36. "I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday," Cheers (1985)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here (and on Pinterest), and an introduction to the project is here.
"I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday" is not among the most famous Cheers episodes, but it's a fine stand-alone story that also plays off the Sam-and-Diane saga. It's also got some great sight gags (on- and off-screen), some clever twists that examine the value of art, and yet another way to get Sam and Diane in an embrace in the closing moments. Cheers created some great supporting characters, but unlike great farcical sitcoms (like Fawlty Towers and Frasier), its best episodes don't peak with the whole ensemble on stage. Instead, they shed all the other characters until it's as if Sam and Diane are the last people on Earth, each still determined to get the upper hand in their relationship. It's Dr. Strangelove as screwball comedy.
Diane: Sam, would you say that our relationship has matured?
Sam: It's getting kind of old, yeah.
Offended by Sam's lack of trust, Diane gives him the book as collateral ("don't touch it, don't scratch it, don't scratch with it," she tells him). The next day he comes into the bar with the book looking like an accordion, explaining that he started to read the book in the bathtub and dropped it in shock when he learned what happened to Jake's manhood. ("She told me not to touch it, I touched it, and now it's fat," Sam says. About the book.)
Before Sam can figure out what to do, a bar patron overhears Diane talking about the book and offers $1000 for it. Diane is immediately willing to make the sale, but a Sam assumes the role of literary aesthete out of sheer panic.
Sam: No, you can't sell the book. You love the book, Diane!
Diane: Sam, we love people. We own books.
There's a bidding war, and Sam ends up offering $1200 for the book before Diane, touched by his sudden appreciation of the printed word, says, "I want Sam to have it."
At this point, Diane sees The Sun Also Rises as an unexpected tool in her campaign to remake Sam as her perfect man (still masculine but newly appreciative of fine arts and totally dependent on Diane to learn about them). Sam is at least mildly piqued by the novel (not enough to show any interest in reading more Hemingway) but mostly feigns interest to get out of a jam and into Diane's pants.
Diane: I don't know what to say. I'm looking at you in an entirely new light.
Sam: What do you mean?
Diane: Well, I don't know myself. But I think tonight I saw, in full flower, the sensitivity that you try so hard to conceal.
Sam: Oh. Well, that's no big deal.
Diane: Oh, no. You were wonderful!
Sam: Yeah, I guess my little masquerade is over. I am sensitive as all get-out.
Diane: Honestly, Sam, I don't know what brought about this change, but I find myself extremely attracted to you just now. Something's stirring inside me. I don't know what it is, but I'm becoming flushed.
Sam: Maybe it is getting a little hot in here.
Diane: Very hot. (She embraces him.)
Sam: You mean all I had to do was go nuts over a book? (He tightens their embrace.)
Diane: Oh, I know it's crazy. All the warning signals are flashing. I never intended for this to happen, but it's out of my control. Kiss me, Sam. (long kiss)
Sam: The truth is, I've been thinking about getting a lot more books. (more kissing) Maybe even getting a library card.
Diane: Sam, isn't amazing how life works out? When we woke up this morning, who would have guessed that we'd end the day this way? Just look. You have a beautiful book, I made myself a tidy little profit, and we're in each other's arms. (more kissing)
Sam: (realizing) A tidy little profit?
Diane: Yes, your last bid was 12 hundred dollars.
By this point, the book itself — warped and waterstained, with pages torn out and its spine broken, jammed into one of Sam's desk drawers — is just another victim of Sam and Diane's obsession with each other.
• Sam had to fake an interest in classic literature before, when he read War and Peace in five days to impress Diane in "Sumner's Return." His motives are less romantic this time. And as a commenter points out, "Diane's Nightmare," which aired just a week before "I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday," has a fantasy sequence with Sam as a pipe-smoking intellectual (not to mention the return of Andy Andy from "Diane's Perfect Date").
• In the A.V. Club's reviews of Cheers's early seasons, there are frequent mentions of how well Shelley Long was able to inject grace notes to give her character some likeability — not an easy task in episodes where the plots called for her to be shrill or demanding. I like one moment early in "I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday."
Diane: Are you familiar with the Farthing for Your Thoughts bookstore?
Norm: I've dallied there betimes.
Diane: (approvingly, and amazingly diverted from talking about herself) Very funny, Norman.
Indeed, Diane's fondness for the man she insists on calling "Norman" — a fat, often-unemployed lush with self-esteem problems who's often mocked by other characters — is one of her sweetest qualities, though it's rarely shown for more than a few seconds in an episode.
• This is only the sixth episode in Woody Harrelson's first season on Cheers, so he gets another good joke introducing his naive character.
Woody: (searching for his wallet) Oh no, I must have got my pockets picked again.
Norm: Welcome to the big city, Woody.
Woody: (completely missing any sarcasm) Thank you, Mr. Peterson!