Reviews

Cheers: The Complete First Season

Stephen Tropiano

Like Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in 'It Happened One Night', Sam and Diane's sexual tension is channeled through their verbal sparring.


Cheers

Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Nicholas Colasanto, Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberg, George Wendt
Subtitle: The Complete First Season
Display Artist: Glen Charles, Les Charles, James Burrows
Creator: James Burrows
US Release Date: 2003-05-20
Amazon

Before the Friends sextet and the ER staff of Chicago County General Hospital ruled NBC's Must-See TV line-up, Thursday nights belonged to the gang at a Boston pub named Cheers. When the long-running series premiered in September of 1982, it raised the bar for television situation comedies. The most popular sitcoms of the late 1970s -- Three's Company, Laverne and Shirley, and The Love Boat -- were formulaic and sophomoric, filled with sexual innuendos, tired physical gags, and unoriginal plots. With its witty dialogue, talented ensemble, and a premise reminiscent of 1930s screwball comedies, Cheers was a welcome change of pace. Twenty years later, the show's Emmy-winning freshman season, recently released on DVD by Paramount, is still fresh and very funny.

In the series pilot, graduate student Diane Chambers (Shelly Long) is abandoned by her fiancée at Cheers, where she meets the bar's owner, ex-red Sox pitcher Sam Malone (Ted Danson). Sam feels sorry for (and is attracted to) Diane, so he offers her a waitressing job. Realizing her Masters Degree in poetry leaves her unemployable, she accepts the job. While it's a bit of a stretch to believe someone as educated and cultured as Diane would accept Sam's offer, the situation sets up the show's comic center: the tumultuous love-hate relationship between Diane and Sam, reminiscent of the screwball comedy couples of the 1930s.

Sam and Diane are part of one, big happy dysfunctional family who work and drink at Cheers. The writers use the setting to their advantage by building a storyline around a guest patron of the week, such as the man who claims to be a spy, the clergyman looking for one last fling before taking a vow of chastity, and the cardshark who is taking bartender Ernie "Coach" Pantuso (Nicholas Colasanto) for a ride. At times, these situations seem forced, as the customers have no connection to the series regulars; it's as if the writers asked themselves, "Who can we have come into the bar this week?" However, some of the funniest episodes of the first season involve a visit from one of the regulars' old friends or family members, such as Diane's blueblood mother (Glynis Johns), and Coach's daughter (Allyce Beasley), who is about the marry the most obnoxious man on the planet.

The definite highlight of Season One is "Boys in the Bar," in which Sam hosts a book party for his old teammate and fellow party animal, Tom Kenderson (Alan Autry). What Sam doesn't know is that Tom is gay and has come out of the closet in his new tell-all book. Diane sets him straight and Sam quickly comes to terms with the fact the guy with whom he used to pee off balconies is gay. However, his regular customers, led by Norm (George Wendt), are afraid that Sam's public support of his friend will turn Cheers into a gay bar, so they decide to get rid of anyone in the bar whom they suspect is gay. The episode deals with homophobia with intelligence and humor, and its message, particularly back in 1983 when Reagan was in office and AIDS hysteria was on the rise, could not have been more timely.

Such episodes underline that the show's basic premise is the "stranger" in the bar, namely Diane. Playing a fish out of water among the bar's beer-and-pretzel crowd, Long is brilliant in the role. Her expert comic timing aside, she bravely gives us so many reasons not to like the self-righteous, judgmental, snobby Diane, particularly when she starts tossing around literary references and French phrases.

Still, we do love her, because she's vulnerable, has a good heart, and tries to hold her own when up against her tart-tongued co-worker, Carla (Rhea Perlman). Using names like "Pencil Neck," Carla enjoys taunting Diana and then watching her slowly unravel. Another funny episode entitled "Truce or Consequences," involves Carla and Diane's attempt to bury the hatchet by hanging out after closing time. They get tipsy and Carla tells Diane in confidence that Sam is actually the father of one of her children. Carla knows Diane will never be able not to keep this secret (which is a lie) and so she (and the audience) enjoy watching Diane make a complete fool of herself trying not to tell.

Diane may not be in Carla's league when it comes to playing practical jokes and making snide comments, but there's no question she has Sam's number. She resists his charm and smooth talk, which, of course, makes her all the more attractive to a ladies' man like Sam. They are complete opposites who are hot for one another yet refuse to admit it. Diane doesn't want a "dumb jock" like Sam, but a man who is refined and worldly. And, as Diane reminds him, intelligence is not high on his list of criteria when it comes to women. That doesn't stop him from trying to impress her by pretending he took his date to the symphony (Diane later discovers she is actually his ex-wife and the concert program Sam shows her is two years old).

Like Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, or Carole Lombard and John Barrymore in Twentieth Century, Sam and Diane's sexual tension is channeled through their verbal sparring. The 22 episodes in this season include some of their funniest verbal exchanges and knock-down-drag-out fights (a montage of same is included among the DVD's special features). Season One culminates with the long-awaited passionate kiss that marked the beginning of their tumultuous, on-again, off-again relationship that would continue for four more seasons. Hopefully, Cheers fans will not have to wait too long for Paramount Home Video to release Season Two.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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