lisa. A sad, unsmiling woman, Lisa doesn’t think much of her own attractiveness and has decided to settle for Roy, an obnoxious co-worker who’s probably just using her to get better territory for his job as a salesman of cheap suits. She knows it, too, and admits she’s using him as well, seeing Roy as her last chance to get married and have children. In a lovely bit, she asks her father to look at her and see that she’s no great beauty. Instead, he sees how much she looks like her mother, whom he loved and thought beautiful. This causes Lisa to realize there must be someone out there who will see her the same way, a recognition she reaches without hurting her dad’s feelings. (It helps that he’s not so quick on the uptake. Nicholas Colasanto has one of the biggest laughs of the episode with “This the nineteen, what… eighties?”)
Colasanto and Beasley are so good together it’s kind of a shame she never came back for another episode. Then again, it would almost had to have been an episode that balanced comedy and pathos as well as this one, which nicely alternates between Coach and Lisa’s emotional scenes and the bar’s collective rejection of Roy, a man who defines the word “loutish.” He’s almost too loutish to be believable, knocking baseball in favor of “female full-contact karate” and warning Lisa that Diane could steal his heart. On the other hand, he can’t be at all likable for the episode. For us to cheer for the failure of Lisa’s engagement he has to be, in Diane’s word, true “pond scum.”
I quite liked this episode. Cheers rarely tugs quite so hard at the heartstrings as it does here, nor would I want it to. But I think it gets away with it. How did it work for everyone else?
Ryan McGee: OK, so here we are at the first episode that didn’t really work for me. I know a lot of you were down on “The Tortelli Tort,” but that episode holds up top to bottom better than “Coach’s Daughter.” This, to me, is a long slog to get to the scene in Sam’s office. But my God, what a scene.
There’s a tendency to forget at times that Nicholas Colasanto is “acting” in the role of Ernie Pantusso. But watching his scene with Lisa shows just how much Colasanto brought to the role. So much of his presence in the bar seems like a favor Sam did to repay past debts, but here’s a moment for Coach that’s truly in the present. It’s a testament to his skills that the scene plays as well as it does, because Lisa is severely underdrawn as a character before this scene occurs.
If there’s other joy to find in the episode, it’s sporadic yet potent. The way in which the bar conducts an impromptu scrub down after Chuck’s job description is tremendous, both as comedy and community. And we see the inklings of Cliff’s eventual emergence as a central character, as he joins Norm, Carla, and others in mocking Diane’s verbal tics. These moments don’t overwhelm the all-too-familiar set-up of blowhard Roy or Diane’s attempts at caricature, but they do provide color in an otherwise decent but ultimately uneven episode. Yes, the caricature offers some insight into her comfort level in the bar, but it feels more like a written bit rather than an organic development.
One last thought: anyone sense that Diane’s “ideal man” as described near the end of this episode served as the blueprint for a certain psychiatrist to appear down the line?
Noel Murray: Keith, you mentioned the sentiment of this episode, which reminds me of the think-pieces that were written during NBC’s transition from the Cheers era to the Seinfeld era. A lot was made of Seinfeld’s “no hugging, no learning” approach to the sitcom, but Cheers was hardly a “very special episode” kind of show either, outside of the big moments in the Sam-and-Diane romance. By the latter seasons, it was practically a farce. And yet as soon as I saw that “Coach’s Daughter” was on the docket for this week, I immediately remembered Coach telling Lisa that she looks just like her mother and Lisa saying, “Mom was not… comfortable about her beauty.” It’s a great scene, Ryan, you’re right. But I like the rest of the episode too, largely because of the interplay between the actors that you mentioned. They’re like an acrobatic troupe in that sequence where they’re scrubbing down the bar, post-Chuck, or when they’re broadly overreacting to Diane’s story about her parents not respecting her romantic choices. (The other line I’ve always remembered from this episode is Diane saying, “Call me cute as a button,” to see if her pals will repeat it.)
It should be interesting to track how the show’s heart shrinks over the years. I wonder how much of it will be tied to some of the changes in camera-blocking and staging that we’ve been noting over these past couple of weeks. For example, there’s a fleeting moment in this episode after Carla jokes that Lisa is either Coach’s daughter or the name of one of his martini glasses. Diane laughs, and Carla looks back at her in what appears to be genuinely happy surprise. It’s hard to imagine Carla reacting that way in, say, season eight, but I’m prepared to be proved wrong.
Todd VanDerWerff: While this episode wasn’t my favorite of this first run of episodes, I’m not as bearish on it as Ryan is, largely because “the scene” we’ve all dissected so well so far comes to dominate the episode in a way that, say, the Sam and Diane scene at the end of “Sam At Eleven” last time around did, though “Sam At Eleven” had a stronger story all around to back it up.
What’s interesting is that I’d bet anything this was originally meant to be the second episode. On the first season DVDs, it’s slotted right after the pilot (DVDs are occasionally burned in “production order,” as opposed to air order), and there are certainly a few moments where the show reminds us of the basic premise or tries to remind us forcibly of who all the characters are. There’s nothing wrong with this, since every show has to do it, but the reminding felt clunkier here than it did in the episode that actually aired second, “Sam’s Women.” That one also had the benefit of being actually about the show’s central character and conflicts, while this one is about something more tertiary. That’s not to say it’s a bad episode, but it’s easy to see why it was shifted (if, indeed, it was).
That said, here’s something else: Nearly every episode so far has followed the basic idea of an outside influence bringing conflict to the bar. It’s probably the only way that the show can generate conflicts, since the barflies aren’t even as ambitious as the cabbies on the series the Charles brothers had previously worked on, Taxi. But it’s still a necessarily limiting concept, and it depends heavily on excellent guest casting. In this episode, I don’t buy the actor playing the fiance, and that makes for some painful moments when he’s on screen.
Meredith Blake: I agree that the tear-jerking scene between Lisa and Coach redeems an otherwise underwhelming episode. Roy is a not-entirely-believable boor, and we don’t really know enough about Lisa to feel emotionally invested in her just yet. But we do know and care deeply about Coach, and if the look on his face when Lisa brings up her mother doesn’t get you a little misty-eyed, then you, sir, are a cold, unfeeling monster. When Lisa admits to marrying Roy because he might be her only chance for a family, you expect Coach to deliver a self-esteem-boosting pep talk—it’s the kind of thing we’ve seen hundreds of times on sitcoms over the years. Instead, there’s the heartbreaking moment when Lisa realizes that by beating up on herself, she’s also sullying Coach’s idealized memory of his late, beloved wife. So now, it’s Lisa who’s responsible for sustaining her father’s spirits, and not the other way around. The added twist keeps the scene from being too maudlin and gives it its serious emotional wallop.
Of course, the sentiment is also leavened by a little humor: Lisa claims her motives for marrying Roy are obvious, to which Coach replies, “Nothing’s ever obvious to me.” The running gag about Coach naming his glasses in order to tell them apart also plays up his big-hearted dopeyness. It’s silly, and more than a little absurd, but it says a lot about his character: Coach even cares about inanimate objects.
Donna Bowman: Call me a sap (all together now: “You’re a sap!”), but I loved nearly everything about this episode. Partly, it’s because Coach makes me feel his pain, but partly, it’s because almost every interaction has a couple more layers than the minimum comic situation would require. I bought Roy hook, line, and sinker, because I’m a sucker for that kind of sitcom acting, the kind that has the full-bodied energy of the stage. One example will suffice: When Roy and Lisa leave to go upstairs for their dinner, Roy impatiently waves two fingers at her in a V-shape which she smoothly fills with his cigar—a moment that’s not emphasized in the blocking or the directing, but says everything you need to know about who this guy is. And give George Wendt some credit for his magnificent underplaying throughout, whether he’s burning Roy’s business card with a deadpan expression or slowly rising from his seat after being called “chubs.” OK, one more example of why I think this is more than just that tremendous scene in Sam’s office: Diane enthusiastically doing the caricaturist’s patter while she adds a horse to her repurposed drawing of a bar patron, singing and mugging to keep the client entertained. Tertiary schmertiary. Who cares if the central characters are having their arcs advanced when there’s so much careful craft to both the humor and the heart?
Phil Nugent: This is yet another episode that I remember watching for the first time decades ago, and the main thing I remember is how intensely uncomfortable it made me. Looking at it again, I see that it’s not as maudlin as I remembered, but I still have mixed feelings about it. I don’t think it would be possible to overpraise Nicholas Colasanto’s work in that scene in Sam’s office, and I actually got a laugh out of Philip Charles MacKenzie’s braying jackass of a nightmare son-in-law prospect. (Had he been introduced under different circumstances, I can easily imagine him landing a job with a bar-supplies company and being bumped up to recurring-character status.) I think my problems with it stem from Beasley’s performance, which has none of the stylized, pixilated quality of her ugly-duckling secretary on Moonlighting. She’s from a different, more realistic world than either her magical father or her cartoonish fiancee, and because she looks mortified every time Roy opens his mouth, instead of at least pretending to find something endearing in his vulgarity, the episode has a queasy subtext that probably wasn’t intended; she doesn’t just seem to be settling for someone beneath her, she seems to be torturing herself and maybe even punishing her father for not understanding how lonely she feels. So despite the tantalizing glimpse of the romantic depths inside Coach, it’s easy for me to understand why she was never asked back.
The things about this episode that don’t work for me reminded me of some of the first-season episodes of Taxi that overdid the “learning and hugging”, such as the one where Alex goes on an unbearable date with a woman who’s abrasively self-conscious about being overweight and then feels some responsibility to break through to her. Both Taxi and Cheers were big critical hits long before they were embraced by audiences (and in the case of the former, that didn't happen). I think those groping, tear-stained episodes were part of the reason that many critics took them to their bosom. I don’t want to be so cynical as to suggest that that’s the main reason the shows did them, but as Noel said, Cheers lost most of its interest in “learning and hugging” once it was enough of a hit to stay on the air without it.
RM: Damn. I better get my group hugs in now with you guys before we get too popular with these reviews.
Erik Adams: It seems like most of my notes (and most of our observations) on this episode relate to its more dramatic beats, but it’s an awfully funny episode as well—even during Roy’s broadest moments. But what sticks out to me the most calls back to Ryan’s observations about Coach and Colasanto. “Coach’s Daughter” goes a long way toward proving that while Coach may be a glassware-naming, double-header-detail-
On the Sam-Diane ’shipper front—if such a thing exists for a nearly 30-year-old sitcom—the margins of “Coach’s Daughter” provide some sparkling chemistry between Ted Danson and Shelley Long. I especially love the mischievous looks that flash across both actors’ faces at episode’s end, as they stand on opposite sides of the bar in a potentially messy “water glass versus soda gun” stand-off. It’s a sign that warm feelings don’t always have to be couched in big hugs and ice-cream splurges.
- RM: I love the way the bar collectively kicks Lisa’s fiancé out of the bar, almost as if rumors about him had been spreading all episode. It’s a small touch that shows how close-knit this place really is.
- TVD: I forgot to mention that I, too, enjoyed Beasley here, but it's only a small taste of the glorious weirdness to come on Moonlighting.
“Any Friend Of Diane’s” (season 1, episode 6; originally aired 11/4/1982)
In which an alt-universe Diane shows up at the bar
KP: I suspect this episode will be less divisive than “Coach’s Daughter,” even if it doesn’t elicit quite as many strong reactions. “Any Friend Of Diane’s” is, to my eyes, a quintessential meat-and-potatoes first-season episode of Cheers: Some easy laughs, some endearing character, and a chance to learn a little bit about who Diane and Sam are. That doesn’t mean we learn more about their backstory—though we do get a little of that—but what they’re capable of doing and how their feelings for each other have started to develop.
Continuing a parade of faces soon to become recognizable from other shows, Newhart’s Julia Duffy guest stars as the eponymous friend of Diane’s, a pal from Bennington named Rebecca, who’s tracked her down. At first embarrassed to reveal how far down she’s moved on the social ladder by becoming a waitress, Diane soon realizes that it’s her friend who’s fallen on hard times. Having recently ended a long-term relationship, she’s now in search of “unbridled bestial pleasure,” preferably with a hairy-armed man. Enter Sam.
Sam, of course, fits the bill perfectly, and though we know he’s not averse to no-strings-attached sex, he makes a not-so-discreet exit and flees the scene. Why? Is it because, as he suggests, Rebecca talks too much. Maybe. Or maybe it’s because she’s almost-but-not-quite Diane. She’s the same type and shares the same interests—even if she specializes in a particularly miserable corner of Russian poetry that produces pieces like “Another Christmas Of Agony”—but she lacks the soulfulness that’s just beneath the surface of Diane’s affectations. Having discovered the woman he wants most of all, settling for an imitation seems like too much of a turn-off. It’s frustrating enough to make a man engage in a clumsy round of punching and wrestling. (And that’s an odd scene, given how attitudes toward sexual harassment have changed, isn’t it?)
All-in-all, a funny episode. Duffy essentially plays a more highbrow version of her Newhart persona, and plays it well. Carla’s Ordinary People reference gives the show one of its darkest jokes. And the Russian poem is a brilliant little parody unto itself. What struck me most, watching it now, was the way the chill of AIDS had yet to make Sam’s lifestyle seem dangerous and that it was his conscience that kept him from making Rebecca’s dreams come true. Maybe he doesn’t know he’s in love yet, but Diane’s already starting to have the effect love ought to have on someone: It’s making him realize he’s a better, deeper person than he ever imagined.
RM: I think you’ve covered most of the important bases here, Keith. Rebecca as “Diane Lite” certainly makes sense, even if I viewed Rebecca as part and parcel of the type of woman Diane is, rather than a close facsimile of the same woman. What that final scene really nails is combining the verbal repartee already established at this early stage with some wonderful physical staging. I love how the two ease into their pretend roles all too easily, switching from button-pushing to a competitive (yet friendly) game of one-upmanship. The two wax sarcastically about how different they are, but here’s one of the first instances where they recognize the chasm between them isn’t as vast as they previous thought.
For me, the great pleasure of this episode was seeing Cliff start to truly come into his own. For starters, he’s finally on the correct side of the bar. (Those first few episodes feel like episodes of Cheers that aired in The Matrix.) Secondly, he’s proudly talking about his work in the postal service. Thirdly, he’s chumming it up with Norm. There’s something wonderful about watching that chemistry start to form, even if we’re quite a while away from it reaching maximum potency. Then again, the same could be said for nearly every aspect of this show at this point.
NM: Watching this episode made me think a lot about what Cheers writer Ken Levine has said before about Jim Burrows’ insistence that the writers make sure every episode had something in it about Sam and Diane. I actually didn’t care for the Sam/Diane business in “Any Friend Of Diane’s.” I thought Sam sneaking out on Rebecca was so cruel as to make the character come dangerously to being unlikable, and I found Sam and Diane’s little wrestling match at the end uncomfortably violent. (Though this won’t be the last time that the two will physically abuse each other on this show, so I guess I should get used to it.) Or perhaps I was frustrated with the A-story because I wanted more of the B-story, in which Norm entertains his boss and pretends not to be a beer-besotted barfly. I don’t know that there was really any further the writers could go with that beyond the big moment when Norm drinks an entire beer in five seconds and then has to watch in agony as his boss sips slowly. Still, the biggest laugh I got from any scene in “Any Friend Of Diane’s” came from hearing the intoxicated, dance-obsessed boss say offscreen: “I was laughed at by the other boys, Norm. But don’t they always laugh at the graceful fellows?”
DB: Man, there’s just so much to like in nearly every episode. Only “The Tortelli Tort” has disappointed me so far. Noel, I have to disagree with you on the Sam-and-Diane-business here, because without some sexual tension between them, the well-orchestrated scene where she insists he tell Rebecca “no,” leading to exaggerated miming between the two of them across the room, wouldn’t have quite the same oomph. And speaking of orchestration, I was delighted by the Norm and his boss business, especially the way his boss’s self-pitying yet grandiose reminiscences float in through the open door of Sam’s office during the climactic scene. (Prefigured, by the way, in the elegant little camera move that transitions from the Rebecca story to the Norm story, the frame coming to rest on Norm’s table as he clutches his empty mug.) And no episode with something as beautiful as Norm’s “That would be a refreshing change!” could ever go too far wrong.
PN: I enjoyed this one a lot; I agree that it’s sort of a meat-and-potatoes episode, but it’s the kind of meat and potatoes that, nowadays, would convince me to take the trouble to add a show to my DVR schedule. I also think that the writing shows real ambition, not for big dramatic moments, but in terms of the subject matter and structure of the jokes. It wasn’t that easy to find a good parody of Russian poetry or throwaway lines about suicidal mothers or oblique gags about art movies seamlessly woven into a sitcom back in 1982. Unless I’m imagining things, I think you get a sense of how high the writers were aiming, and in which direction, from that gracefully executed little bitch-slap ballet between Sam and Diane, which reminds me of the kind of full-contact slapstick that glamorous couples sometimes got into in ’30s and ’40s screwball romantic comedies. (As with the best jokes here, such as Duffy’s “Do you have to believe in God to become a nun?,” it’s also a character point, revealing how much passionate feeling toward each other Sam and Diane have already bottled up, while illustrating the point that not all passionate feelings should be acted on.) Then there are the gonzo overheard lines by Norm’s boss, which recall the sort of thing that Robert Towne used to include in his screenplays. As for Duffy’s performance as the refined student-intellectual with the burning desires that she doesn’t know how to act on—well, I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumors, but I’ll admit that, watching her here, I did start fantasizing about how things might have gone with an alternate casting choice for Diane.
TVD: Hey, check it out. A pretty good Ordinary People joke, though one that probably was more immediately understandable to 1982 audiences. It’s always jarring to have time and place intrude so directly on the show like that, and it briefly made me blink.
That said, this episode continues the fun theme of playing around with alternate casts for the show, as Julia Duffy was one of the other choices for the role of Diane, and she shows here that she wouldn’t have been bad at the part, but she wouldn’t have been Shelley Long either. Where Long is able to find the warmth beneath all the brittle, Duffy’s pretty much all brittle. Needless to say, it’s impossible to play out just how this would have gone if the actors really had switched places/roles, since Duffy would have had more time to relax into the part, but even so, Long made more of a solid first impression back in the pilot than Duffy does here. (Then again, Rebecca is written to be immediately insufferable. And, heh, her name is Rebecca.)
Finally, this may be something to toss to the comments section: What is it about Sam and Diane that makes them work as a will-they/won’t-they, when so many other TV couples would feel forced playing the, “Oh, we’re actually a couple” game this early in the show (hell, one of my favorite shows, Raising Hope, featured its long-running will-they, won’t-they couple playing that game in its second season, and I was still annoyed)? This fall is filled with sitcoms that have potential but, nonetheless, have gone to the will-they/won’t-they well to keep their plots humming along, and it all feels so very tired. Yet here’s Cheers, in its sixth episode, already playing many of the games that now feel worn out. Is it just because this show was first? Is it because Long and Ted Danson’s chemistry is that great? What is it?
MB: Noel, you’re being too generous: Norm swallowed that beer in two seconds, tops.
“Any Friend of Diane’s” is an episode that I really loved; it may have been my favorite since the pilot. Rebecca is an intentionally obvious proxy for Diane (I kept thinking of Maddy on Twin Peaks, but maybe it was just the glasses), one of those short-lived characters engineered in a narrative petri dish for the sole purpose of precipitating a confrontation between the leads. So yes, she’s totally contrived, but I’m fine with that! What matters is the payoff—in this case, a delightful sequence in which Diane and Sam (sort of) feign passion for each other. They’re both faking it and coming clean at the same time, and it’s the tension between these two possibilities that makes the scene so wonderful. Plus, as Phil pointed out, the Russian poetry stuff is so precise that it really works, as does Rebecca’s use of the term “peasant stock.” She’s a very specific type of snob.
Speaking of peasant stock: The running joke on Cheers, and the central premise in this episode, is that Sam is some kind of knuckle-dragging dolt, but you get the sense that Diane’s trying to convince herself of this more than anything. Sam’s not an intellectual, exactly, but he’s got an undeniable wit. “I couldn’t help but noticing your arms,” Rebecca awkwardly tells Sam. “They go all the way down to my hands here,” he fires back. That’s the kind of joke that makes smart girls swoon.
EA: The great thing about that Ordinary People joke is that it ties into the various layers of deception running throughout “Any Friend Of Diane’s”—Norm’s lying to his boss, Sam and Diane are playing house for Rebecca’s benefit, and, in the cold open, Carla tries to pull a “I’m not here” on her kids before deciding she’s going to tell the particular Tortelli hellion on the phone that he or she is adopted. It’s not so much an out-of-the-blue pop-culture riff as it is a sharp bit of writing from Levine and David Isaacs’ script.
“Any Friend Of Diane’s” is well-written all-around, particularly where Sam and Diane are concerned. Rebecca listing the qualifications for her ideal emotion-free rebound is like packing the episode into a snowball and pushing it down a tall ski slope, entangling Sam and Diane and leaving them a tangled mass of limbs by the time the episode’s momentum lets up. Given how quickly things escalate between the two characters here, it’s inevitable that “Any Friend Of Diane’s” comes to a slapstick conclusion—but that inevitability doesn’t sap any of the comedic power out of seeing Diane take a mighty swing at the man she initially passes off to Rebecca as “the gay guy with the war wound.”
Every week, we’ll go back and pick out some of our favorite comments from the week before from those of you who picked up on stuff we missed, offered interesting counterpoints, or just said something that made us laugh.
There's some spirited discussion about whether Arrested Development or Cheers had the better first season, and Carol Brown responds to someone saying, no, it's definitely Arrested with this: "I agree with you that Arrested Development had a near-perfect first season, and that nostalgia might play a role in how much people revere Cheers. But there's something else going on, too, and I'm not sure what it is. Perhaps it goes back to the "comfortable" quality people were talking about last week; "comfortable" certainly isn't a word I'd use to describe AD. And maybe it has something to do with the fact that Cheers stayed more-or-less consistently funny and well-written through eleven seasons. That should be well-nigh impossible if you think about it."
Guest compares Diane with TV's Zooey Deschanel: "So Diane is easily my favorite character at this point, no question. This is probably because I see some of myself in her (haha) as I'm also an over enthusiastic college student without much direction in life, though unlike her I'm still an undergrad. She also has a great character balance. I'd almost call her proto-adorkable with her enthusiasm for learning and insecurity that you guys mentioned last week, but unlike your typical Zooey Deschanel she has a great ability for banter, though that could just be because I find grammar jokes funny."
And Larrybaby offers a reason why Carla became a breakout character: "Carla's best moments, for me, tend to hinge on other characters' reactions to her, or the general impact of her reputation. My favorite bits involving her and Cliff, for example, are the ones where Cliff briefly stands up for himself, and you get a very funny beat of comedy in the pause before Carla brings the hammer down. Similarly, one of the best belly laughs the show ever gave me: when Carla is working at the new bar after (SPOILER ALERT—really?) Cheers is being restored from the fire, and she is introduced to her new trainee, a dead ringer for Diane. I can't say that Perlman deserved an Emmy for her reaction, but that's just it. Her reaction was beside the point. The mere awareness that she'd HAVE a reaction was funny, just knowing what we knew about her at that time made the moment funny."
Next week: Norm throws a toga party that will turn up in Cheers clips packages until the end of time, and Diane and Carla decide to let bygones be bygones.