Another Sitcom face-off, where I take two similar sitcoms and decide which one is better than the other. Today we have:
Cheers premiered in 1982 and was on until 1993. It was a show about a bunch of guys who hung around a bar, with the bartender Sam Malone being the focus of the show, and the group. A year after Cheers went off the air, Friends premiered in 1994. This comedy was about six friends stuck at the point in life where you arenâ€™t sure where youâ€™re going in terms of jobs and relationships. These are both good shows, but which is superior?
The last two times I did this I featured family comedies. Since these are ensemble comedies, I will need to use slightly different criteria. I have to change the categories a bit because ensemble shows donâ€™t usually have main leads. Cheers main cast was Ted Danson and Shelley Long (later Kirstie Alley). Friends is harder to separate, but for the sake of the article I am going to say the main cast is the girls while the secondary cast is the guys. You will understand why in a minute.
Round 1-Main Cast (1)
Sam, Diane & Rebecca, and Carla vs. Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe
Sam was the center of the group, simple as that. The others in the bar lived vicariously through him and his exploits chasing women all over Boston. On the other hand, Monica was the mother hen of her group. She was there, especially in the beginning, to watch out for everyone and take care of them. That is why everyone always gathered in her apartment, it was as comfortable as being home. Diane was the intellectual who wanted to be a writer, what she was doing tending bar was anyoneâ€™s guess. Rachel was also a waitress, and was also out of her element. At least Diane had a knack for the job, Rachel clearly did not. Just like how Diane finally left to be a writer, Rachel also quit to get into fashion. Rachel is also what Rebecca could never be, successful. Rachel learned confidence and had great luck, while Rebecca took several blows to her self esteem and couldnâ€™t seem to find success in anything. Finally, Carla was the mean one which had a very strong spiritual side. She believed in god and had such a strong faith she even saw a fortune teller regularly. Phoebe also had a spiritual side, less with religion but more metaphysical. She also saw a psychic. Carla and Phoebe both filled the same role, to observe and if necessary comment. However Phoebe was nice, and would never put people down the way Carla did. So who wins? While Rachel as one character manages to take the place of two, you canâ€™t deny Sam is the center of that show. Without him, there would be no show and I donâ€™t think the same can be said for Monica. Plus, as I pointed out in a previous article Monica had some serious faults. And Carlaâ€™s sarcastic comments were much cleverer.
Round 2, Main Cast (2)
Chandler, Joey, and Ross vs. Norm, Cliff, and Woody
These characters are very similar. Norm was the fixture of the bar, always ready with a wise crack. Some of the funniest lines in the series came from him. The same can be said for Chandler, he was always there with a punch line. Cliff was the annoying character who always has a story to tell. The only problem was Cliff wasnâ€™t nearly as smart as he thought he was. Ross was the other end of the spectrum; he was a smart guy who loved to ramble on about things that his other friends didnâ€™t care about. Woody was the dim witted but good natured farm boy with the heart of gold. He truly cared for people, especially his friends. He was just a tad dense at times. The same thing can be said for Joey, except he was no farm boy. Both of these characters would do anything to help another cast member out, and the other difference between the two is Woody ended up married. So who wins? I think Friends takes this one, because Ross, Joey, and Chandler have more to their characters than just being a punch line. I will actually be talking about this more in a few minutes.
Round 3, Best Romance
Ross and Rachel vs Sam and Diane
If you saw my Valentines article you understand why this article was put off. I didnâ€™t want to have two discussions on the same topic. In a nutshell, Sam and Diane were the couple everyone wanted to see together on Cheers, while Ross and Rachel were the same on Friends. Both these couples were great together and both had their ups and downs. However, I have to give the award to the couple who were together in the end. Of course, that was Ross & Rachel.
Winner=Friends (Ross & Rachel)
Round 4, Supporting Cast
Frasier started as a supporting member of Cheers and became a recurring one, as did Lilith and several barflies including Paul. Normâ€™s wife was never seen but was spoken of so often she felt like a character. Unfortunately, Friends canâ€™t beat Cheers in this category. Their supporting cast consisted of Gunther at Central Perk and maybe Rossâ€™s son who we hardly saw. Ross and Monica’s parents were around every so often but as funny as they were they still can’t compete. Of course there were boyfriends and girlfriends but they always came and went, and were never heard from again. I give credit to the writers of Friends for keeping things fresh with the same six people for so long, but for the sake of this category Cheers is the clear winner for bringing in new characters so memorable that we wanted to see more and more and yet they never took anything away from the regular cast.
Round 5 Theme Song
This is a real tough one. â€œWhere Everybody Knows Your Nameâ€ is a great song, but so is â€œIâ€™ll Be There for Youâ€. Back in the mid-90â€™s this song was all over the place. Unfortunately, it was on so much it got annoying. So, I will give the award to the show with more classic theme.
Round 6, Premise
Of course there are over 200 episodes for both of these series. These shows were both huge staples for NBC; they were consistent programs which the network had no doubt about. Cheers was basically about a bunch of friends in a bar, while Friends was about a group of friends who sat around a coffee shop. Both these shows were smartly written and very funny, with great jokes and gags. The thing that makes Friends stand out is the way the stories were created. Every episode had three stories, so there was never an episode where a character was short changed. Also, for the most part the stories were pretty separate and it was the case that if you didnâ€™t like one story, you might want to tune in for the other. Cheers had more of a standard sitcom premise, there was an A story and a B story, which was just a filler story to get some laughs and screen time with the other characters. While every character got a line, many episodes were not balanced evenly especially during the days when Sam and Diane dominated the show. So, I give the award to Friends for just being much more fun to watch because there are many episodes of Cheers that if you donâ€™t like the main story, then there isnâ€™t much left beside some jokes thrown in here and there.
Round 7, JUMPING THE SHARK
Normally how we decide the winner is by looking at which show jumped the shark the worst. However, this isnâ€™t as cut and dry as it was before. Both of these shows were pretty consistent, and had very good final seasons. The last episode of both series was very well done, being heartwarming and memorable.
I was almost ready to just call this a draw, except for one thing. The big difference between these shows is that on Cheers the characters all stagnated. They hung out night after night at that bar, never really living or changing. This was pointed out by Diane in the final episode when she commented on how Cliff and Norm were exactly the same. Norm and Cliff tried to point out how they had changed, but came up with nothing. Of course they didnâ€™t, this was the kind of show where if a character had an episode where they developed as a character, it was reversed for the next episode. Friends was not like that, all the characters were allowed to grow and change. Chandler matured, Rachel learned how to be responsible, Joey went from being a jerk to a great friend. In fact the characters from the first season seem very different from the way we leave them in the final season. So, this is a tough call since both these shows were smartly written, well acted, and pretty funny.
However I am giving he award to the show that allowed it characters to change and mature, which in turn kept us interested because we really wanted to see what happened next. The winner, by a nose, isâ€¦â€¦.
Final Thoughts-I donâ€™t mean to take anything away from Cheers, it was a fantastic show. I just think we related to the characters on Friends more as people, rather than just jokes.