“I didn’t want you to think I was easy.” – Cheers and the Will They/Won’t They Sitcom Romance

Posted by Sarah

Ted Danson and Shelley Long have ruined me for life and I thank them kindly for it, because the relationship between Cheers’ Sam Malone and Diane Chambers is a thing of glory. That’s not to say I wasn’t susceptible to other sitcom romances; I DID grow up while Friends dominated the pop culture landscape, after all. But for whatever reason, the connection between Sam and Diane was the one that made me realize just how invested it’s possible to be in the romantic life of two starkly opposite characters struggling to get it right.

The tight arc of their romance certainly owes itself in part to Shelley Long’s departure from the show at the end of the fifth season, which I’m actually fine with. Would I have liked to keep seeing Diane with her nose in a book at the corner of the bar and quoting Schopenhauer as she hands off a customer’s beer? OF COURSE. Give me all the Diane Chambers you have. But if the fifth season had ended with a wedding—or essentially anything else had Shelley stayed—what would we be left with after that? There wouldn’t have been anywhere to go; either the arc would plateau or they would have been forced to retrace the steps they took before, and it would have been upsetting to see that relationship become a shell of its former self. By the end of the fifth season, Sam and Diane didn’t have a chance to really get stale, and Shelley went on to a movie career that may not have been as commercially successful as she deserved, but certainly makes me very happy; I think about her “NINE YEARS OF BALLET, ASSHOLE” scene in Outrageous Fortune on a regular basis, and I’m okay with being that person.

Each of Cheers’ first five seasons plays like a different stage in Sam and Diane’s romance, and, in a bigger sense, the concept of the will they/won’t they relationship. These years are the blueprint for the sitcoms that follow, the guideline for a trope that has been and will continue to be stretched out, compressed, and altered every which way. But this romance is classic. It’s the precedent. It’s the one that holds the biggest part of my heart and refuses to let go. So why don’t we buckle up for a ride through the five stages of will they/won’t they, courtesy of an ex-jock and a perpetual post grad? Because easy is boring, simple is easy, and crying at comedy is a thing that happens sometimes, so I might as well deal with it.

STAGE ONE: Initial Attraction, or “How long have you denied that burning desire?”

Every will they/won’t they romance has to start somewhere! In my previous post on Cheers, I mentioned how the spark of Sam and Diane is visible in the pilot episode before growing throughout the rest of the first season, and it’s such a treat to watch curiosity turn into something deeper as they size each other up. It’s obvious that Diane needs to figure out how to adapt to her new environment, but she’s not the only one hyper aware of new life developments; Sam’s also trying to figure out exactly how to adapt to interacting with someone like Diane on a daily basis. As soon as Diane puts on that apron, it’s like they both have something to prove to the other, and it’s that stubbornness in both of them that really ignite their back and forth into something special and entertaining as all get out. They each know there’s something there, but they’ll be damned if they’re the one who admits it first.

The way they warm up to each other, though, shows its tender side in a number of wonderful ways. An early favorite comes during “Sam at Eleven.” Diane is wary of Sam agreeing to an interview with his astonishingly sleazy sportscaster friend (side note: Diane calling Sam an ex-jock strap is one of the greatest things I will ever hear in my life), and when his friend ditches the interview for what he saw as a bigger get, she’s the one to comfort Sam. Sure, she body slams him into the pool table when he tries to kiss her, but once they get over that little mishap, Diane insists on hearing the Baltimore story that Sam didn’t get to tell in the interview, sharing this beautifully private moment where they connect without butting heads. The standout moment for me, though, comes during “Let Me Count the Ways,” when Diane finally tells Sam exactly why her childhood cat meant so much to her. And despite his feeble protest to the contrary, he feels for her immensely. He shows her the only real sympathy she gets that day, and in that moment, it means everything.

Still, Sam is not the kind of guy Diane is used to being with, and Sam isn’t used to committing to much of anything, so why don’t we make Sam’s brother that kind of guy, and throw him into the mix for a hot second to kick things into high gear? It isn’t until Derek Malone makes his entrance (although we never actually see him) that everything falls into perspective, but the stubbornness that makes their dynamic so great is alive and well. And when Diane’s about to run off with the invisible Malone brother, it’s that stubbornness that causes the fight of a lifetime. Had these characters been played by anyone else, I’m not sure that mix of disgust and lust could have been as effectively conveyed, and I definitely don’t think the inevitable payoff would have been as rewarding or as believable. All at once, they confront their romantic feelings for each other, their distaste, their impulses, and their doubts. And then, when their frustrations are at the boiling point, of course that’s when they finally do what everyone was expecting them to do.

Thus, their first kiss—their first REAL kiss; not one that warrants self-defense from Diane’s Practical Feminism class, or one that stopped before it began because coming together over a dead cat is kind of weird, Sam—and the start of their relationship manifest from a shouting match. Because when you think about it, a romance like theirs couldn’t possibly start with a spark; it had to start with an explosion.

STAGE TWO: A Contest of Wills, or “No, I said that I wouldn’t call you stupid while we’re being intimate.”

Well, look at you, Sam! You got the girl. And the girl will have none of your shit.

Any will they/won’t they romance worth its salt won’t be an easy one once they finally get together, and I think we have “Power Play” to blame for that (probably also common sense, but let me just have this one). Honestly, the season two premiere does an excellent job of setting the tone for their season-long endeavor into this well-intentioned but spectacularly flawed romance. Whatever weirdly aggressive stuff that Sam thinks will work wonders (but how?) fails, because Diane knows how to fight fire with fire, and does it delightfully through the fake call to the police after Sam’s little breaking-and-entering stunt. Because who said that patented back and forth had to stop just because they got together? And it’s great to see that—for the time being, at least—they’re really trying to make it work. Diane’s joy over her water gun fight with Sam at the beginning of “Sumner’s Return” is a joy she wouldn’t have dared to experience a year ago. Meanwhile, Sam has a hard time telling Diane in earnest that he loves her, because after years of using “I love you” as a line, he suddenly finds it has meaning.

Oh right, and then there’s the time he READ WAR AND PEACE. AND HE DID IT FOR DIANE. In my eyes, this is the most moving gesture on Sam’s part during their first stab at a relationship. I am deep in the bookworm lifestyle. I can usually clear a couple of books a week and I will tackle just about any work I come across. I love reading Russian literature from time to time, but War and Peace has always intimidated the crap out of me for its length and density. So for a guy who normally avoids books at all costs to sit down to this massive thing and finish it in five days without sleeping, just so he has something to talk about with his girlfriend and her pretentious-as-hell ex? Respect, Mayday. RESPECT. But it makes the downhill slide of their relationship that much more painful.

So when does the relationship start to crack? Diane’s jealousy and mistrust spring up when her childhood friend visits in “Just Three Friends,” although it’s played off as a small hiccup. Their relationship is tested when Coach inadvertently becomes the persistent third wheel in “And Coachie Makes Three.” Or maybe they just started out with a crack in the foundation simply by feeling as though they had something to prove to everyone around them. But by “Fortune and Men’s Weight,” it’s undeniable. Depending on how invested you are in Sam and Diane’s relationship, that episode is as manipulative of your emotions as Sam and Diane are of each other. How did we get from “You read War and Peace” to here in just a few short months? Coach orders a novelty scale that tells your fortune when you step on it, and as soon as Diane receives hers—“Deception in romance proves costly”—things get super real super fast. Her fortune compels her to admit to Sam that she went out with a classmate of hers, and that it was nice to finally talk about the things she used to talk about. This sparks a race to determine who can break up with the other first, each of them using surprisingly cruel tactics; it’s no secret I love Diane, but she is so much better than the emotional manipulation she relies on here.

Somehow, they make it through still intact, but that in no way means they’re going to make an effort to clean up the mess they made. From this point, their path to the season finale is laden with deception and childish games, setting the stage for some pretty frank revelations at the season’s end. When we reach “I’ll Be Seeing You,” Sam’s main motivation for doing anything seems to be how angry it will make Diane, which ultimately leads him to be against her being painted by Phillip Semenko. You knew she was going to do it anyway, but Semenko’s observations and insistence that Diane’s soul is suffering are striking, especially since Diane tries to put that sadness out of her mind and not let it affect her. And it isn’t until she sits for Semenko that it finally starts to sink in:

Diane: I admit Sam and I are very different people. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes it’s not so good. Sometimes he makes me cry. Sometimes he hurts me and seems to like it.

Up until now, she’s made excuses for her relationship, but it’s this moment when the light finally starts to fade and the effort starts to seem pointless to her. She doesn’t end her speech by attempting to defend Sam as she once might have; she just lets the truth hang there. It’s the reason the break up—despite each of them getting a few jokes in—hurts, even if you were prepared for it, because (let’s face it) it had to happen eventually. Diane is completely defeated by the circumstances at this point and unwilling to fight (“My rage is gone. Maybe everything is gone.”), which is more upsetting than any passionate argument she could have cooked up. Sam, on the other hand, tries to incite a fight as his way of holding on to what they have; when that fight finally happens, he laughs it off like it’s their usual behavior until he realizes it’s not. And to top it all off, once Diane leaves the bar, they both begin to turn back to try to salvage the relationship before stopping themselves, proving that you don’t automatically fall out of love the instant a relationship is over.

While I can’t pinpoint my favorite Cheers moment of all time, the moment Sam finally looks at Semenko’s portrait of Diane is definitely in my top five. Because their dynamic has, on some level, always been one where they constantly push each other’s buttons, I don’t think Sam fully realized the damage he was doing towards the end. And that’s not to say that Diane is faultless in this (ahem, “Fortune and Men’s Weight”); neither of them really knew how to be in a relationship with someone like the other. But that moment when Sam tears the paper wrapping away, and in an instant sees the pain that Semenko captured on canvas, his “Wow” of realization says everything he never could before. It leaves me with chills every time.

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“Oh, yes, I love to read.” – Four Bookworms Who Made It Okay to Be One

Posted by Sarah

I am a full-fledged bookworm, and I am proud of it. I’m that person who will never leave home without her current read and keeps a notebook that holds an ever-expanding reading list with her at all times. One of my favorite hobbies is collecting old paperbacks from the ‘50s and ‘60s (anything from dime-store pulp to things like The Feminine Mystique thrown in for good measure). The majority of my Friday nights until I moved to New York City for college were spent at Borders bookstore when Borders was still a glorious thing, either hanging out with friends or setting up camp with one of my parents in the café, equipped with a stack of books I wanted to read and a coffee to fuel me (I still have my Borders Rewards card in my wallet and refuse to throw it out. My loyalty runs deep, despite my second home becoming a DSW). Even now, my days off are spent in my favorite bookstores, throwing my money at books faster than I can read them.

I have avid readers for parents, so it was inevitable that I would pick up the habit early. And maybe it’s because I was surrounded by readers my whole life that I never find my habit weird until someone comments on it (and someone ALWAYS comments on it; if I had a dollar for every time I was reading in my favorite coffee shop and another regular asks me how I go through books so quickly…). But seeing bookworms in movies and on TV as a kid definitely did its part to normalize my insatiable appetite for books. In those impressionable years, I met strong female characters who were smart and well read and saw a love of reading as an asset rather than some sort of odd hindrance. I saw girls my age—at the time, anyway—reading far above their grade level, and women who treasured the pages that fell through their fingers. And in environments where an overt love of books is somehow a mark against you, the knowledge that these characters exist goes a long way.

The four bookworms I’ve included here are the ones who had the biggest influence on me as I grew up, the ones that helped me embrace that label and wear it proudly. And why shouldn’t it be worn proudly? “Bookworm” is not a dirty word and should not be treated as such (in fact, my wonderful writing partner Maggie and I use “Bookworm” as a term of endearment with each other. I guess I just like reclaiming things). So here’s to the written word, the stories put on the page, and the ones who devour each tale—in the real world and in fictional places—and are still hungry for more. We’re super cool, I promise.

Belle

I can think of no better way to start than with the first bookworm I remember seeing on screen. Like most little girls growing up, I was into the Disney princesses. But Belle was always MY princess, even before I started relating to her bookworm tendencies. In order to make the start of first grade less terrifying, I remember carrying around a puppet (and I use the term loosely; all you could really do with it was let it sit on your hand, because for some reason these people thought rubber was a good thing to make a puppet with) of Belle in her yellow gown. It made my hand ridiculously sweaty, but at least I had my princess with me.

Then I started reading all over the place, and I got her on a different level entirely. Being so enthusiastic to tell anyone about the spectacular story you just read? Check. Spending most of your free time in the local bookstore? Check. (You have no idea how much I’ve wanted to ride one of those shelf-long ladders the way she does, before the crushing reality sets in that I am not, in fact, living in a cartoon.) The straight up bliss over being gifted a book? Check. That scene where she’s walking through town with her nose in a book, zero attention paid to her surroundings? I feel that so hard. Once during my Freshman year of high school, I was so engrossed in Jodi Picoult’s The Pact while I was at the lunch table that I was completely oblivious to the fist fight that broke out directly in front of me. (When the principal called everyone at that table into her office, convinced we had something to do with the fight, that book allowed me to escape the marks on my permanent record that everyone else got because I literally had no idea what was going on until it was basically over. Reading saves the day, you guys.) This holiday season, I ended up watching The Enchanted Christmas special from the late ‘90s because apparently this year was all about childhood nostalgia for me. In it, Belle decides to gift the Beast a homemade storybook for Christmas, because she’s delightful and of course she would. THAT is my princess.

What I really love is that in spite of everyone in her town thinking she’s peculiar because she likes books—WHY IS READING SO PECULIAR THAT YOU HAVE TO SING ABOUT IT, YOU JAGS—she refuses to compromise herself. Honestly though, did I miss something here? Why does this automatically make her a pariah in her community? Also, between literally everyone in town except the bookseller and her dad writing Belle off because she likes to take her imagination on a journey every now and then, and Gaston trying to win her heart by shitting all over what she loves best (by saying, and I quote, “It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas, and thinking…” Okay, Maximum Douche Level achieved not even ten minutes into the movie, good job, thank you for playing), I want to know how that bookseller is still in business. Because she doesn’t buy those books; she borrows them. Where is your money coming from, sir?

Regardless, even though Belle questions—for a fleeting moment—whether her love of books is odd, her contentment in her habits is a testament to staying true to yourself. She won’t stop being excited about the stories she reads, she won’t stop reading them like mad, and she won’t stop being transported to wonderful places through the pages. That was a pretty cool thing to see at such a young age, and it’s a pretty cool thing to revisit as an adult. I can’t tell you how excited I am for the live action take on this in March but until then, if you want to read, be like Belle and read your heart out.

Matilda Wormwood

Let me refer to my notes to sum up why Matilda’s on my list: “She’s reading Moby Dick and she’s fucking six.” Part of me feels like I could just leave it at that. (I won’t…but I could.) Because make no mistake: Matilda’s reading habits are goals. In her few short years, she’s already tackled Moby Dick multiple times (I’m sure there are people out there, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s actually read that thing all the way through), and could read Charles Dickens every day for fun. She taught herself more than I think I’ve learned in my lifetime—and I’m working on a second Masters degree—by spending her days in the library and dragging a wagon full of books home with her. Seriously, she can multiply crazy large numbers in her head and casually whip out facts about how fast a mouse’s heart beats, all because of the books she’s read. This kid is amazing.

And no doubt Matilda read in part as an escape; her brother is horrible, her parents neglect her except to scold her for being bookish and smart, and I’m pretty sure the way the Trunchbull runs that school is so many shades of illegal. She deserves to have her stories, and the best stories take you out of your surroundings and drop you into another place. This is a child who got everything you possibly can out of reading before ever hitting double digits. For every math and science book that served as her education, there was a novel and a world for her to get lost in, and a beauty within the lines that comforted her. If there was ever a character to show kids how wonderful reading can be, she was it.

So you’ve got this reading prodigy, which is great, but what makes Matilda truly amazing in that regard is the adult who wholeheartedly appreciates and encourages that love of reading and that quest for knowledge. Enter Miss Honey, who is the kind of adult every book-loving kid should have in their life. In a sea of people who don’t appreciate Matilda for the delightfully intelligent child she is, Miss Honey is the one who will slip a copy of The Wind in the Willows to Matilda when her parents aren’t looking, and the one who wants to hear about everything she learns during her time in the library. Fostering a love of books in children is definitely something to be praised, don’t get me wrong. But to also show at least one other person who appreciates that gift for what it is? That is everything. When you’re faced with environments where voracious reading gets you made fun of, the knowledge that someone values that part of you as much as you do makes a world of difference.

Plus, she had really awesome powers that I wish were an actual thing you could acquire (although, perhaps without the prerequisite of terrible parents). If I could pour cereal with my mind, it would make my life so much easier.

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“What do you say to taking chances?”- 10 Celine Dion Hits and Their Lesser-known Counterparts

Posted by Sarah

The older I get, the less chill I am about Celine Dion.

It’s a progression that’s lasted pretty much my whole life. Beauty and the Beast was one of the first movies I ever remember watching, and I grew up during the time when she cornered the market on movie theme songs, so her music was always there whether I wanted to hear it or not. In my teens, the times I would go back to her work would be motivated purely by nostalgic instincts (“Oh, this is what childhood sounded like! Remember childhood, Sarah?”). When I first got to college, I was so concerned with making friends in a city where I knew nobody that I tried my best to hide whatever quirks others might consider too weird. Alone in my dorm room, however, I felt her music and I took comfort in it.

Now, I’m a grown-ass woman who stopped caring about what others think of my interests and found friends who love me in spite of my quirks, fully embracing Celine’s music in all its sheer power. I woke up at 3:15 on a grossly humid July morning to stand in the back of Rockefeller Plaza while she sang a handful of songs on the TODAY show (and it was SO worth it). I understand zero French and basically whip out my best Joey Tribbiani impression when singing along to Encore un soir, but that album was all I listened to for weeks after it was released (HOW is it so good? HOW?!). I bonded with people at work over this, to the point that every time she releases something new or makes an appearance somewhere, it becomes an EVENT at the office. I just really love Celine Dion. And that’s the way it is.

If I had something or someone to guide me towards some of the lesser-known songs, I probably would have lost my chill a lot faster. You can pick out a greatest hits album and it will no doubt be satisfying; there will never be a time when I’m not stunned by the force that is her singing voice when I hear any of her most popular songs. But if you solely focus on the hits, you’re missing out on a treasure trove of phenomenal tunes. Her signature songs are famous for a reason, but those songs are merely scratching the surface. So I decided to put together a list of ten songs to check out for those times when you’re looking for something more than the hits. And to the hesitant, to the resistant, to the casual fan who is only familiar with the classics, I just have one question.

What do you say to taking chances?

If you like “The Power of Love,” you’ll love “Alone”

“The Power of Love” is so strongly tied to Celine for me. It’s HER song. Then I found out she didn’t do it first, and everything I knew became a lie (turns out it was a Jennifer Rush song, and then an Air Supply song, and then a Laura Branigan song, before it became a Celine Dion song. I just…what?!?!). Once I got past the shock of it all, it just showed me how this woman has mastered the art of the cover song. She owns it, like she went over to all the artists who came before her and said, “This is mine now.” For more proof that Celine absolutely slays any 80’s song that comes her way, check out her cover of Heart’s “Alone,” off of the Taking Chances album. I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I first picked up the album, and had a very “Are we talking about the same song?” moment. For me, it was another one of those songs that couldn’t possibly be done by anyone other than the artists I knew (when will I learn?). The second I heard it, though, I couldn’t believe I ever doubted it. The intensity and emotion of the song are still there; she just tailored it to fit her style, and knocked it out of the park. Celine is as much of a badass as Heart, and it comes through here.

Although now, part of me wants to know how she’d handle “Barracuda.” You know…just for kicks.

If you like “To Love You More,” you’ll love “Seduces Me”

Oh man, “To Love You More.” How can anyone possibly resist this song? Everything about it works: the sentiment behind the lyrics, her passion, the crazy amazing violinist. The way the whole thing is structured is brilliant; the day I realized the point of that pause (“I’ll be………WAIIIIIITING for youuuuuu…”) was to make you wait like she was waiting was a very good day. Because I see what you did there, Celine. And I love what you did there. If you want something with the gist of “To Love You More,” but with a slower burn, there’s always the ridiculously sensual “Seduces Me,” off of Falling Into You. For real, where the hell did this song come from? It’s not even fair to catch me so off guard. And I know it’s not just me, because this is what happened after she performed it during the A New Day show in Vegas:

SAME, CELINE. SAME. If the point of “Seduces Me” was to do just that, then mission accomplished. Because damn, lady. Your song is hot.

If you like “Because You Loved Me,” you’ll love “There Comes a Time”

When I was a kid, the beach my family went to every summer had a recording studio on the boardwalk. It was essentially a karaoke performance you could take home with you; if you paid money, you could either record a cassingle (remember those?) or a music video of you singing along to a pre-recorded track. The year “Because You Loved Me” came out, I dragged my dad into one of the recording booths and proudly belted—and butchered—the classic while Dad sang some solid backup (the cassette is still lingering around somewhere and I’m terrified to find it). Twenty years later, in a karaoke bar a few blocks away from my apartment, I discovered that my “Because You Loved Me” abilities improved zero percent. But my god, is that a good song. And since it’s from Up Close and Personal, it’s one of those great examples of how she dominated movie themes of the ‘90s.

I paired this with “There Comes a Time,” because you essentially get the other side of the coin if you listen to the lyrics, and there’s a great give and take between this and “Because You Loved Me.” The whole point of “Because You Loved Me” is to celebrate all the wonderful ways that having someone’s love affects you. And while this song is saying, “Look at all the things you’ve done for me,” “There Comes a Time” flips it to say, “Look at all the things I’ll do for you.” It’s still about love and loyalty; it’s just from a different perspective. The feel of the music in “There Comes a Time” is a little bit darker, but its angle is the more serious of the two, the angle of ensuring your love knows that they don’t have to walk this earth alone. Separately, both of these songs are amazing, but together, they tell a story of reciprocating love. And isn’t reciprocating love the ultimate end game?

If you like “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” you’ll love “Somebody Loves Somebody”

Tell me “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” isn’t one of the most epic songs you’ve ever heard in your life, and I’ll show you a dirty liar. Because this song is EPIC, in all of its seven-and-a-half-minute glory (and the music video…what even is that music video? I love it so much). It’s in the instrumentation. It’s in her voice. It’s in the BABY-BABY-BABYs that you have to perform with your whole body every time you sing along (although I’m of the persuasion that if you’re not at least using your arms every time you sing along to Celine, you’re not doing it right). This is without a doubt my favorite of her signature songs, because even at the tender age of six, it made me stand at attention. And after twenty years, it still won’t let me sit the hell down. (It apparently won’t let Jeremy Jordan sit down, either. His rendition is FABULOUS.)

More recently, I had another stand at attention experience when I decided to throw on one of those pre-made playlists on Amazon Prime that was filled with Celine, to have some background music while I read. After a few of the usual suspects, “Somebody Loves Somebody” came on, and I lost my damn mind. My exact thought process was this: “What is happening? This is not the Celine of my childhood. I need this in my ears all the time. GIVE ME ALL THE SONGS SHE’S SUNG.” This was the game-changer, the thing that flipped the switch in my head from casual fan to “OH MY GOD CELINE.” I don’t know how it’s possible to sound exactly like yourself and nothing like yourself at the same time, but she did it, and she did it flawlessly. If you haven’t heard the Loved Me Back to Life album, I urge you to stop depriving yourself. It’s something that can turn even the most resistant person into an instant fan. Just don’t be surprised if you have to put “Somebody Loves Somebody” on repeat forty-five times before exploring the rest of the songs.

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You Don’t Own Me- Life Lessons from The First Wives Club

Posted by Maggie and Sarah

Months ago, I saw a copy of First Wives Club on sale for $3 and instinctively picked it up, planning on finding it a good home (I’d already upgraded my VHS to DVD). That good home turned out to be with Sarah, who woke up a few weeks later to me screaming via text that I was a genius for thinking we had to reunite for a life lessons post (ICYMI, we collaborated on this one for Troop Beverly Hills and enjoyed the hell out of it). Delightful text thread aside, we were both immediately on board. Not only are we celebrating the 20th anniversary of this modern classic, but there’s a TV Land series based on the movie in development and the three leads are reuniting for a new project at Netflix centering around former members of a girls group (if they don’t perform “You Don’t Own Me”, so help me). What better time to take a look back? (Also, I wrote “90s are back, damn” in my notes for this and I don’t think Sarah will forgive me if I leave that gem out but seriously you guys, the 90s are back. Damn.). I highly recommend a rewatch if you haven’t seen this one in a while because it holds up. Everything the ladies go through is relevant today, and there’s still much to learn from our beloved Annie, Brenda and Elise.

-Maggie

First of all: Maggie IS a genius, and if you’ve followed her HOF posts, you already know this. Second of all: I can sleep better knowing our dear readers know that the 90s are back, damn. I remember seeing the First Wives Club VHS in my mom’s collection when I was a kid and thinking nothing more about it than how interesting it was to see the lady who sang “That ‘I’m beautiful dammit’ song” on the cover (I heard that song A LOT growing up and it’s still in heavy rotation now, thanks Mom). Once I and my undying love for the Divine Miss M grew, I finally saw for myself what an amazing movie this is, and continues to be. Sure, it’s fun and it’s extremely quotable, but the most important thing is that everyone can gain something from this. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never gone through a divorce, and it doesn’t matter what age you are. These ladies are doling out life lessons like crazy, and you just might take them to heart in the middle of all that laughing you’re doing.

-Sarah

It’s okay to eat alone.

This is such a fleeting scene, but it’s one of those things that makes me shout “WHY” at the screen every time I see it. Brenda sits down unaccompanied to a meal at a restaurant while literally everyone around her throws the most unnecessary side eye her way, and it’s incredibly frustrating. There’s a stigma to eating alone in public when there really shouldn’t be. Everyone at this restaurant obviously assumes that Brenda is lonely and therefore should be pitied, but since when are alone and lonely the same thing? And why is the default reaction to seeing someone eat alone condescension? A table for one doesn’t mean you’re unloved, so let’s start shedding the stigma, unwarranted side eye and all. Because sometimes, you want to take yourself out. Sometimes, nothing says “Me time” like a meal you didn’t cook and peace while you eat it. And sometimes, you’re just hungry and want to do something about it.

I mean, you’ve got to eat, right? So treat yo self. You deserve it.

-Sarah

The importance of self-care.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Elise is working out and says she gets her best ideas then, it clears her head and makes her think straight, everything makes sense. Unfortunately it’s not quite the same for me, I spend most of the time working out counting down the minutes until I can stop, but I do have a similar thing. When I do my hair and makeup in the morning, I get time just to myself, with no one making demands of me, and I’ve gotten tons of ideas and small breakthroughs then, sometimes for HOF posts, sometimes for work, even ways to solve problems with friends that have weighed on me. I usually have my phone on the bathroom counter and can make a note or send a quick text so I don’t forget. It’s a pretty simple thing to take that 45 minutes or so for myself, but it helps set me up to be in a good place for the rest of the day.

And listen, I think a lot of the time when people tell you to take care of yourself, they end it with something about how you can’t be any good to anyone else unless you’re good to yourself first. But forget about the part about everyone else. Whatever your self-care is, prioritize it. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself for you.

-Maggie

Anger is healthy.

Before it’s revealed that Dr. Leslie Rosen is a terrible person, sleeping with Annie’s husband while treating her (hi, morals are a thing and they’re helpful), she does have a valid point: Annie struggles with unexpressed anger at the beginning of the movie. Surely a product of her efforts to present a happy and trouble-free home life to the outside world, Annie opts for saying what she thinks people want to hear, rather than what she really feels. Look, I get avoiding unnecessary confrontation, and I understand the desire for keeping the peace, but not to the point where you think anger is forbidden. I love the scene where Annie gets absorbed in Dr. Rosen’s foam bat exercise because for a brief moment, she’s finally getting all that pent-up anger out before she even finds out about the affair. You shouldn’t have to swallow injustices, and you shouldn’t feel like expressing your true feelings is wrong. Keeping everything bottled up is a surefire way to self-destruction, so let it out if something bothers you. That weight off your shoulders will feel so wonderful.

-Sarah

“You’ve stopped apologizing for yourself all the time.”

Considering the way that Annie’s mother and soon-to-be ex-husband speak to her (“I don’t mean to criticize but you have no feeling for noodles,” “You couldn’t possibly pull off something like this” just for starters), it’s no wonder that somewhere along the way she lost that confidence to be unapologetically herself, out loud. But once she reconnected with Brenda and Elise and had the support she needed, Annie started to take back her agency and, as her daughter pointed out, she stopped apologizing for herself all the time. By the end of the movie, she’s telling Aaron to drop dead and dancing in the streets with her friends, belting out “You Don’t Own Me”.

Listen, if you make a mistake, if you hurt someone, of course you should own it, try to learn from it, and apologize — but women have got to stop giving in to the conditioning to apologize for speaking up, for merely existing. Raise your hand if you’ve ever proofread a work email before sending it and noticed an opinion or suggestion prefaced with “I’m sorry, but” *raises hand* It’s crazy to me that this is still a thing in 2016, but here we are. Sure, we have the first female presidential candidate from a major party, but does she get criticized for being shrill and told to smile? Of fucking course she does. I know firsthand it’s difficult and it’s a process, but pay attention to how often you apologize and for what exactly, and try to restrain yourself when all you’re doing is contributing to a conversation, whether it’s at work or with a significant other, friends, family. You deserve to take up some space in this world.

-Maggie

“Lesbians are great nowadays!”

Aside from being one of the best lines in this thing (come on, you know it is), the events that come after highlight the benefits of being open to social change. The scene where the ladies visit Chris at the lesbian bar is a standout, because each of them gets something positive out of it in spite of having little connection to the LGBT community: Brenda commiserates with a woman who’s in the same boat, Annie has a unique bonding moment with her daughter, and Elise is having the time of her life dancing her ass off. And all of that wouldn’t have happened if they succumbed to the discriminatory outlook on society that prevailed when they were Chris’ age.

We could even broaden this to include all women regardless of sexual orientation, because while the times were starting to change when the ladies graduated college together, there was still a twisted mentality about the roles of women in society. And in a way, you can see the progression of that mentality in the generations of Annie’s family. Up until the end of the film, her mother represents the antiquated theory that all you need is a husband to make you happy. On the other end of the spectrum is Chris, completely progressive and eager to give the men that wronged these women a taste of their own medicine. Annie sits somewhere in the middle, struggling to present a happy marriage on the surface, but starting to inch out of that as the movie progresses until she completely shuns the façade and becomes a happier person as a result.

Prejudices are taught, not inherent; growing up in a conservative town, I’ve seen it happen time and time again. But if you do your best to simply keep an open mind to what’s foreign to you, I promise you your life will be better because of it. It may not result in dancing in a gay bar (although, who knows?), but you will be subjected to so many wonderful experiences you will never have had otherwise. You will encounter amazing people you may not have expected to cross paths with. Not to mention, you will be one less person carrying unnecessary hate in their back pocket. And this world needs all the love it can get.

-Sarah

“I’m saying this to you with love, compassion and the spirit of true sisterhood: You are full of shit!”

When the ladies hit a low point in their journey, it’s obvious that Elise is drinking too much and feeling sorry for herself. She’s lost perspective and is full of excuses, leading Brenda to once and for all call her on her shit. Now, if Brenda didn’t care about Elise, she probably would have let her get away with claiming that she drinks because she’s highly sensitive (“I do have feelings. I’m an actress, I have all of them!”) and not pointed out the ridiculousness of Elise being surrounded by her image. But she does care, she doesn’t want Elise to continue on a downward spiral and that’s why she won’t let it go. When Elise was cleaning up after their fight, she stopped and took notice of how many empty bottles there were, when she might have breezed right past it without Brenda’s words in mind. And this is important: It’s Brenda that Elise goes to for help, it’s Brenda who she still trusts because she knows that when Brenda said “with love, compassion and the spirit of true sisterhood,” she meant it. Everyone needs this friend who’s not afraid to tell you the truth and then help you deal with it. I tend to call this the Miranda friend, after Sex and the City, but we can go with Brenda friend too. We’ve seen all too frequently what happens to public figures who surround themselves with yes men and lose touch with reality, so why chance it ourselves? While the truth may hurt sometimes, it’s necessary to hear and a true friend will use it to help you instead of hurt you.

-Maggie

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Climbing Mount Everest- A Celebration of Valley of the Dolls

Posted by Sarah

Cards on the table: I adore campy movies. When I want to unwind from the day with a flick, I will more often than not gravitate towards the She-Devils, Death Becomes Hers, and Mommie Dearests of cinema. I’m also low-key obsessed with anything that has Jacqueline Susann’s name attached to it. Her books, the film adaptations, that movie where Bette Midler plays her alongside Nathan Lane as her husband, which I still can’t believe is an actual thing. A resounding yes to all of that. So of course the crown jewel of the Susann empire, Valley of the Dolls, has a secure spot not only in my favorite books of all time, but also my favorite movies. But despite my penchant for camp, when I read that it would officially be part of the Criterion collection come September 27, I thought I was seeing things. I mean, really? Of all the movies, THAT one makes the cut?

Then I realized how much sense it made.

“But Sarah,” you say. “Look at the films that have gotten the Criterion treatment in the past. Valley of the Dolls isn’t even in the same league.” On the surface, it seems like a fair point. This movie is not good in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, it was absolutely trashed by critics upon its release; Roger Ebert cited it as containing “the most offensive and appalling vulgarity ever thrown up by any civilization.” (And the only reason I’m calling out this review in particular is because, in a hilarious twist, Ebert wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. In no way a sequel, it was filmmaker Russ Meyer’s 1970 sexploitation, I-don’t-remember-dropping-acid-but-I-feel-like-I-definitely-dropped-acid, GOOD-GOD-WHAT-ARE-THEY-DOING-TO-EACH-OTHER film, which is also being released by Criterion on September 27. Seriously, Valley of the Dolls plays like a Disney movie compared to this.) Why does this film deserve a spot in the Criterion collection?

I’m so glad you asked.

Valley of the Dolls is not a cinematic masterpiece by any means. It’s quintessential camp that took itself far too seriously. It’s filled with overly emotive performances. It’s a full-fledged soap opera clocking in at a little over two hours. And it’s an important part of the pop culture lexicon. It spit in the face of expectations of submissive women while shining a light on sexism. The underlying themes are still completely relevant in 2016. Not to mention, it’s fun as hell to watch. So join me as I celebrate the near fifty-year reign of a cult classic. These are the things that make it Criterion worthy, and the things that make it required viewing for the camp enthusiast. This is proof that “good” is an entirely subjective concept, and what falls outside of the standard should not be dismissed.

Let’s get on this merry-go-round!

THE CRITERION FACTOR

Whether or not you care to admit it, Valley of the Dolls is an important point in the history of pop culture for a number of reasons. A quick glance at this movie, and it’s easy to label it as trash. Take a closer look, though, and you go beyond the mask of melodrama to see a film quite extraordinary for its time.

Feminism and camp are a wonderful mix

Despite whatever negative reactions it may have garnered, this was a big step in shedding the image of the submissive housewife. Yes, there were still boundaries to be broken (let’s not forget that The Brady Bunch, which premiered in 1969, originally intended for Carol to have divorced her first husband, but since that was still a taboo topic, they just didn’t mentioned what happened to him at all), but the times were definitely changing. The book and movie versions of Valley of the Dolls arrived on the heels of Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, which stressed that being a single woman is *gasp!* not the end of the world, and single women should *GASP!* grab life by the horns and make what they want out of it. And when Jacqueline Susann sat down at the typewriter, she crushed the housewife “ideal” like it was a bug under her shoe. Thank god for that.

Anne Welles, Jennifer North, and Neely O’Hara are all bucking the system in Valley of the Dolls, but it’s Anne’s story that is perhaps the best example of this in the movie. She leaves her small hometown of Lawrenceville—and the man everyone expected her to marry—for a more exciting life in New York City. Right off the bat, you know that she’s not about to settle for less than what she wants out of life, as the voiceover accompanying her exit from New England makes clear: “I wanted a marriage like Mom and Dad’s, but not yet. First, I wanted new experiences, new faces, new surroundings. Lawrenceville would be there forever.” Girl, YES. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting married and settling down, but the fact that she not only recognizes there are other things to get out of life, but also recognizes her strong desire to take them, is everything for its time. Hell, it’s STILL everything.

Once her relationship with Lyon goes sour—i.e. he reveals that he can’t give her what she wants out of the relationship but fully expects her to still be down with sleeping with him in her childhood home, and bails when she refuses him—any heartbreak over it doesn’t keep her from taking her own successful path as the Gillian Girl. And when she hits her bottom after Lyon’s affair with Neely, she recognizes her need to get herself out of the situation and returns to Lawrenceville in search of a happier life, culminating in one of the most satisfying moments of the film. Lyon treks to Lawrenceville in an attempt to win her back—throwing out the possibility of marriage—and she responds by gloriously leaving him hanging out to dry.

Tables will turn, and Anne Welles will not have your shit.

Bey, Felicia.

Bey, Felicia.

Anne definitely fares better here than in the book, where (spoiler alert) she marries Lyon, has his child, finds out he’s cheating on her all over the place because he feels she emasculated him, but refuses to end the marriage on principle because hey, at least she’s got those dolls to distract her. As much as I tend to judge film adaptations based on what—if anything—they change from the source material, I love the movie ending so much more. Because Book Anne probably isn’t finding her situation anything to twirl around in the New England snow about, and dammit, she deserves to twirl.

These things are still happening today

One of the reasons Valley of the Dolls has endured for almost five decades is the fact that the things depicted in the pages and on the screen are still incredibly real in the present day. It’s so easy to pick out instances in the film that could easily happen in some capacity today. Let’s take ageism, for example. Helen Lawson calls herself a barracuda, and part of me believes that she wasn’t always like that, but grew into it the older she got. Because let’s face it: for the most part, viable roles are shaped for the younger generation of actors, and she refuses to be edged out of the game. It’s the logic behind Bellamy’s “Don’t give her that ‘I loved you when I was a little girl’ routine, or she’ll stab you in the back” quip. Even the slightest possibility of being upstaged by up and coming (and young) Neely leads Helen to demand the production drop her. And it’s probably at least partially responsible for her concealing her natural hair with a wig.

Then there’s the blatant sexism, which I would argue is a little more in your face in the book than it is in the movie; I recently reread the book for the first time in a couple of years, in that time forgot how much of an asshole Tony was in it and was legitimately heartbroken because I actually like the guy in the movie. But sexism is still everywhere on film—Bellamy refusing to hire Anne at first because she’s too good-looking, Bellamy’s “That’s not a girl, that’s my secretary!” at the notion of Anne becoming the Gillian Girl, and lest we forget Neely’s horrific experience in San Francisco—and since Jennifer is the showgirl of the group, it seems as though she’s subjected to the most obvious of it. You can tell that she wants people to see her as more than just a body, but the longer that doesn’t happen, the more she starts to believe that she has no talent, and is only what people see on the surface (the possible peak of this is when Miriam decides that the only way to keep paying Tony’s hospital bills is to enlist Jennifer to star in French art films). That belief has to be one of the things swimming around in her mind as she turns to suicide after the news of the mastectomy her breast cancer requires.

One of the biggest themes in the movie is the struggle with addiction (it’s right in the title, you guys), and Neely’s the one who truly embodies that. Jennifer and Anne also turn to pills at certain points in the movie, but Neely’s journey is the most troubled one. She quickly gets hooked on dolls, mixes them with booze, accidentally overdoses, does a stint in rehab, relapses to the point of not being able to go on stage during what was supposed to be her Broadway comeback, and ends the movie with a breakdown in the alley behind the theatre. In that time, you see her self-destructive behavior, her initial fight against any treatments the sanitarium provides for her before ultimately giving in. She betrays just about everyone close to her, and even when she thinks she’s got it licked for good, there’s still a tiny bottle of dolls there to tempt her into inevitable relapse. Melodramatic acting aside, it puts an enormous spotlight on how much of an illness addiction is, and how it’s not something one can simply quit on command.

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“Follow this, bitches.” – In Appreciation of Cher, on her 70th Birthday

Posted by Sarah

It’s not like I asked for this; it just kind of fell into my lap and, eighteen years later, it still refuses to go away. It was 1998, and I was an impressionable eight-year-old, content to follow whatever music was popular on the one good radio station in my hometown. It had served me well so far, so why mess with a good thing? Then one day, as I settled into the normal routine, this happened:

And I was never the same.

My lovely friend (and HOF contributor) Maggie once told me that everyone has a diva, that one celebrity you love openly and unconditionally with your whole heart. And Cher is, without a doubt, my queen diva. The second I heard “Believe,” I was absorbed in the music, and it wasn’t long before I dove head first into everything she had done in her career and never looked back. Personally, I have a lot to love about her. She served as a pretty badass role model in my formative years. Her music gave me a safe haven to feel whatever emotions I had at any given time. And thanks to “Dov’è L’Amore,” she taught me the only Italian I will probably ever know in my life. But this doesn’t even begin to cover all the things that make her a force to be reckoned with.

In honor of Cher’s 70th birthday, I thought I’d highlight some of the things that make her my diva. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface here, because this is a woman who has reigned supreme for over fifty years, and there is so much to celebrate. But if you were to stop and ask me why I love her so much, these are some of the answers I would have at the ready. Her body of work has given me so much joy over the years, and I know I’m only one in the sea of people who feel the same way. This is an icon. This is a legend.

This is Cher.

She changed popular music in four minutes.

It’s no secret that “Believe” is Cher’s biggest hit to date; it was literally everywhere when it was first released. And one of the reasons it exploded was because people couldn’t figure out that thing she was doing with her voice; you know what thing I’m talking about. At this point, we all know what Auto-Tune is, but back in 1998, everyone lost their damn mind because no one did that before, and it quickly became known as “The Cher Effect.” Now, Auto-Tune has been done to death because we know it’s there and therefore we will use it for everything, but for a glorious period in the late-‘90s, “Believe” completely challenged the boundaries of what the public thought was possible in popular music.

There are about 847 versions of her, and all of them are amazing.

Cher is a goddamn chameleon. She’s switched up her musical style countless times over the years to adapt to the changing tides in popular music; if you go through her catalog chronologically, it sounds so effortless. And there’s a Cher for every mood! Want something more on the electronic side? There’s a Cher for that. Feeling nostalgic for disco? There’s a Cher for that. Maybe you’re craving that ‘70s classic rock sound. Yep, you guessed it…there’s a Cher for that. Sensitive singer/songwriter? What have I been telling you?

My personal favorite, though, would have to be ‘80s Rocker Cher. It’s not only because of the music, although the music is a big part of it; I mean, come on…”I Found Someone“? “We All Sleep Alone“? The revamped “Bang Bang?” “If I Could Turn Back Time?” Yes to all of it. But I love the music videos that came out of this decade, because she did some amazing things in them. My favorite is the “I Found Someone” video, where she slipped into some chain mail to go to the club and make her boyfriend jealous via a guy who looked exactly like him, and then sang on some train tracks for a second because why not.

The video for “We All Sleep Alone,” which has a solid place in my top five favorite songs of all time, is basically a make out session in what I can only assume is an abandoned construction site? Unless you prefer the alternate version, in which case, I have questions: who are all these people, why are so many things on fire, and WHAT IS ALL THIS DANCING? Seriously, I didn’t know until very recently that there were two versions of this video, and I’m completely mesmerized by it; I need the official story ASAP. And then there’s the infamous video for “If I Could Turn Back Time” where she wore an outfit controversial enough to make it relegated strictly to late night viewing on MTV (it’s called a butt, you guys…everybody has one), then spawned a legion of fans showing up to concerts in sailor hats and a ban on filming anything on any naval ship ever again.

Bad. Ass. Woman.

“I am a fucking Oscar winner.”

 

In the past, I’ve written about Moonstruck and Mermaids, and I don’t want to repeat myself. But of course I have to talk about her acting skills. Because not only does she have skills, she has Academy Award-winning skills. People were reluctant to see her as a legitimate actress at first. In her autobiography, The First Time, Cher recalls a story of being in a movie theater as the trailer for Silkwood was shown. The audience reacted positively to seeing Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell’s names projected on the screen. But once her name was shown, the audience started laughing (she had some of the most poignant scenes in that movie; who were these assholes?).

Needless to say, she showed them.

(Can we appreciate how Meryl Streep is so genuinely excited for Cher that she jumped out of her seat and cheered, even though she was up for the same damn award? Bless your light, Meryl.)

In addition to the Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for Silkwood, Cher racked up Golden Globe nominations for Come back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and Mask, culminating in Globe and Oscar wins for Moonstruck in 1988. There’s a definite stigma when it comes to famous performers in one medium crossing over to another. It happens a lot and it fails a lot, but it’s a shame that when it fails, it completely detracts from the successes. And I think it’s fair to say that Cher is a resounding success. Can we just look at her range for a second? She proved she could do comedy with Moonstruck, Mermaids, and The Witches of Eastwick (I could watch the “You have no taste, a lousy sense of humor, and you smell” speech all day). Silkwood, Mask, and Tea with Mussolini round out a pretty phenomenal dramatic turn. She seamlessly straddled the line between comedy and drama in Come back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. She crushed the whole suspense thing with Suspect. She even took a turn in the director’s chair, with the third segment of 1996’s If These Walls Could Talk. You know…in addition to having a small role in it. And did I hear you say you wanted a movie musical? I thought so. Welcome to Burlesque, bitches:

And while it’s not part of her cinematic career, her variety show days should not go unrecognized. In both the show she did with Sonny and her solo show, her comedic timing is so on point, and she serves up so many laughs. Not to mention she created one of the most hysterical recurring characters ever with the gum chewing, clashingly clad, raspy-voiced Laverne. Is there anything she can’t do?

She might actually be a higher power?

 

Leave it to Will & Grace to expose everything.

Cher had two spectacular guest appearances on this show; I will never be over Jack McFarland mistaking her for a drag queen and trying to out-Cher her. But it’s the second appearance that decided to just completely go there, and portrayed her as God in Jack’s dream. And let’s be real: if Cher’s going to whip out sage advice and spontaneously perform songs from her latest album, then I am totally fine with this version of heaven. Of course, now I can’t hear “A Different Kind of Love Song” without also hearing Jack in the back of my mind (“YOU’RE HAWKING YOUR ALBUM DURING MY DREAM?!”). But I’m fine with it, so long as she keeps singing and telling people to follow their bliss.

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“Until we learn to dance” – 15 Cher Deep Cuts You Need to Hear

Posted by Sarah

Quick: what’s the first song that comes to your mind when I say “Cher”? Maybe it’s “Believe” or “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Maybe you go old school and now you can’t get “I Got You Babe” out of your head. Or maybe “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” is more your speed (long live the story song!). Whatever the case, if you thought of a song, you just proved my theory. The set list of a Cher concert acts as a live greatest hits album, and I am of the firm belief that everyone of a certain age can go to one and sing along to at least one song. And that age has definitely gotten younger thanks to the advent of Burlesque; I’m not even mad if your one song is “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” because that is a FLAWLESS anthem and should be treated as such.

Cher has been able to successfully adapt to changing trends in music so often that she’s had a number one hit in each decade she’s been in the business, and I am all for the hits. I have a “Life after love” tattoo on my arm. I will don my sailor hat and turn back time with the best of them. I’ve sung myself hoarse at six concerts. But we’re talking about career that spans over fifty years, and it seems criminal to confine that career to the track list on a greatest hits album. Nestled in between the hits of her discography is a wealth of songs that deserve acknowledgement. So let’s acknowledge them.

This is in no way my definitive list, because we’d be here forever if I could talk about every single song I love. Nor is it in any particular order (okay, MAYBE it’s in the order I think would make a cool-sounding mix); it was hard enough whittling it down to fifteen, let alone ranking them. But this is a sampling of songs that go deeper than the usual compilations that have been released since “Believe” exploded onto the charts. If you’re a diehard fan, let’s compare notes to see which tracks we’re mutually crazy about. And if you’ve never heard these songs before, I am so happy to be the one to introduce them to you.

Shall we dive in?

“Love Is the Groove” (1998)

I know almost everyone who bought the Believe album in the ‘90s probably bought it because of the title track, but don’t let that take away from the fact that this is an overall stellar album. “Love Is the Groove” sits towards the end of Believe and I just think everything about this song is beautiful. The music fits right in with the dance vibe of the better-known tracks, the lyrics are wonderfully powerful, and the vocals are magic because Cher is magic. I honestly can’t remember a time when this song popped up on my iPod and I didn’t play it one more time after it ended, because I love it so much.

Favorite lyrics: If I promise not to laugh,
Will you promise not to cry?
Will you promise not to let this life slip by?

“The Look” (2001)

If you tell me you don’t feel like dancing when you hear this song, you’re lying to me, and shame on you. “The Look” can be found as a bonus track on the Japanese version of Living Proof, because the rest of the world could do without it on their copies of the album? Come on, guys. This would have made the perfect lead-in to “Body to Body, Heart to Heart” because they both have the same feel (maybe that’s why it was left off of Living Proof’s official track list). It’s fun, it’s seductive, and it’s everything you could possibly want in a pop song. So just give in to the dance already.

Favorite lyrics: I’m flying too close to the sun
But it’s a beautiful way to burn

“I’m Gonna Love You” (1967)

Hey, remember that time Sonny and Cher starred in a movie together? Good Times came out around the time all those Beatles movies were huge, and it follows the duo as they reject a film script offered to them in favor of coming up with their own plot. It’s cute, definitely worth the watch if you’re a fan, and the soundtrack holds its own. Which leads us to “I’m Gonna Love You.” I found a copy of the soundtrack on vinyl a couple of years ago, and was legitimately surprised when I put it on my turntable and got to this track. At that point, it had been years since I last watched the movie, but I felt like I would have DEFINITELY remembered a song like this. The driving beat, the guitar, her crazy amazing vocals. WHY did I have no recollection? Upon a recent viewing, I got my answer: it’s featured in the background for a large portion of the song, and I probably wasn’t paying close attention before. So I’m bringing it to the forefront now, because that’s where it should be.

Plus, it’s sexy as hell, so there’s that.

Favorite lyrics: No one can ever make me feel like you do
And there ain’t no one who can ever put me through those changes like you do
And no one can make me feel so bad, I wanna die
No one could look at me the way that you do and get me high

“Julie” (1980)

Okay, if we’re splitting hairs here, this TECHNICALLY isn’t a Cher song. She was in a short-lived rock band called Black Rose, and the self-titled album they put out in the beginning of the ‘80s is everything. She always sells whatever she sings, but you can just tell in her voice that this was a passion project. While I love the entire album, “Julie” is without a doubt one of my favorite tracks, because it basically serves as the badass rocker version of “Jolene”, filled with warnings and threats and a fleeting reference to David Bowie (oh my!). Don’t get me wrong, “Jolene” is one of my favorite songs of all time, but do you hear Dolly Parton calling her rival a lying bitch? I didn’t think so.

Favorite lyrics: Well, I now know
Julie, you’re the shape of sin
But I can strut like Bowie
When the line gets thin
So cool it, Julie, or I’m gonna do you in

“I Walk on Gilded Splinters” (1969)

3614 Jackson Highway was one of those albums where I had literally every single song on my preliminary list for this post, and I had to stop myself before I completely destroyed the purpose. But to those who have heard the album before, I ask you: can you blame me? It was a true and brilliant break from the sound she had become known for, and I think “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” is the best representation of that. But also, this album is a masterpiece, and everyone needs to have the experience of listening to it at least once. If you haven’t, why are you doing this to yourself? Go find it now.

No, really. Do it. It’s okay…I’ll wait.

Favorite lyrics: I’ll make your heart melt like butter
I say, I can make you stutter

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“Life in all its many facets” – How Cheers Mastered the Art of the Sitcom Pilot

Posted by Sarah

This I know for sure: the Cheers pilot is the best sitcom pilot I have ever seen.

Let me back up a bit.

I was eleven years old when I took my first venture into the world of Cheers and its inhabitants (I am forever indebted to you, Nick at Nite), and I never wanted to leave. It wasn’t because I knew anything at all about bar culture—I was eleven—but because it felt like a place that was warm and friendly and welcoming of just about anybody. And when I found out there was an actual Cheers in Boston you could go to, I wanted desperately to go there; I still do, though imagine my disappointment back then when I realized it would be at least a decade before I could legally do it. As I grew up, my love for this show evolved into something deeper, as I started relating to certain characters in ways I never could before, and as adult responsibilities made me appreciate a place to take solace that much more. But in order for the show to achieve that lasting effect, it had to have that warmth, that friendliness, right from the start.

Luckily, it did.

I’ve always felt that the best sitcom pilots are the ones that don’t feel like pilots, that don’t overtly seem like they have to get all the introductory stuff out of the way before they can really dive into the meat of the show. And that’s the kind of pilot “Give Me a Ring Sometime” had to be in order to pull off its entire concept. When you step foot inside a bar like that, you expect to be immediately thrown into the middle of a sea of camaraderie, even if you’re not a regular. You want to feel like you’re part of that world. And in order for a show’s pilot to have that feel, it has to master the tricks that make you believe you’ve known these people all along, that you’ve been coming around this place for as long as you can remember. The plot of this episode plays like one of those crazy bar stories: a woman makes a pit stop at Cheers with her fiancé before flying off to their spur-of-the-moment wedding, only to be abandoned by him under the pretense of getting his grandmother’s wedding ring back from his ex-wife, and ultimately taking a job at the bar she was left in. And as you’re watching, you know you’re witnessing something special. So take a seat at the bar, grab a pint, and settle in.

This is how you unleash a creative vision onto an unsuspecting audience.

“Sometimes you want to go…”

Before I get into the heart of this episode, it should be noted how Cheers wonderfully romanticizes the notion of the cozy neighborhood bar without completely glorifying public drinking. It looks so inviting, to where—once I turned twenty-one—I longed to find a Cheers of my own. I’ve come close a couple times (and really, the closest I think I’ll ever get is the coffee shop I go to every morning for my caffeine fix and a little relaxation before the day starts), but this show hit on something special, and it showed right from the start.

Literally, from the start. As in the first second of the pilot.

Maybe it’s because I circle through the first five seasons of this series constantly and have had a lot of time to think about it because I’ve seen this episode about thirty million times (and that’s a conservative estimate), but I think there’s something beautiful in how the pilot opens. That exterior shot of the bar panning down the stairs as you’re about to enter this new environment. Sam in his solitude as he prepares for another work day. The music that starts small and then grows. All of it makes it feel like you’re ramping up to something wonderful. It’s like a calm before the storm moment, but the storm in this case is just really good comedy.

 

More important than that, though, is the way Sam walks through his bar, straightening one of the wall hangings and running his hand along the wood before unloading that box of coffee mugs with care. You can just tell how much he cares about this place, and how much effort he puts into making it feel like a second home for those who walk through the doors. Because in a way, this is his second home, too, with his employees and his regulars as a makeshift family. You want to know that he’s as invested in the friendly atmosphere of Cheers as its regulars are, and in this moment, you’re sure of it.

Of course, part of the fun of a neighborhood bar comes in those trivial debates and conversations that seem like the most important thing in the world at that very moment, and the easy, comfortable feeling of contributing your two cents. Cheers absolutely nailed it with the sweatiest movie ever made debate. It’s so much fun to watch it snowball from Carla’s offhand observation to Norm shouting his answers across the bar to other regulars chiming in with their opinions. The only time I even barely tolerated Sumner was when he offered up Cool Hand Luke. There aren’t a whole lot of places you can feel free enough to do that.

While I’m at it, can we talk about the theme song for a second? Remember the golden age of sitcom theme songs? Before binge watching and television becoming more cinematic in quality all but killed people’s desire for a slightly cheesy, definitely catchy opening sequence? When theme songs sometimes actually made it onto the Billboard charts? When I couldn’t help but sing along every single episode? (Wait, that last part still happens. Disregard that.) I’d hardly call “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” cheesy; in fact, I think it’s one of the best theme songs out there. And that’s the point. A theme song is supposed to set the tone for the series at hand, and the Cheers opening sounds like a neighborhood bar should feel, again romanticizing it before we even see it in full swing. If you do a little searching on iTunes, you’ll find an EP of all the songs that were pitched as the Cheers theme before they landed on the one that accompanies all of those great old-timey images during the opening credits (which fit with each of the characters these actors play SO WELL). The other options aren’t terrible, but they feel too much like they were written for a musical rather than a network sitcom; the original idea, “People Like Us” actually was written for a musical the songwriters were working on. Still, it’s fun to listen to what might have been and chart the path to that perfect encapsulation.

“Don’t you know who this is?”

One of the biggest problems with sitcom pilots comes in trying to introduce a new batch of characters to the world, and convincing everyone that they should spend half an hour every week with them. Sometimes you can pull it off, but sometimes you can really miss the mark. Let’s take the pilot episode of Will & Grace for a moment. I love Will & Grace with all my heart; it got me through my awkward teens and led me to some of the best friends I have ever known. What has always bugged me about the pilot episode, however, is the way Karen was introduced. Granted, I’m sure it was a challenge to find a way to make everyone get on board with an Upper East Side socialite working as an interior designer’s office assistant. But take a look at the phone exchange between Will and Grace seconds before Karen makes her grand entrance:

Grace: She’s late again.
Will: Oh, fire her already.
Grace: I’m not going to fire Karen. Her social contacts keep my business afloat.
Will: Why does she even work? I mean, isn’t she worth, like, a gazillion dollars?
Grace: She feels working keeps her down to earth.

This always felt clunky to me—more like a pitch than an introduction—especially after the brilliant way Will, Grace, and their dynamic were presented at the top of the episode. So how do you introduce everyone properly, even if someone falls outside the characteristic average? You do what Cheers did. You make the outsider the catalyst.

Enter Diane Chambers.

If you read my post on the Brady Bunch movies, or my collaboration with my amazing writing partner Maggie on Troop Beverly Hills, you know I make no secret of my complete and utter adoration for Shelley Long. I think she’s a queen, and this is the role that made her gain queen status in my heart. Similarly, my love for Diane is real, strong and deep; I will never understand the hate some people have for her, and I will defend her until the end of my days…but I’ll save that for another time. From the moment she picked up the phone while Sam was in his office, I was invested. I love this woman for walking into a strange place for the first time ever and answering a phone that wasn’t hers to answer; it’s an incredibly small yet early indicator of her confidence and her determination to do whatever she puts her mind to. And that part of her only thrived once Sumner was out of the picture.

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