IT is hard to believe such things are possible, but tonight on Channel 9
at 9.30 pm you can see new episodes of `Cheers'. Not memory-jogging glimpses of
the show when it starred Diane or the Coach or reminders of what Frasier looked
like before he grew a beard. Not an opportunity to relive Woody's stage debut,
or Carla's solitary moment of compassion, or the effort Sam made to read `War
and Peace' to impress Diane, or the time when Lilith's laboratory rat died and
she carried it around in her handbag, unable to let go.
Tonight it's a look forward, a date with the future: two whole episodes you
could never have seen before, featuring the most popular bar on television _
with the possible exception of the Rover's Return in `Coronation Street'.
This dramatic opportunity has a suitably drastic course of events: there's a
fire at Cheers, a small but significant conflagration caused by a cigarette in a
wastepaper basket. The perpetrator is unwilling to own up to Sam immediately,
especially when it turns out that he had a crippling excess on his insurance
policy and will have to sell his soul to pay for repairs _ or, worse, his
It is a dark, suitably melancholy atmosphere as the bar becomes a sight for
sore eyes, a place that is no longer a refuge. The fire functions as a preview
for the viewer of life without `Cheers'.
In episode two, there are darker days still, but they're not about lighted
cigarettes; they're about loyalty. The Cheers regulars do not put on an
impressive display of it: perhaps the `Cheers' audience won't either. Carla has
gone to work at Mr Pubbs, a neon-ridden, video-dominated bar where the
waitresses sing `Happy Birthday' to their customers, every hour is happy hour
and the complimentary snacks come around with the regularity of a new Joyce
Carol Oates novel. The regular Cheers clientele find the place mesmerisingly
attractive: is it a sign of things to come? The future looks bleak for Woody and
Kelly, too; doctrinal differences have made their honeymoon untenable.
Can this marriage be saved _ will this bar survive?
On Channel 9 at 10.30 pm, it is the premiere of `Seinfeld', a half- hour show in
which a successful stand-up comedian transfers his act to TV. It's a
comfortably flexible format, and a straightforward transition: Jerry Seinfeld
plays himself, more or less, a stand-up comedian of the same name, and Julia
Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander play his close friends.
Seinfeld's comedy routine is blended into the show and feeds off events in
it. He is youngish, anxious, slightly klutzy. Alexander plays George, a Sad
Sack; Louis-Dreyfus is Elaine, Jerry's former girlfriend, now a perky female
buddy. It's a mildly episodic, slightly self-conscious show, with a spare and
streamlined premise that allows the material Seinfeld uses to be played out once
more. Unencumbered by history and family, defined only as slightly neurotic
single people who have trouble with the incidents of day-to-day life, the cast
of `Seinfeld' swap crises and one-liners. Tonight their problems range from
moral quandaries over taking advantage of friends to dealing with male
heterosexual panic to disagreements over whether the great Joe Di Maggio dunks
his doughnuts. The male panic routine has its depressingly predictable moments _
but overall `Seinfeld' has something pleasantly off-kilter about it.