• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #43: Sam "Mayday" Malone


"When the lights go out, everybody is the same age and NOBODY is lonely."

There are plenty of reasons Cheers is in the conversation as greatest sitcom of all time. Cliff, Norm, Coach (always better than Woody), novel early Frasier, Carla. The Boston setting. But Ted Danson's Sam Malone was the glue that held the entire enterprise together, the center of gravity for a talented and memorable ensemble. A retired Sox reliever, Sam was a recovering alcoholic spending his days tending bar, proving to himself every hour that he was stronger than the sauce. And while the character was written as less than brilliant, Sam had a certain clumsy wisdom, and a weary, endearing optimism that life still held wonders for him. Many of these wonders, of course, took female form, and his womanizing was one of his defining traits in a less enlightened time. When Shelley Long's Diane Chambers came along, their early chemistry was electric, written and acted so well as to jump off the screen. The attempt to replicate the magic with Kirstie Alley's Rebecca Howe never really cut it, just as Woody never really replaced Coach as the witless comedic foil.

Cheers remains watchable even now, decades later. We all still want to go where everybody knows our name. And my favorite part remains Sam's loyalty, his generosity, and his juvenile enthusiasm for life. He was a hero come to earth, and both he and the earth he came to were better for it.

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