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Best of Aaron Todd
As a child of the 1980s and '90s, I remember spending a good number of afternoons watching syndicated re-runs of Cheers, the beloved sitcom starring Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Woody Harrelson and Kirstie Alley (among others) that took place in a Boston bar.
Growing up in upstate New York, I couldn't relate much to the setting, especially as I was still well below drinking age. But the show always captivated me, and, as I've now been living in the Boston area for eight years (and thanks to Netflix instant streaming), I recently decided to go back and watch the series in its entirety.
With a fresh new perspective, I found a few things surprising. First and foremost, I found that I enjoyed the earlier seasons much more as an adult than I did as a kid. The character of Coach, played by Nicholas Colasanto, really provided the heart of the show. After his death at the end of the third season, he was replaced by Woody Boyd (played by Harrelson). Don't get me wrong, Woody was a great character, but he lacked the wisdom and the heart of Coach.
More importantly for this column, however, is that I was surprised just how much betting the gang at Cheers did. I'd forgotten all the fun bets that played out on the show, from poker games to silly competitions with Gary's Olde Towne Tavern.
Here's a list of the top-10 gambling story lines from Cheers.
10. The tip challenge
In the side story in the third season's "Peterson Crusoe," Diane challenges Carla to a waitressing contest, with the winner being determined by who earns the most in tips by the end of the day. Diane manages to pull off the win with a $20 tip at the end of the day from a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary. While there was nothing but pride on the line, Carla doesn't take the loss well.
9. The squares game
There's a lot going on in season seven's "Call Me Irresponsible," with Frasier and Lilith hiring Norm to decorate their baby's nursery and Carla waiting for an anniversary surprise from Eddie, but the real fun of the episode comes during the bar's squares pool for a basketball game. Woody is reticent to participate because he doesn't like betting money with friends. But when he wins, he has no problem gloating in their faces.
And when Rebecca, who earlier protested that Sam shouldn't be running any sort of illegal gambling operation, wins the final quarter, she gloats just as publicly. But when an off-duty policeman confronts her about whether the money she is flashing around was won gambling, she gets flustered and replies, "No, I earned this money. I'm a prostitute. That isn't better, is it?"
8. Frasier's electoral bet
Before Nate Silver, there was Frasier Crane (played by Kelsey Grammer). In "Woody Gets an Election" in the series' final season, Frasier is maddened by the platitudes and generic answers a local politician offers in a campaign appearance, so he bets Sam $10 he can get 10 percent of the vote for Woody in the election, only to end up acting as campaign manager for a real contender.
7. Woody's $1,000 parlay
In season four's "Fools and Their Money," Woody finishes in the money in the bar's football pool for the third week running, and the gang convinces him he should make a bet with a bookie as a rite of passage. He decided to make a parlay bet and they think it's all fun and games until he announces he wants to bet $1,000, his entire savings. Sam tries to protect Woody by telling him he'll make the bet, but instead just holds onto the money. It seemed like a great idea until Woody hits all his picks and expects a $10,000 windfall.
6. Betting the bar
"Bar Bet" from season three is one of those heady episodes in the early seasons where Sam's alcoholism is addressed. An old drinking buddy (played by Michael Richards, best known as Kramer in Seinfeld) shows up and reminds Sam that they made a bet that if he wasn't married to Jacqueline Bisset in a year, Sam would give him the bar. Of course some hilarity ensues as Sam works hard to find someone named Jacqueline Bisset who will is willing to marry him, if only for a day.
However, one of the best parts of the episode is the bet that leads off the show, as Cliff and Norm argue about Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen, and Diane is able to settle the bet.
5. Woody hustles the gang in poker
The boys go into the pool room to play a marathon poker game, and Woody ends up hustling the whole gang. When he calls the first game, he suggests "Five blind piglets and one full teat." When they ask what kind of game that is, he replies "That's where five city boys lose all their money." But back at the bar, Rebecca realizes that she's let the bar's liquor license lapse and she has to serve everyone – including the guys playing poker – non-alcoholic beer. But that doesn't stop Cliff from making an ill-advised call after drinking a pitcher or two.
4. The beard growing contest
In season eight's "Two Girls for Every Boyd," the men decide to have a beard-growing contest. The day before the judging, Cliff walks in with a few pathetic wisps, so everyone is suspicious when he shows up with a thick, full beard the day the contest ends. The best part of the episode is the actual contest itself, where the contestants test how much beer their beards can soak up (Norm cheats by drinking the beer up off the bar) and Carla gets to throw Velcro balls at their faces to try to make them stick.
3. Sam and Robin bet one week's salary
Season eight had some great betting episodes, but my personal favorite is "Indoor Fun with Sammy and Robin." Rebecca has convinced her billionaire boyfriend Robin Colcord to play hooky for the day and spend the entire day with her, but instead he ends up getting sucked into bar contests with Sam all day. It all begins innocently enough, as they play a friendly game of darts. As the two continue to one-up each other, Robin suggests they play chess and they wager one week's salary on the outcome. Sam gets some help from a computerized chess game and some spy equipment, but has to rely on his wits in the end. The real surprise, however, comes after he wins, and he finds out that Robin's weekly after-tax salary is $.01 a week.
2. The St. Patrick's Day bet
The rivalry between Cheers and Gary from the Olde Towne Tavern was epic, but the bet from the final season's "Beer Wars VII: The Naked Prey" was literally one to end all. Sam and Gary have a running 10-year $100 bet on which bar will bring in more in sales on St. Patrick's Day, but in this episode, they "raise the stakes." Gary responds by putting up a wall around the bar at Cheers while raking in money after Sam changed the sign outside his bar from $.50 a beer to $5 a beer. When they lose, they have to sing "Getting to Know You" naked at the Olde Towne Tavern. But Sam gets revenge in the end, thanks to an assist from Harry the Hat.
1. Harry the Hat saves the day
The entire "Pick a Con... Any Con" episode revolves around gambling. After Coach loses $8,000 over the course of several months to a swindler, the gang calls in Harry the Hat to win the money back.
This season one episode wins not only because of the great con at the end, but because of Harry's 10-cent bets with Cliff about 5:30 into the show.