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Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Vonnegut’

I don’t know why this struck me. I was skimming a GQ article on the 30th anniversary of the TV show Cheers. The article quotes Kurt Vonnegut saying that he would have rather written that show than his own books. This is twofold funny to me for very personal reasons. One of the main reasons I gave up watching television, at age 17, was that Shelley Long left Cheers, and the other main reason was that I had discovered the book Slaughterhouse-Five, the literary masterpiece of one Kurt Vonnegut, who single-handedly launched a love affair between me and books that my father had fruitlessly tried to force on me at a much younger age.

Why did Shelley Long play such a big role in my intellectual development, forcing me away from Starsky & Hutch and into Thomas Pynchon and James Joyce? Does she really deserve such responsibility? No. It was probably just the right time in my life. My parents, big readers that they were, let me watch far too much television when I was younger … so much that I eventually burned out on it. To this day, watching regular TV for more than an hour at a time makes me a bit nauseous.  Cheers was the last TV show, for many, many years, that I watched religiously, compelled not only by its comedy but by its soap opera. Love is such a fraught topic for teenagers, that I, too, pinned some sort of  ineffable hope on two fictional characters, neither one of whom I’m like. Or perhaps I just thought Shelley Long was pretty. In any case, the show beat that dead horse of Sam and Diane’s on-again, off-again romance for so long, that by the time I was 17 I was starting to see through the pastiche and melodrama not only of television but the way it was somehow mimicked in real life. People get drunk on drama as easily as teenagers sipping cooking sherry. There’s a better life out there, and there’s better art. More timeless literature that makes you think around a subject and find affinities instead of jerking you around every Thursday night for cheap delectation.

I have been wondering recently whether to haunt the Cheers bar again on Netflix, since my impatient and image-thirsty son has sort of forced me into a compromise with TV time again. From what I can tell so far, my feelings were justified. I understand why Cheers was a good idea on paper, but many of the jokes have worn thin over time. I think it might have been an ambitious show at first, but it traded its wit for melodrama too often, traded smart gags for dumb ones and certainly reached mediocrity even before Shelley Long left. I stand behind my oft-repeated claim that if you’re going to look for a truly great sitcom from that era, you must look no further than the Cheers’ crew’s previous show: Taxi. This, in my mind, is a timeless TV show (if there is such a thing) where life’s absurdities and heartbreaks and the collisions between generations and social groups could be examined and laughed at in ways that we realized were important after the fact–and without dime store titillation. I still feel the writing on that show stands up 30 years after its own abbreviated five-year run. I’m not sure why it doesn’t get yanked onto the pages of GQ more often. Maybe another 30 years will offer us more focus. Of course, you’d have to be one of Kurt Vonnegut’s time-traveling heroes to know. In fact, I highly recommend that if you haven’t, you go read Slaughterhouse-Five right now.

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