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Kirstie Alley and Cheers

Tuesday 12/6/22

Kirstie Alley died yesterday. I wasn't aware that she was sick, and wasn't even thinking about her possible death when I saw that she was trending on social media. When she had been in the news in recent years--in the social media way--it was usually because of politics. (Before that it had been her weight, which people were incredibly mean about, as if it were even this thing, which it wasn't.)

I've never been much interested in what anyone thinks politically. I don't find it interesting, rarely are they informed, and almost never are they balanced and reasonable. With people who make things, or are a part of things that are made, I just care about the work in almost all cases. (Exceptions? Orson Welles and Thoreau.) What is the value of the work? There are all kinds of "good" value a work can have. It can change who you are. Inspire you. Teach you about the world, your relationships, yourself. It can fundamentally alter who you are by helping you become who you have it in you to be. And then all of the iterations of that self going forward. That's the best work, I believe. Good value is also just entertainment. You get some laughs. Your day is made to brighten a little.

I wrote an essay recently on Cheers that will be in You're Up, You're Down, You're Up: Essays on Art in Life and Life in Art. It focuses on the first episode of the first season, which, of course, was long before Kirstie Alley came on board as Rebecca Howe. I think I have an understanding of Cheers now that I didn't have when it was originally on. I was a kid for a lot of those years, but I pretty much followed and watched Cheers in real time. I was a Boston sports fan and I liked the idea that a show could be from here. It wasn't New York or LA. It was Boston.

I remember being on the bus in middle school, having just watched the first episode of Cheers with Kirstie Alley the night before. We were discussing this intensely, my friends and me. We didn't like what was happening here! It was a downer! Sam had been gone, the bar had been changed, there were uniforms! The ignominy. The old days were no more. And Diane had left.

Then there was this uptight woman--Rebecca Howe--running the bar in this no-fun way. There was a lot of green--those uniforms, a potted palm--when previously there hadn't been any. It looked weird, off, off-putting, but it also didn't hurt that Rebecca Howe was smoking hot in this mature, sultry way where one suspected that you never knew what might be coming. (Or, he adds rakishly, what she might be into.)

"Well, that's it for Cheers," me and my friends on the bus pretty much agreed. At least we still had Night Court, which we thought was very risque and sexual, being middle schoolers. The character of Dan was a veritable porn star to us with the things he said, as with his pseudonym of Lance Goodthrust. Pre-teen C-Dawg enjoyed that.

Still, we stuck with Cheers because what else were we going to do, and we all ended up thinking it was great, even better than before! This isn't something I would ever think now. The show got broad and less incisive, lost a lot of its voice, which was at its most indelible in the first season in particular.

But I think that speaks to the difference between the two halves of Cheers over its run. One is more inclined to like the Kirstie Alley episodes when one is less fully formed, maybe immature. It got less smart, but it's still very watchable. (By the end, a lot of the plots were, "Let's watch these people hang out, just hang out, and that will be the show," which I actually liked a lot.) Whereas, the Diane era is for the thinking adult, with a humor that ages better because it keeps ripening.

I was grateful--and still am--the show kept going with Kirstie Alley, because it was my favorite thing to watch back then, something I always looked forward to.

Don't underestimate what it means to look forward to things in this life. Hope takes many forms, big and small, and hope is our single greatest commodity. One can keep going without most everything else--even love. But take it from me, it borders on the impossible without hope, and it pretty much is--you're living in a form of stoppage time. And what do you want? You want hope again.

Even just looking forward to something that you might watch for twenty-three minutes is a form of hope. A small form, but it is in there nonetheless. You'll know it--again, believe me--if you don't have it.

I looked forward to seeing Cheers with Kirstie Alley.


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