62 The List 18 June—l July 1993
V TV REVIEW
In all the barrel-loads of frothing atnber tributes deservedly poured into the Cheers (Channel 4) tankard over the last couple of weeks. I don‘t think anyone‘s yet said ‘Norm saved tny liver'. Well. here goes.
Back in the spring of 1983 I was on one ofthose drinkingjags common to everybody who has just passed their 18th birthday. Essex masculinity initiation rituals involve either souped- up Ford Capris or extra-strong lager and I‘d plumped rather substantially for the latter (in my defence. Holsten Pils
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Cheers is that rare entity, a vicarious experience better than the real thing.
was very voguish at the time). Without false modesty. I reckon that on my peak fortn George Best. Ivy Tilsley and Ollie Reed might have appraised my elbow action across a crowded bar and muttered grudgingly, ‘the lads got potential‘. The future looked golden. with a good head and 5.5 per cent alcohol.
And then one fateful Friday night I stayed at home. I forget the reason — probably a crippling injury or extreme poverty — but as l desultorily tuned in to an American itnport sitcom. I saw the light. 1 was saved. St Paul on the road to Damascus wasn‘t even in it. ()n the screen. the door opened in a Boston bar and in strolled an ttnprepossessing slob with a bad case of brewer‘s buttock. ‘Nortn' the regulars cried as one. ‘What‘s going down. Mr Petersen‘." asked Coach. the genial old bar-tender. Norm Petersen (as l. swift on the uptake as ever. surmised was his name) spread his enormous bulk on a polished barstool. cleared his throat and uttered the life-changing lines. ‘Mr and Mrs Beer and quite a few oftheir ice- cold children. Coach'. I'd just found God and Friday nights would never be the satne.
That was it for tne as far as serious drinking was concerned. If you have to make your excuses at 9.30 every Friday night saying. ‘sorry lads. got to catch ('heers'. you‘re soon excluded frotn self-respecting dipso circles. Admittedly Japanese microchip technology and the imminent cheap availability of reliable video recording equipment soon meant I could have my beer and watch it. so to speak. but by then the desire had gone.
('heers you see. is that rare entity. :1
vicarious experience better than the real thing. After watching Norm refuse to take a call from long-suffering wife Vera. catch a schooner of beer expertly slid around the corner of the bar by Sam. sink it in one. get a refill. fend off an insult from Carla and absorb Cliffte's theory that aliens frotn Venus had infiltrated the National Basketball play-offs. real-life social drinking left plenty to be desired. After a brief and futile search for the equivalent of the bar where ‘everybody knows your name'. populated by psychotic postmen, violent dwarf waitresses and above all. fat. beer-swilling deities. I realised that it didn't exist in this flawed world. Cheers was beer heaven. ideal and unattainable.
Which is not to say it‘s unrealistic. Like no other American comedy save perhaps the first two series of Roseanne. Cheers accepted the basic tenet that everybody‘s a loser with major character flaws and unappealing habits. There was none of this penchant for teaching the characters a lesson and then having them embrace in a sickly bonding kind of way just before the end credits. Nobody wins in Cheers. bttt nobody‘s defeats. setbacks and inadequacies httrt too bad if there‘s still beer in the kegs and Cliffie to remind you that there's always a bigger loser than yourself.
After a brief and futile search for the equivalent of the bar where ‘everybody knows your name’, populated by psychotic postmen, violent dwarf waitresses and above all, fat, beer-swilling deities, I realised that it didn’t exist in this flawed world. Cheers was beer heaven, ideal and unattainable.
The feature-length final episode had none of the drawn-out or sloppy writing you often get when thirty-minute specialists try to stretch themselves. Every line crackled with the satne dryness it‘s had since episode one. And fittineg it was Norm who had the last really funny line. Sam said ‘Go home Norm. kiss Vera. wake her up and do what comes naturally . . .' ‘What do you mean Sam. wake up Vera and make her watch tne eat a bucket of buffalo wings?‘ God or what? (Torn Lappin)
VHSerama in our regular round-up of the rental releases and sell-through suggestions heading for the shop shelves this fortnight.
I A River Runs Through It (PG) That hoary old Hollywood theme. fly- fishing. comes back to haunt us in Robert Redford's lyrical adaptation of Norman Macl.ean's novel. It‘s the tale of a shifting relationship between two contrasting brothers growing tip in Montana at the beginning of the century. Lots of dreatny landscapes and tnale bonding and some excellent casting. They're not bad at hauling in the scaly buggers either. (Guild)
I Switching Parents (PC) TV movie stuff in the true story of the twelve-year-old kid who sued his parents for divorce. They were no- good alcoholics you see. while his foster parents were a nice all-American couple with huge wodges of dosh. The US of A. donlchajust love it'.’ (Odyssey)
I Night Hunt ( 15) Another straight-to-video venture into the American urban nightmare. in this tale of three women (led by feisty Stephanie Powers) finding themselves in a lawless ghetto after taking a wrong turning on the highway. Faced by a vicious street gang led by the psychotic lce. they have to fight for their survival. Moderately violent gung-ho vigilante thrills a-plenty. More politically incorrect than a go-go bar in Basildon. (MedUsa)
I The Bodyguard (15) Whitney Houston sings That Song. Kevin Costner inexplicably tries to save her from the clutches of a psychopath. Last year's box-office smasheroonie about a top pop star and her less-than-rcspectful minder is undemanding schlocky rotnantic formula stuff redeemed by . . . well nothing really. ()ne for your Mutn. but only if you had an awful childhood and are still bitter about it. (Warner) I Midnight Heat ( 18) Sex. money and murder are the much-plugged ingredients of a confused and confusing inferior action thriller about a junkie joumalist (how implausible) finding himself on the hitlist of a vicious LA drugs baron (Dennis Hopper). Adam Ant plays a ‘petty punk'. which is the only realistic idea in the whole tnovie. (First Independent)
I Heaven Is A Playground (15) (20:20 Vision)
I Blown Away ( 18) (20:20 Vision)
I Darkness Before Dawn (15) (Odyssey)
I Tale of a Vampire (18) (Columbia Tristar)
I Classic TV Heaven: The 508 (U) TV nostalgia gets the VHS treatment with a selection of tapes picking out the kitsch and outlandish from the archive cupboards. Most of the 50s stuff seems to be swash-buckling period dramas like Sir l-‘ram'is Drake. ll’i/Iiam 72']! or The Bl!(‘(‘(llt('('li\‘ with blatantly cardboard interior sets and ditto acting. They don't make 'em like that anymore. except for The House ()j‘Ii/int of course. (lTC £9.99)
I Classic TV Heaven: The 60s volumes 1-11! (PG) Kitsch of a different sort in this collection of assorted espionage and adventure series including Department 5'. Ram/all And Hup/(il'k Deceased and Man In A Suitcase. Catnper than John
lnman's rucksack. (lTC £9.99 each tape)
I Classic TV Heaven: The 70s volumes l-ll (PG) The beginning of the end with tawdry series like The I’mteetm's. Return The Saint and Spyrler 's Webb. (lTC £9.99 each tape)
I Knife In The Water (PG) Roman Polanski’s debut feature from I962 is a claustrophobic study of three characters on board a small sailing boat. Tension rises as they struggle for control over each other. Cracking stuff for aficionados of black- and-white liastern European dialogue-driven psychological thrillers. (Connoisseur £15.99)
I Homework ( 18) Mexican director Jaime Humberto Hermosillo offers a sly. comic sex. lies and videotape-style tale of film student Maria Rojo seducing her ex- lovet‘ Jose Alonso into a session in front ofa concealed video camera. We watch tnost of the action frotn the viewpoint of the hidden lens as the couple get it on in a rather farcical way. A one-gag comedy but at least the joke has a decent shelf- life. (Tartan £15.99)
I Sweat Emma near Babe ( l5) lstvan Svabo's touching tale of two women trying to survive in post-Communist Budapest. Their training as Russian teachers is now redundant and they have to resort to menial jobs and prostitution to make a living. A brooding and often beautiful ﬁlm. if desperately bleak. (Tartan £15.99) I Petulia ( 15) A ‘long- lost 60s classic' from Richard Lester. a director whose work is stuck forever in a shallow summer-of-love stasis. Petulia stars Julie Christie as frustrated waif-wife throwing herself at divorcee George C. Scott despite her husband's proximity. Plenty of flashbacks and wacky camerawork (courtesy of cinematographer Nicholas Roeg) but essentially a quaint pen'od piece. (Tartan £15.99) I Daughters Of Darkness (l8) (Tartan £15.99) I Galahad 0f Everest (U) In which hulking great bearded luvvie Brian Blessed waxes nauseatingly epic about his ascent of Everest. (Tartan £10.99) I Danzon (PG) (Tartan 1 £15.99)