Mormon Fray
The Archive of Incidental Mormon References in Pop Culture...

Cheers (1989)

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Season 7, Episode 20
"Call Me Irresponsible"

Cheers is one of the all-time classic sitcoms. Of all the clips and references I've tracked down for this website, this one is probably my favourite. The set-up and execution of the gag is flawless, and reminds me of a classic comedy routine; it's the "Who's on First" of Mormon references, which is appropriate for a show that often had the rhythms of a classic farce. (Its spin-off, Frasier, is a master-class in the sitcom-as-farce.) The escalation of the gag in this scene is tremendous, and I still smile when I see it.

Context: It's Carla and Eddie's anniversary. Eddie is out of town and has failed to send Carla an anniversary gift. To keep her co-workers from feeling pity for her, Carla buys herself flowers and has them delivered to the bar as though they were from Eddie. Rebecca sees the flowers, and comments wistfully about the lack of flower deliveries in her life. Sam mishears her remark, leading to a modern-day Abbot and Costello routine:

Cheers

Exegesis: Good, old-fashioned comedy. Mormons aren't being held up for ridicule or mockery, and our beliefs are actually accurately portrayed, insofar as Mormons can send flowers, and we can also dance. They even bother to correct one of Sam's misunderstandings (it's the Amish who "can't dance").

Norm's correction of Sam's statement about Mormons dancing is interesting. For one thing, it adds to the comic rhythm of the scene: more clarification and correction about Sam's misunderstanding of Rebecca's comment than clarification about the comment itself is highly amusing, especially as Rebecca becomes increasingly exasperated). It's also interesting because most shows don't seem interested in correcting inaccurate statements about Latter-Day Saint beliefs. They would rather let the misinformation stand, particularly when that misinformation is in service of a joke. I can sort-of understand this instinct, since after a joke about plural wives (for example), it kind of grinds things to a halt to point out that polygamy hasn't been practiced by Mormons in over a century, and that the practice in the modern Church is considered adultery, punishable by swift excommunication. But when there is misinformation that is not in the service of a joke, more often than not it's just sloppy/lazy writing. It's someone who knew a Mormon once, and sort of remembers something they think Mormons believe, wrote a scene about it and couldn't care less about its accuracy.

Since the subject has been raised, I'll say one last thing about misrepresentation. When we're egregiously misrepresented in the media, I have to wonder how difficult it is to go to lds.org, or even wikipedia, for a three-second fact-checking trip. Even the infamous South Park episode "All About the Mormons" got so many things wrong, some Mormon dude felt compelled to build an entire website dedicated to a thorough exegesis. I suppose I'll talk about it more when I get to that South Park episode, but in the meantime, why don't you enjoy that Cheers clip one more time?

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