Welcome to the February installment of backdoor pilots. In this series I listen to my friends on the Longbox Heroes After Dark podcast as once a month they pick one failed attempt to spin off a show from a more successful show. If you would like to listen to the After Dark podcast, the comic book show Longbox Heroes, or the wrestling show At Odds with Wrestling head over to http://longboxheroes.com/
This month’s discussion is the failed Cheers spin off, The Tortellis. If you would like to watch this episode of Cheers or the first episode of The Tortellis, check out the links that the lads at the Longbox found.
Cheers Season 5 Episode 15 Spellbound https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6iafs5
To set the scene:
Cheers is filmed in front of a live studio audience.
Cheers is also a show that takes place in a bar. The dynamic between the bartenders, the customers, and all manner of people who walk in is the set up for the show. While considered a failure in its first season once this show clicks there were and are few better sitcoms ever on TV. Within this show every one of these actors is on fire. Sure not everyone succeeded elsewhere. But on Cheers for whatever other reasons ever moment is whip smart.
In this episode bartender Carla has to deal with her ex husband’s current wife having a meltdown in the bar. Her husband Nick is every stereotype of a scumbag who doesn’t think he is one. He also shows that confidence goes a long way. It doesn’t matter that every single thing about you is crap, if you think it doesn’t stink eventually enough people will think you’re right and their own sense are wrong. He’s the type of dirt bag that always attracts beautiful women. Like his current wife Loretta. Who is now in the bar looking for someone to save her. Diane convinces Carla to bond with Loretta in sisterhood support. Nick comes in to the bar multiple times. He tries to get Loretta back, he tries to start a relationship with Diane. He tries to sweet talk Carla. He tries all three rapid fire in the third act.
Sam gets some good lines in and in this fifth season episode comes across both womanizing and noble. Cliff and Norm have some banter. Woody and Frasier play a game of chess.
Over to the Tortellis and Nick has chased Loretta across the country to her sister’s house in Las Vegas. Because of course Las Vegas. Nick convinces Loretta to take him back and the two of them will live in her sister’s home. Her sister Charlotte is currently unemployed and welcomes half the rent. She’s also attractive and has a pool with a convenient entrance on camera. So here is our set up for bathing suits and for Nick to be tempted into his previous scum bag ways. But wait there’s more!
Charlotte has a son who is cute and says funny things that aren’t really age appropriate. Then Nick’s son and his brand new wife that no one has met show up and also move in. Nick starts a television repair business out of the garage because Vegas has a TV in every hotel room and must need repairmen. This is the most sound and believable moment of the show. Nick gets a deal, lessons are learned, and this new hodge-podge family celebrates this new life.
There is an absurd amount of good and bad here.
First the good: Cheers. This entire episode takes place in the bar. No other sets. And it works great. Most sitcoms take place in homes with the living room into kitchen set up. Cheers being more contained felt like theater. I’m well aware it wasn’t but the quality of the acting and writing made this feel like a one take live performance. If you were going to be on Cheers in this era you best be able to hang, and the actor playing Nick could hang. His third act attempts to woo each of the women was an award winning performance. This slovenly loser became a Lothario spinning many lady plates. And it was believable! Thus was the quality of his acting. On a show of great acting he rose his game to that level
Then he starred opposite Casey Kasem’s 5 foot 10 blonde at the time 29-30 year old (to his 55) wife. Like wow Scoob! She plays dumb blonde well but that’s the problem with dumb blonde type. Is that you or is that acting? Pleasantly surprised to discover it was acting because Jean Kasem also holds 12 patents for innovations in crib and canopy design.
While she innovated cribs later in life there was no innovation here. The attractive sister, the precocious kid, the excuse for a swimming pool, the house that is tiny yet has room for many people. I mean they needed at least four free bedrooms plus the giant garage for the business. All on an unemployed single mother’s salary in the mid 1980’s. Add in the young couple that wants to make out all the time. Oh and the one that marries into the family is all full of sass towards the in laws. All that’s missing is a dog named Blackjack.
But I am actually compelled to see if Nick has a character arc over the course of 13 episodes. He’s an awful person trying to do better and in 2019 that sounds like a great show. In 1987 though it’s a basic set up with no thought of future pay off. Damn shame though. I can see the story of a man who screwed up and thanks to those mistakes no one will give him a chance to try to do better. Why not cheat? Why not drink? Why not prove everyone right when it’s so much tougher to prove everyone wrong.
But that is not what was meant to be on this show. Instead it is a showcase of one great potential who could have really expanded what a sitcom can be burdened by all of the paint by numbers lack of creativity around him.
That said, wiping his dirty hand on the kid’s white shirt is one of the funniest dick moves I’ve ever seen.