Cheers #6: “Now Pitching, Sam Malone” (#1.13, 06/01/83)

The next four episodes of the first season didn’t get recorded on my DVR so I pick up with episode 13, a Sam focused instalment. Here Sam finds himself having made a Faustian pact in giving his body over to a glamourous cougar who as his new agent fixes him up with an appearance in a cheesy beer commercial. Deeply discontented as a result, but reluctant to give up this chance of fame, it takes Diane and Coach to persuade Sam to put an end to the arrangement.

The agent Lana Marshall is not a very pleasant person: witty beyond acerbity to actual rudeness, she preserves her looks and uses her wiles to satisfy her sexual urge, in targeting younger men and ruthlessly using sincere flattery to get her way (by looking straight in their eyes and calmly and directly praising them: “a lot of people saw you and they liked what they saw”).

Lana, as realised by Barbara Babcock, is though a great guest character to appear in Cheers as the interactions with the regulars is rather good: flirting expertly with Sam, quickly sizing up a wary and uncomfortable Diane and felling Norm with a one-liner (deadbeat: “she’s good”). Only Carla, the character with the most similarities in personality to Lana, manages to get the better of her (Rhea Perlman’s faces, when engaging Lana, or rooting for Sam, are wonderful).

The episode is lightly sprung: there isn’t much depth given to Sam’s motivations (beyond his libido and missing his baseball glory). When pressed by Diane for the truth about his unhappiness (an explanation which is obvious to everyone), he briefly describes the situation in abstractions, then expounds on his internal conflict. Finally, an angry Coach appears to rouse them back to the busy bar and kick Sam up the butt to bring him back to his senses. In a way, it is unsatisfying that we don’t learn precisely why Sam is unhappy, but perhaps we (as with Diane and Coach) don’t really need to know.

This episode feels more like the familiar Cheers than the earlier episodes (for a start, Cliff is properly installed at the bar). The back and forwards rhythm of back and forth wisecracks seems to be properly working like a machine. The situation is slight and somewhat superficial, but the guest character and pace and vitality of the humour work well. I also thought James Burrows’ direction was excellent: some really good close ups of Lana and one great pause prior to Coach kicking Sam up the arse (I though he was about to point something out on the wainscoting). I won’t talk about how bad a character Tibor Svetkovic was.

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