Where Everybody Hates Your Titles

On today’s episode of StoryWonk Daily, Lani and I shared our experiences revisiting Cheers, twenty years after it went off the air. Despite talking for the better part of forty-five minutes — and adoring the show in general — we somehow neglected to mention one of the worst title sequences in television history.

First, let’s take a look at the song itself. It’s undeniably famous, but… well, there’s no way to be tactful about it. It’s bad. From the trite opening flourish to the breathy way the singer pronounces the word “got”, it’s bad; from the rhymes — “got” with “lot”, “same” with “came” and “name” — to the dreary, depressed tone, it’s bad. This is not contempt bred from familiarity, nor forged in the fire of repetition; we disliked the song from the first episode, and we disliked it to the last.

But the song is as nought compared to the title sequence itself. Before we get to our analysis, why not refresh your memory?

Now, let’s take a closer look…

Our establishing shot. Make the most of it -- it gets a lot weirder from here.

Ghost horses! Alright, it's just the transition from modern-day Cheers to Cheers Of Antiquity. It's a mystery why this show, which consciously embraced and explored its contemporary culture, chose this oddly anachronistic title sequence. Maybe the ghost horses made them do it -- or perhaps there is a darker reason...

The title card, right before the logo appears. See how it evokes conviviality, comradeship and fun? Do try to ignore the drunken letch beneath the table on the right, and the vampire on the left. It just isn't a party unless a woman in an implausible hat is being simultaneously molested by a drunkard and stalked by the undead.

Ted Danson! He's a hero, you know. Look at his magnificent moustache -- and try not to be distracted by the fact that the middle guy is clearly uncomfortable about the fellow standing behind him.

Aw, this is a nice shot. A beautiful woman, presented as strong, capable and independent -- wait, what the hell is that?

Just a little closer...

YOU'VE SEEN HIM. YOU CAN'T UN-SEE HIM.

It always bothered me that Carla doesn't get a decent shot. Now, I'm just grateful that we're being spared a glimpse of whatever eldritch nightmare is working as a bartender.

This is our moment of redemption: I genuinely like this shot, and I liked it all the more when I realized what is happening in it. Both the girl in green -- is that Carla from the previous shot? -- and the cowboy-looking guy behind her are watching the other man drink his whisky with expressions of... well, let's not beat around the bush, it's adoration. I think it was enormously courageous of Cheers to take such a progressive stance on polyamorous girl-guy-cowboy relationships.

But right on the heels of our touching scene of romantic bliss, we're shown that Woody was formerly Woody 'The Brooklyn Butcher' Cavalleri, a fixer for the mob with a talent for making bodies... disappear. It would be bad enough if that were all we had to deal with, but look to Woody's right.

One terrifying image in a title sequence might be considered unfortunate; two is careless; three is a conspiracy to destroy your mind and have it dribble from your ears. Although it does remind me of something...

Odo, formerly of Deep Space Nine and, apparently, Hanover, Indiana. Woody is a Changeling spy who worked for the Mafia before he came to Boston? CONFIRMED.

This isn't explicitly disturbing, but look at how Frasier is presented: in a bar where everybody knows your name, where a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet... he's sitting by himself. Everyone has their back turned. He is alone amidst the crowd, doomed to perpetual alienation and isolation. Hey, that's the mood we want to evoke to prepare the audience for a fun little sit-com, isn't it?

And Lilith, like her husband, is alone; she struggles to contain her sadness as the dancers laugh at her, their mockery twisted into savage cruelty, perhaps by their allegiance to the undead horrors which work behind the scenes, or perhaps by an inept photographer who screwed up the contrast on this shot. Or the ghost horses.

Years of drinking, coupled with a troubled relationship with his wife which only fuels his bitter self-loathing, have finally robbed Norm of his sanity. What the hell is happening in this picture? Norm is daintily taking the hand of a woman who is pouring her drink into her own eye in the vain hope that burning alcohol will momentarily dim the fear and loneliness that gnaw at her soul; meanwhile, the last frayed thread of sanity now broken, the figure on the right giggles maniacally in her -- or his -- outlandish hat. This is what hell looks like, my friends: a dystopian nightmare from which there is no release.

And so we come to our final shot, the smug jackasses who revel in the suffering of all those who have gone before. There's no other explanation: why would you end even a woefully-misjudged sequence such as this with an image of these odious people? There's only one answer that fits the evidence.

This. This is the face of true evil. This is the puppeteer who makes the patrons of Cheers dance and suffer for his enjoyment. This is the face of the Smug Douche.

So that’s it: proof positive that the Cheers title sequence isn’t just one of the worst examples of its type, but is, in fact, High Octane Nightmare Fuel. The fact that the show is as good as it is despite this opening sequence is a marvel — and maybe, just maybe, testament to the valiant hope of the producers that the great Lovecraftian evil which haunts their very souls can be defeated by twenty-two minutes of frothy comedy and flirtatious banter.

 

6 thoughts on “Where Everybody Hates Your Titles

  1. You two must be a lot of fun at art museums. “clearly the artist wanted to convey the loneliness and longing in the person reaching for that glossy apple which certainly represents caving into temptation”

    Me: I think the guy’s hungry and wants a snack.

    I love Cheers and never once looked deeper at the opening montage other than to think, “Early 1900s Bostonians in for a drink and conviviality”

    I loved the song with its somewhat world-weary irony and the hope of an emotional uplift when you meet your buddies at the bar to ease out of the day.

  2. Thanks for the deconstruction and something to ponder. Puts together in a whole new way the 22 minutes which follow the title sequence. I never liked it, thought it was creepy and just something to get through.

  3. I see your point, Mary Stella, and I am absolutely that guy. I try not to be too analytical about this stuff, because it very quickly degenerates into nonsense, but it’s fun to deep-dive from time to time.

    And I agree, Thea — the title sequence is such a trial that Lani and I celebrated every time they played the truncated version. It was a three or four second difference, but it was wonderful!

  4. Those two guys at the end – quite possibly the two most vile scumbuckets who ever had the audacity to crawl God’s green earth – The Di Caprio-esque one clearly carries a flick knife he uses to cheat his way out of fights and a rubber kosh to hit drunk elderly men over the back of the head with and pilfer their wallets while they are out cold. The Stan Laurel one is the brains of the operation, a Klansman and Grand Knight in the local Masonic lodge to boot, a guy who thrives on blackmail and extortion, someone who hops from one steamboat to the other swindling his way through life with about as much sense of conscience as General Franco. Believe me however, when you hear “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash, you know these two sewer rats are in for a frightening time when their clock ticks midnight, Hell being such a horrid place and infinity being such a long long time…

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