Avid readers of the "Sportsguy", Bill Simmons, may remember his breakdown of Cheers vs. Seinfeld...among his other breakdowns which include gems such as: who would win in a game between "Hoosiers" and "The White Shadow"?
ESPN2 has recently put much of Simmons' work on the Insider portion of the website, but they are currently running the Cheers vs. Seinfeld article in their vault.
We've all been dancing around the most controversial breakdown of our generation. Yeah, that's right ... "Cheers" Vs. "Seinfield." Dr. Jack, the floor is yours. -- K. Fitzgerald, Manchester, Conn.
SG: Damn. And you thought the "Who would win between Hickory High and Carver High in a seven-game series?" question from last summer was tough.
All right, let's break this down, Dr. Jack-style:
Stars: Jerry Seinfeld wasn't really acting, was he? Wasn't he basically playing himself and shifting his nightclub act to the small screen? Wasn't he more of a straight man, a facilitator? As for Ted Danson, he created a memorable, multi-dimensional, likable, hysterical character. ... I mean, it didn't get much better than Sam Malone. Jerry needed the actual material to make you laugh; Sammy could make you laugh without saying a line. I would even call him a borderline comedic genius. And he could go serious on you, too. Frankly, it's no contest. EDGE: "Cheers."
Supporting Cast: Elaine, Kramer and George. That's a murderers' row. You could make a case that Elaine was the funniest female TV character of all-time; Kramer was the funniest "wacky sitcom character"; and George was the funniest TV character of all-time, period. Who was funnier than George Costanza? He's the only sitcom character who ever made me consistently laugh out loud ... and yes, I'm including Screech, J.J. Walker, Joey Tribbiani and Jack Tripper. He kills me to this day.
And I liked all of the running fringe characters (George's parents, Newman, Puddy, etc.) except for Mr. and Mrs. Seinfeld (who never brought anything to the table and should have been put out to pasture after the two-part raincoats episode). "Cheers" probably matches them for running fringe characters though (Harry the Con Man, Eddie LeBeck, Nick Tortelli).
As for the "Cheers" supporting cast, Norm Peterson was my second-favorite sitcom character of all-time (nobody had a better entrance). Diane Chambers worked perfectly in the early years, but ultimately became overbearing. Cliff Clavin was a tour-de-force, one of the more original sitcom characters out there. Same with Frasier (do you realize Kelsey Grammar is going on 17 years playing that guy? Has to be a record). I enjoyed Carla as long as they weren't revolving an episode around her. The only characters I never really liked were Rebecca Howe and Lilith, but "Cheers" was running on fumes for those last few years.
And then there was Coach, the heart and soul of that show; it was never the same after he left (Woody was a poor man's version of him). I always thought "Cheers" was a show until Coach died, then it became a sitcom, if that makes sense.
At gunpoint, I have to go with the "Seinfeld" cast. I just can't imagine any scenario in which the Elaine-Kramer-George trio could be topped. It's impossible. EDGE: "Seinfeld."
Best Celebrity Cameo: Both shows played this card beautifully over the years -- Kevin McHale, Keith Hernandez, Roger McDowell, Jon Voight, Wade Boggs, George Steinbrenner, Terry Hatcher, Marlee Matlin, etc. -- but the best celebrity cameo was from the two-part "Seinfeld" episode when Hernandez dates Elaine ("I'm Keith Hernandez ... I won the MVP in '79"). Other than Joe Montana's doing the "That's OK ... I'm going upstairs to masturbate" sketch on SNL in the mid-'80s, Hernandez's appearance destroys everything else I can remember -- that was one of the five best "Seinfeld" episodes of all-time. You know it's good when I'm ranking it ahead of McHale playing for the "Cheers" hoops team. EDGE: "Seinfeld."
Main Set: Jerry's apartment versus the bar from "Cheers"? Puh-leeeze. Throw in New York versus Boston and it's no contest. EDGE: "Cheers."
"Jump the Shark" Factor: "Seinfeld" jumped when Elaine straightened out her hair and Kramer revealed that his first name was "Cosmo"; "Cheers" jumped when Sam and Diane got engaged. Both of them were still watchable after these things happened ... they just weren't nearly as good. Hey, it happens. "Cheers" might have jumped sooner than "Seinfeld," but "Cheers" did a better job of integrating new characters and remaining somewhat fresh, whereas "Seinfeld" drove its four main characters into the ground. Couldn't they have thrown in a steady girlfriend for George or something? EDGE: Even.
Sexual tension: As good as Elaine and Jerry were, they can't come close to Sam and Diane. Their relationship fueled that show for three consecutive years and banged home the "Women are utterly and completely insane" concept for me as a fledgling teenager. Thank you, Diane Chambers. BIG EDGE: "Cheers."
Consistency, originality and durability: The "Seinfeld" re-runs hold up much better these days; better-written, more original, more modern, outright funnier shows. But "Cheers" was hindered by the limits of sitcoms in the '80s -- one set, one plot, one resolution -- so it's tough to really blame them for that. And it showed a little soul and a little emotion from time to time, which "Seinfeld" simply wouldn't and couldn't do. "Cheers" remains the last great old-fashioned sitcom, the finest of its kind. They don't make 'em like that anymore. EDGE: Even.
Cultural Significance: Has there ever been a water cooler comedy quite like "Seinfeld"? And what about all the phrases from "Seinfeld" that became part of pop culture (like "Not that there's anything wrong with that"), or the quirky one-shot characters (the close-talker, the virgin, etc.). BIG EDGE: "Seinfeld."
Watershed Episode: Tough call for "Cheers"... I'd probably go with the Thanksgiving episode when everyone threw food at one another at Carla's house. Some inspired comedy there. For "Seinfeld," it's obviously "The Contest," in my opinion, the second-funniest sitcom in history (behind Larry Sanders' "Roast" episode). There's comedy, there's high comedy, there's transcendent comedy, and then there's George Costanza visiting his mother in the hospital just so he can peek in on the lady getting the sponge bath. EDGE: "Seinfeld."
Final Episode: "Cheers" ended things pretty well. Not great ... but OK. The final "Seinfeld" episode ranks right up there with "Rocky V," "Another 48 Hours" and "Fletch Lives" for me ... in other words, let's just pretend it never happened. EDGE: "Cheers."
Final Verdict: "Cheers" was a more complete all-around show (funny, heartwarming, well-acted, not afraid to introduce new characters), but "Seinfeld's" ceiling was just a little higher (groundbreaking, unique, unpredictable, and consistently great for five or six years). Much like they're might be another Michael Jordan, but there will never be another Larry Bird... there might be another "Cheers," but there will never be another "Seinfeld." EDGE: Seinfeld.