Midway through its first season, Cheers did a gay episode that not only stands up well today, nearly 35 years later, but also encapsulates everything the show would do well during its subsequent decade on the air.
Titled “The Boys in the Bar,” the episode is lean; there is no B plot and it unfolds in two acts that each contain one long scene. However, in these two scenes, the audience gets to see Sam Malone (Ted Danson) come around to supporting his former teammate, who has recently come out as gay — and then decide that he supports all gay people, even the ones he doesn’t know personally and even if they decide to congregate at his bar.
This Cheers is the subject of the most recent installment of Gayest Episode Ever, my podcast about the episodes of classic TV shows that focus on LGBT issues. It’s also the last episode my co-host and I are doing this season, and since we were going on a hiatus, we wanted to end on a high note.
What’s great about “The Boys in the Bar” aside from Sam’s growth is that it positions Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) as an advocate for gays. Even when everyone else in the bar wants Sam to throw out some gay-seeming customers in an effort to stop Cheers from turning into a gay bar, Diane reminds them all how ridiculous they’re being and that their objections are rooted in bigotry.
Sam eventually comes to understand this too, and when Norm (George Wendt) questions what kind of bar Cheers is turning into, Sam says he doesn’t care, so long as it doesn’t became “the kind of bar I have to throw people out of.”
Diane’s response is great: “That was the noblest preposition you ever dangled.”
Throughout this commotion, Diane has maintained that there are already gay men in the bar, and most everyone assumes it’s the new guys. One has a killer mustache, one is sporting some tight jeans, and they both ordered light beers. In the final moment, however, it’s revealed that the homosexuals are actually two of the schlubby barflies who have been in the background the entire time. They both lean in to give Norm a peck on the cheek, and while that is this episode’s corniest moment, there’s still something to be said for it: that gay people don’t always look gay. They’re not necessarily young or good-looking. They look like just anyone and everyone.
“The Boys in the Bar” is definitely worth a re-watch if you haven’t seen it recently. And if you’ve been listening along with Gayest Episode Ever, thanks! We look forward to talking more gay TV in season two.