Saturday, August 26, 2017

The CHEERS Russian Poetry Corner

This is one of my most requested blogpost.  It's a scene of ours from a first season episode of CHEERS called "Any Friend of Diane's".  I posted this a few years ago and still get requests for it.  Diane’s college chum Rebecca (played by Diane runner-up Julia Duffy) 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.


Peter said...

That was terrific, Ken.

Sadly, this is how a sitcom or movie now would probably do it.


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

Rebecca, something’s wrong.

Aren't you perceptive?! Of course something's wrong!.Elliot and I broke up!

WTF?! But you two have always been crazy mad in love!

I know, right? But it all started over an argument over which hip-hop album is the best. I said Straight Outta Compton but Elliot said The Chronic. After that, things just weren't the same.

Many a relationship has ended over rap music, Rebecca. He's got a point though. The Chronic is far superior.

All I can do is just watch my Bridget Jones boxset to try and get over him.

Has that helped?

It did, until one of the characters called Bridget a bitch and it reminded me of how Elliot would call me his gangster bitch and I'd call him by OG thugster. And I cried all over again!

No wonder. That's the sort of love you only get once in a lifetime. 

Darryl said...

Ken, they've blocked your blog here at work. It's categorized as a pornographic website. I knew your downfall would be all those lascivious photos of Natalie Wood.

I love that scene, by the way. It's one of those that leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment over people who don't find it at all funny. And that's happened a couple of times.

blinky said...

In a follow up to your rant about commercials, have you seen the new Netflix Chuck Lorrie show "disjointed" directed by the best director ever, Jim Burrows. They have many fake spots in there and then they have mini real spots for Lays potato chips that are some of the cleverest I've seen in a while.

Mike said...

Mischa the dog lies dead in the bog,
The village used all of his carcass,
To the butcher, his meat, to the tailor, his hide,
Musicians used his balls as maracas.

R. Johnson said...

I love that scene, by the way. It's one of those that leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment over people who don't find it at all funny. And that's happened a couple of times.

Maybe those people who don't find that scene funny would do better to find a blog that features hilarious script excerpts from GOMER PYLE or FAMILY MATTERS.

But yeah, I work with a guy who doesn't like CHEERS. Insists it isn't funny like MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, which he thinks is the best sitcom ever. Frankly, I'm not sure people like him should be allowed to wander the streets.

Anonymous said...

MWC was a documentary not a comedy.
Seriously though, I enjoyed both MWC and Cheers. They aren't mutually exclusive. Well done lowbrow humor is fine, too. Just do it well.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Off topic: TCM has a night of Jerry Lewis movies scheduled for Labor Day. Nice timing.

Burt said...

Patting yourself on the back again, gaylord???

Klee said...

Diane was always my favorite character. My favorite episode is still when her best friend, played by Markie Post shows up and tries to become buddies with Sam. Also, the one she pretends to call the cops when Sam breaks into her apartment while she was meditating (Watching TV...ha...ha). Loved the Diane's episodes.

Max Clarke said...

Always one of my favorite scenes. Just hearing "Another Christmas of Agony" makes me smile. Julia was wonderful in the episode.

I used to visit Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen in downtown Berkeley. When a fellow named Mischa came to work there, I taught him the poem.

This is also an example of how good Cheers writers were to their viewers. A lot of shows, maybe most, would never "slow down" the pace with a poem recitation. But time and time again, Cheers writers assumed their viewers were intelligent, and used these literary/faux literary references. Another case is building an entire episode around Sam's getting a poem published in the literary magazine Syzygy.

Charles said...

I was an English major (not that that really has anything to do with it), and to this day (I'm in my 50s now), I use "Another Christmas of Agony" as an example of why I don't like Russian literature (which I've never studied or, really, read much of).

Wendy M. Grossman said...

blinky: I was also going to ask Ken for his take on DISJOINTED. Lorre has always had a way with fake commercials (the terrible jobs CYBILL had while he was still with that show being the obvious examples). It's a very odd mix, because even after only a few years, seeing the Netflix logo at the beginning sets a context at odds with the traditional sitcom. And here's Lorre and co-creator David Javerbaum, playing in the new context much like Bjorn Borg insisting on using a wooden racquet when he tried to rejoin the ATP tour in the mid-1990s: laugh track/studio audience, full-length credit sequence, bright lighting and all. when the laugh track came on I was really jarred and uncertain whether the laugh track was part of a show within the show or an actual sitcom audience. So the show has both Lorre standard stuff - he's had stoner characters for years - but also some really interesting things that are more new, such as the underlying theme asking how you adapt when you win the cause you've fought for and the world changes.

(Actually, makes me wonder if this collaboration is a little less seamless than most of Lorre's - he has a George S. Kaufman ability to pick collaborators who push him in new directions while indelibly putting his own stamp on things - so maybe the odd feel to the mix reflects two very different approaches between the co-creators. Works with that title, though!)


John E. Williams said...

Video link

Stephen Robinson said...

I've been watching WILL & GRACE on iTunes starting from Season One, and I've noticed a couple things:

1) The pop culture reference as joke is a big problem, but primarily for Will and Grace rather than Jack and Karen. The episode I just watched today included such dated "jokes" as "You had me at he-ror!" (Will to a puppy) or Grace ("Is that a dog?" "No, it's veteran character actor Charles Durning"). My biggest issue with pop culture references is that they rarely reflect character -- as the Russian literature references do for Diane and her friend. When Diane made a high-falutin' reference, it revealed something about *her* (contrasted with Grace's "I Dream of Jeannie" reference or Will's "Welcome Back Kotter" retort). The pop culture references felt interchangeable -- Will could make the Jeannie joke or Grace the Kotter remark. They don't tell us anything other than they watched old TV sitcoms.

But I think the reason, especially early on, that the writers relied on those references for Will & Grace was because the characters themselves weren't that fleshed out. But Jack and Karen in weird ways were (despite I presume being the "wacky" supporting characters).

2) The show had Will's boss as a recurring character (he even appears in the opening credits), who just seemed like a terrible idea and I can't imagine why the producers committed to it. What purpose was served? Also, Karen's role is obviously growing as the series progresses and her relationship with Jack feels like a "happy accident" rather than something that was planned. I mention this because I still contend that FRASIER's pilot is so true to the characters and situations that we'd see for the next 11 years that it feels like there wasn't a single misstep. (For instance, Niles is in love with Daphne immediately and this isn't a plotline that gets dropped 10 episodes in).

Jeff M. said...

It's a great comic moment, and is it just me, or is Shelley Long struggling not to crack up after " least this year we eat." I can't blame her.

Unknown said...

Russian literature in Cheers? Tell us know, have you colluded with Russia?

cadavra said...

Jeff: No, I'd be willing to bet the farm that's a bona fide break-up. Kudos to Burrows for leaving it in; it adds a little zing to an already funny moment.

Jahn Ghalt said...

That's some terrifically academically nerdy stuff - IWO, it's suitable for the characters - which has been you mantra for decades.