CHEERS: THE COMPLETE 6TH SEASON – DVD review

Just as “M*A*S*H” survived quite nicely following the exodus of Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, and Larry Linville, “Cheers” did just fine after Shelley Long left the popular sitcom. In fact, it was probably time for a change.

After five years of listening to Diane Chambers’ know-it-all, nose-in-the-air sermons and rationalizations, and five years of watching the egghead vs. peabrain face-off between her and bartender Sam Malone (Ted Danson), it was getting a little old.

The solution? Don’t just bring on a replacement female. Flip the situation on its head by having Sam no longer the owner-employee and the attractive female his barmaid. Invent a scenario where Sam sells the bar and buys a boat so he can sail ’round the world. And when he returns to Cheers after his boat sinks, he has to beg for a job with Rebecca Howe (Alley), because the bar’s gone corporate and she’s the manager. In fact, it’s so corporate that the employees all have to wear uniforms now, and it’s such a new, white-collar crowd that no one knows anyone’s name—least of all Norm, who’s become so anonymous that he can’t get the bar to continue the ritual of shouting his name when he enters.

Alley hits the ground running and fits right in with the cast, helped by scripts which present her from the very first episodes as a character who’s both tough as nails and wobbly as Jell-O in certain situations. And she has a soft side that gets in the way of her Lilith-style, power-plan for female success in a male world. The storylines this season follow Sam’s return to the fold, Carla (Rhea Perlman) and Eddie LeBec’s (Jay Thomas’) continued pursuit of happiness, Rebecca’s growing crush on corporate boss Evan Drake (Tom Skerritt), and Sam’s growing fascination with Rebecca. Included is an episode that’s perhaps one of the series’ all-time funniest—where Woody (Woody Harrelson) and Sam put their bodies on the line for a charity date auction, and Woody draws a scary bidder. The rest of the Cheers gang is back and in good form: Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), Cliff (John Ratzenberger), Norm (George Wendt), and Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth). Here’s how the episodes stack up:

1) “Home is the Sailor”—When Sam returns to Cheers after his boat sinks his plans to sail around the world, he’s surprised at all the corporate changes . . . and an attractive manager.

2) “‘I’ on Sports”—Sam grabs at the chance to do TV sports, but does it so badly (rapping?) that even his new boss, Miss Howe, shows him pity.

3) “Little Carla, Happy at Last, Part 1″—Forget the Tortelli curse. When superstitious Carla meets her match in hockey player Eddie LeBec and Eddie’s mother puts the evil eye on her, the planned wedding looks to be in trouble.

4) “Little Carla, Happy at Last, Part 2″—While Rebecca waits nervously for her boss (and heartthrob) to show up, Carla and Eddie are still trying to fight Carla’s children and Eddie’s mom in order to have a shot at “happily ever after.”

5) “The Crane Mutiny”—The good doctor is the victim of another bad joke as the Cheers gang tries to convince him that Rebecca has the hots for him.

6) “Paint Your Office”—Rebecca hires Norm to work off some of his extensive bar tabs by painting her office. And the two of them end up learning a lot about each other.

7) “The Last Angry Mailman”—Cliff goes near-ballistic when Ma thinks about selling the family home to a corporation wanting to build a convenience store, while the gang tries to discover the story behind Rebecca’s college nickname, “Backseat Becky.”

8) “Bidding on the Boys”—In this All-Time Classic episode, Sam and Woody put themselves up for bid at a charity date auction, and while neither is terribly happy, Woody is downright scared of his new “owner.”

9) “Pudd’nhead Boyle”—Another classic episode finds Woody practicing his community theater Mark Twain and ends up attracting a date . . . Twain’s age.

10) “A Kiss is Still a Kiss”—Eager to show her boss that she’s not just a cold business woman who doesn’t like guys much, Rebecca asks Sam to accompany her to a corporate function.

11) “My Fair Clavin”—A solid and entertaining episode finds Cliff happily dating, until he helps his girlfriend improve her looks, and she ends up attracting all sorts of rivals.

12) “Christmas Cheers”—In this very funny episode, Rebecca plays Scrooge on Christmas Eve when she makes everyone work late, while Sam rushes to find her a last-minute gift and Norm’s Santa buddies gather to celebrate the end of the holiday season.

13) “Woody for Hire, and Norman of the Apes”—Woody tries to assure his friends he really did get a small part on “Spenser: For Hire,” while Norm and Cliff spar over a practical joke and a chimp.

14) “And God Created Woodman”—When Woody does a bartending shift for corporate and takes the rap for a vase that Rebecca broke, he ends up buddy-buddy with Mr. Drake.

15) “Tale of Two Cuties”—The fur flies when Annie Tortelli fills in for Carla and Mr. Drake hires an attractive woman to work at Cheers . . . who turns out to be his daughter.

16) “Yacht of Fools”—When Evan Drake invites Rebecca and Sam to spend the weekend on his yacht, it turns out that Evan has other things in mind than Rebecca’s dreams.

17) “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”—The world’s worst bachelor party for Frasier can’t hold a candle to Lilith’s shower in this funny episode.

18) “Let Sleeping Drakes Lie”—Rebecca acts like a lovelorn high school student and ends up getting caught in the man’s bedroom, which Norm had been painting.

19) “Airport V”—It’s Carla’s fear of flying that Frasier addresses, while Rebecca is on pins and needles awaiting a restaurant critic.

20) “The Sam in the Gray Flannel Suit”—When Sam is promoted to corporate headquarters, Rebecca is jealous until she learns it was because they needed a ringer for their softball team.

21) “One Hourly Bread”—Cries of “FIX” fill the air when Rebecca decides to run with Woody’s idea and raffle off a Caribbean vacation.

22) “Slumber Party Massacre”—When Carla gets depressed after learning she’s going to be a grandma, the two coldest women she knows (Lilith and Rebecca) try to warm her spirits with a slumber party in this very funny episode.

23) “Bar Wars”—It’s war again with Gary’s Old Town Tavern after the Cheers rivals swipe the only trophy they ever won in head-to-head with the more talented barflies and barkeep.

24) “The Big Kiss-Off”—Sam and Woody bet each can be the first to kiss Rebecca for a full three seconds.

25) “Backseat Becky, Up Front”—As Mr. Drake plans to leave for a position in Japan, Becky goes all-out to try to get him alone.

Video: “Cheers” is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and as with the other seasons there’s a very slight graininess, with a muted color palette.

Audio: The soundtrack is mastered in English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, and the sound is generally good—though there’s a slight hollowness of tone that’s noticeable especially with the deeper bass tones. But its nothing terribly distracting.

Extras: There are no extras.

Bottom Line: “Cheers” spun off in a slightly new direction the sixth season, but the quality of writing and the laughs as consistent as in previous years. All of the shows are entertaining, with a handful of them riotously funny and engaging.

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