I was afraid that when sam finally bought back the bar, cheers would lose its edge. By this point Rebecca had gone from professional business woman and a good foil for Sam’s egotistical ways to insecure, neurotic, cartoon-like character. For the first few seasons she managed to constantly humble sam and keep him in line, but soon she grew to become as equally shallow as he. At this point in the show sam was getting a little to big for his britches. He finally managed to get Rebecca into bed, he got the bar back and is now in full control of his life for the first time since his involvement with Diane Chambers. Then in comes John Allen Hill. New owner of Melvilles and a man who is just as evil as Carla ever was, with a partial ownership of cheers stated in Melvilles lease.
And the laughs just kept on coming.
Perhaps what was best about John Allen Hill was that he brought out a side in Sam noone did. Diane helped to mature same a bit, Rebecca succeeded for a time in keeping him humble while sexually frustrating him, Fraiser and Lilith were the conscience of the show, carla was his moral support and Cliff and Norm were his cheering section, but Hill just drove Sam crazy. By the end of the episode sam is foaming at the mouth, obsessed about a rubber duck mat, and possessed by the idea that John Allen Hill is some sadistic god sent to torture him. Its rare to see the exuberant, confident, and witty sam Malone so humbled and cut down a notch. It made for a more interesting show, a lot more laughs and character development. A perfect character is a dull one, but a character with flaws is one that is entertaining to watch. And this episode marks a point where sam went from top of the world, to foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of John Allen Hill.
Perhaps most remarkable about this episode is that it doesn’t so much mark a point where the loss of Shelly long was forgotten, so much as it shows how much the show had outgrown her. When Melvilles upper crust customers infest the bar and a yuppie gets a louder greeting from the patrons then Norm, Sam comments to Fraiser that Hill is turning the bar into something Dianne would have liked. Fraiser then goes from coaching Sam to discuss the situation reasonably to offering to hold down Hill while sam hits him.
This moment embodies what was so special about cheers, it was a show that grew as much as the fans did, it celebrated its history as much as it could laugh about where it had been and how much it was better for the maturity. The writers injected just the right amount of heart, cartoon like wackiness and sincere character growth and/or degradation, making it as engrossing in much the same way the best soap operas can be, but much more accessible and engrossing.
It will be a while until the season that has this episode comes out, but I think perhaps Season 9 was Cheers at the top of its game, when all the factors of the show were clicking in nearly every episode and the writers found new and interesting way to keep the varied cast playing off each other in new and entertaining ways. The rest of the show is nothing to stick your nose up at either, save for maybe Season 5 where Diane had pretty much worn out her welcome, but that doesn’t make any of the other seasons any less worth owning and viewing.