Monday, March 26, 2007

Cheers -- the Russian poetry corner

Thanks for all the nice comments on our spoof of depressing Irish folk songs for the St. Patrick’s Day episode of CHEERS. It’s a comedy well my partner, David and I have dipped into before. Here’s a scene of ours from a first season episode of CHEERS called "Any Friend of Diane's". Diane’s college chum Rebecca (played by Diane runner-up Julia Duffy -- pictured left) comes to visit the bar. Imagine a sitcom today being allowed to do this run.


Diane and Rebecca are chattering away in French. They laugh together. Rebecca’s laugh turns into a sob, and she buries her face in her hands.

Rebecca, something’s wrong.

You always saw through my fa├žade of gaiety… Elliot and I have parted.

No. You and Elliot? Rebecca, you two were together forever.

I know. I know. It all started when Elliot got his doctorate in ichthyology. His eye began to wander, and the next thing I knew he had taken up with a young student he met on a squid expedition.

A doctorate changes a man. Rebecca, there’ll be others. In the meantime you have your work.

You’d think so. I used to find enormous comfort translating Russian poetry. But no more. Even when I went back over my favorite, Karashnikov’s “Another Christmas of Agony”, it failed to soothe me. (RECITING) “Mischa the dog lies dead in the bog. The children cry over the carcass. The mist chokes my heart, covers the mourners. At least this year we eat.”

Well...If that didn’t pick you up, I’m at a virtual loss.


Anonymous said...

I love the hell out of this episode.

Anonymous said...

I recall nothing else about that episode, but I still remember that poem. Magic.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Diane own any other shirts?

Ian said...

Funny - but why wouldn't we see something like this today? I mean, funny is funny, right?

The Minstrel Boy said...

so far, among the favorite things i've read here are your takes on irish folk music and russian poetry. great stuff. along with the people's reactions to them. i bet if you dug around the stacks you'd come up with the same treatment on the blues. . .

Anonymous said...

I've mentioned in the past about how the CHEERS writers were always so great in finding the comedy without forcing the characters to "go out of character," so to speak, and to be able to get a laugh out of actions which stem from their most basic human behavior traits... Another instance I thought of where it holds true (and Ken, I'm also not sure if you and David penned the episode) but was still hilarious, is where Sam substituted for a week as a sportscaster on the local news for Fred Dryer's character; and after being told that even as well-liked and as well-known a sports personality as Sam Malone was to Bostonians, he was too dull to be doing sports on TV... Whereby, digesting the criticism at his own Sam Malone intellectual level, he showed up the next night and did his sportscast to a rap beat coming from a boombox... I still laugh thinking about the last line he came up with: "...a fella with a groin injury, a g-g-g-groin injury..."

I guess reading today's blog got me thinking about the Fred Dryer episode because I had heard somewhere where that he and Julia Duffy were both originally considered for the parts of Sam and Diane...

Anonymous said...

Meant to say "... AND was still hilarious..."

Charles said...

That poem has always summed up Russian literature for me. Incredibly, I quoted it to a couple of co-workers just last Friday.

Anonymous said...

Ken and all...

If you've never had the pleasure, try and listen to Davinci's Notebook's (they're best known from the Bob and Tom syndicated morning show) Irish Drinking Song...the main character in the song sings to everyone in his family who has passed on. And they ALL have, each in an increasingly more bizarre way...

"Now everybody's died,
so until our tears are cried,
we'll drink and drink and drink and drink
and then we'll drink some more.
We'll dance and sing and fight until the early mornin' light,
then we'll throw up, pass out, wake up and then go drinkin' once again."

But at least, this year, we eat.


Anonymous said...

To answer Ian,

Great shows like Cheers and Taxi allowed moments that simulated reality, moments where you could breathe, moments that weren't simply set-up, joke. And when the joke eventually came (character-driven, clever, smart yet not too written sounding) it was that much richer. A lot of the idiots running the asylum today seem to have forgotten all this. Or they think the audience is no longer interested in this. They're wrong.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious poem. Julia was so good in this episode. I like it when she decides she wants a man, somebody of good peasant stock. Hairy arms and one-word sentences.

This was also maybe the first time Diane Chambers uses what turns out to be the same French in several episodes. When she displays her knowledge of French, it's almost always something which translates into, "I say, if you speak slowly, I can understand you." I think it was also used in the episode when Dianne, Sumner Sloan and Sam go out, but Sam is left out of the conversations. Je dit, S'il Vous Parlez lentement, je vous comprends. Something like that. It got to where Diane said it trippingly.

Anonymous said...

The only thing more depressing than Russian poetry? Russian "Comedy".

In London in 1994, I saw a production of an 1850 Russian comedy (It said it was a comedy right on the posters and programs, as how else would you know?) by Tugenev, called "A Month in the Country", which WAS how long it seemed to last.

Helen Mirrin played a woman in her 50s who gets a letch for a handsome gent in his 20s (Joseph Finnes), like you do, and makes a pass at him. Result? All the characters's lives are destroyed and end in misery. A laff riot. You had to be a Nineteeth Century Russian to find a smile in it. (A typical Russian in 1850: "The cossacks never came and ate them. How hilarious!") Ever since, I've been referring to Turgenev as Turgidnev.

Nicely acted though. John Hurt was also suffering in it.

I think I'll go eat some worms.

Anonymous said...

I don't know ... to me "Ode to a Cornish Hen" is still my favorite piece of poetry from the series.

Anonymous said...

I have that scene memorized. "At least tonight we eat." Cracked me up.

Another "Cheers" scene embedded in my brain is when Coach's daughter comes to visit, bringing along her hideous boyfriend. He's a suit salesman. He tries to sell Norm and Cliff an ugly suit by highlighting its flame-retardant qualities: He holds a lighter under the suit and says, "See? It won't burn!" And someone (maybe Sam) mutters, "Well, that's a drawback."

Alice Beardsley (sp?) played the daughter. A lovely episode. "No, Roy. You don't get Pennsylvania and you don't get me. You just get more and more annoying."

Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

The Russian poetry scene is my all-time favorite! Ken, you're my hero.

Now, did you write the one where Carla, Fraiser, Lillith and Carla's brilliant son are out for dinner in a fancy restaurant. Fraiser advises the waiter that Lillith cannot eat something-or-other because of her delicate constitution. He deferrs to Carla and Carla says to Fraiser something like:

"Thank you for asking, Fraiser. I too have a delicate constitution. (to the waiter) I can have nothing with extra-heavy barbecue sauce, or I will be repeating like a howitzer."

If that was also you, well, there is no other Cheers writer in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

The poem reminds me of one of my (many) favourite lines from Withnail and I, in which Withnail is complaining about Russian drama,
""Always full of women staring out of windows, whining about ducks going to Moscow"

Anonymous said...

Dear Ken,

just interested: this Karashnikov poem doesn't really have any Russian original, does it? I guess you've written yourself.

Thanks for the answer.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm 18, i'm from Spain and i just discovered "Cheers". When i saw this episode i was a bit depressed because of a lot of different thing. But when i saw this scene i just coudn't stop laughing. I think it was the time i've had more fun with TV EVER. I'm going to watch the whole show. Thanks a lot for cheering me up, even if you done it more than 20 years ago.

Unknown said...

I just noticed (as Max did, in a comment above) that the "...J'ai dit, si vouz parlez lentement ..." comment that Diane says in this episode was also said by her in S2 EP (Sumner's Return) when she's speaking to Sumner. Now I really want to know where this comes from and what the joke is!

gray said...

I just viewed, once again, the episode with Julia Duffy. Thanks to the writer(s) for that. It's a continual comedy tonic for me, which I love to watch every once in a while. I can start to giggle just thinking about her reciting the 'Russian poem.'
Such clever writing. I find I'll drop the poem on my friends now and then just for fun, when, sadly, most just look quizzically at me.
I have Cheers complete collection on DVD. I enjoy them all, but some episodes were exceptionally brilliant.
Thinking over all the shows, for me at least, the funniest and cleverest writing seemed to be episodes where there was a special 'guest star', like Julia Duffy or Dan Hedaya, or Roger Rees. Then of course there are so many terrific scenes between Lilith and Frazier, with their wonderful, intellectual needling and badinage.
Many Cheers to 'Cheers'.

Fakesnow said...

Interesting that Mischa was also the cymbal player...

Fakesnow said...

Interesting that Mischa is also the name of the cymbal player

Marlene said...

I, too, noticed that Misha is the name of the cymbal player in the next episode! Someone mentioned forgetting the episode but remembering this poem. I started watching Cheers again in earnest last year after many (20ish) years of seeing few episodes. I remember that poem in its entirety without even seeing this episode. I have a friend that is starting Cheers now. He mentioned that he was interested in other works of Karashnikov. I referred him to Ken's blog.