Sunday, February 19, 2012

Party with... Diane Chambers!

One of my mother's most cherished college memories is gathering around the TV to watch Cheers with her chums so when my brother suggested that I try it for myself one summer home from my own college years, I gladly gave it a go and never looked back.  I was hooked by the magnetism of polarized personalities and witty repartee.  It's an intoxicating cocktail of highbrow and lowbrow, of physical comedy and improv, of verbal puns and cunning one-up-manship.

But mostly, I was smitten with Diane.  Never has there been such a female character on TV; elitist and over-educated while at the same time completely ignorant and naive.  She's often snobbish and cold but vulnerable and optimistic.  She is a self-professed humanist and feminist, but is delusional in her projected self-image and the reality of her own insecurities.  All of which makes her complete, human, entertaining, and memorable.  Of course, Diane Chambers would be nothing without Shelley Long who truly breathed life into a character on the page.  She gave Diane a distinct style of speech, a beautiful singing voice, expressive gesticulation and gait. 
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Needless to say, when Shelley Long left the show after five seasons, I stopped watching.  I had no reason to watch Cheers without the banter between Sam and Diane (and in Seasons 3+, Frasier as well!).  I have watched the first five seasons a dozen times through and still turn it on from time to time.  My favorite episodes of the Shelley Long era are (in no particular order):
  1. Diane's Allergy (Season 3): Best. Allergic. Reaction. Ever. (with the exception of Martin Short's anaphylactic shock in Pure Luck)
  2. Simon Says (Season 5): John Cleese is brilliant.
  3. Give Me a Ring Sometime (Season 1): Still the best sitcom pilot.  It's just comedy gold right out of the gate.
  4. Abnormal Psychology (Season 5): Frasier Crane and Lilith together at their best.
  5. Diane's Perfect Date (Season 1): Sam hires a murderer to go out with Diane.  Yes and yes. 
There are so many other great episodes, like The Proposal, Power Play, etc. and believe me I laugh every time.  Enjoy some fun trivia here and an enlightening blog by Cheers writer Kevin Levine (linked is the entry about a specific episode called The Boys in the Bar).


Party with... Diane Chambers!
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 She's fifteen minutes late to the bar.  Probably some class of hers has run over or she's stayed to chat with her professor long after the lecture has concluded.  She chose the place and time, no doubt guided by a subconscious pull from the sudden appearance of me, an American friend, and all the implications of life "across the pond."

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I hear her before I see her stroll in with a friend.  Diane has a book in her arm, the Sylvia Plath Journals, and still floats about with a mix of superiority and bumbling grace. 

"Et j'ai dit, si vous parlez lentement, je pourrais comprendre," she notes with a bright giggle that fills the room.  I catch her eye with a wave and she makes her way over to me.  She's brought us a snack from a local bakery: brioche with fresh strawberries.

"This reminds me of 'those long afternoons in the quad, drinking champagne, eating brioche with strawberry preserves, reading and talking Schopenhauer,'" she says, then merrily snaps out of her daydream.  "Well, enough Schope talk!" 
brioche, wine spritzer, plath journals, spaniel
 We order some white wine spritzers and chat about the novel she's writing.  I let her wax on a bit about her protagonist: a head strong school marm with an ethereal beauty, who obviously represents herself.  She is neurotic, misguided, over-analytical, and verbose, but yet deeply romantic and quick to share her observations about life in London.  All of these things draw me to her.

Her platinum blond hair is swept into a low chignon that brushes against the silk collar of her pussy bow blouse.  Her plaited skirt is reminiscent of old collegiate days in New England while her pastel Joan and David pumps recall her upper crust mentality.  Her purse, which casual forms the third party at our table, holds a book, a notebook, a fountain pen, and a wad of petty cash from tips.  
purse, sweater, blouse, skirt, pumps, necklace
The only odd accessory is the small Cavalier King Charles Spaniel attached to the end of a leather leash.  Flush, is his name.  A tribute to her old friend Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I'm sure.  But a dog?  I thought she was allergic.

"Oh, yes," she says with a gallant flip of the wrist.  "Well, I'm sure you know that the majority of allergic reactions are merely psychosomatic.  My so-called allergy was nothing more than the manifestation of my own intuition steering me away a mismatched romance.  Flush here is the perfect companion.  He's very intellectual, very well educated.  Not particularly athletic, even clumsy but charmingly so with a Byron-like innocence."

I restrain my laughter.  She's described someone else that way once.  Flush needs to stretch his legs and so do we.  So we drive out to the countryside with no particular destination in mind.  Somehow this patch of moorland has caught her eye and we pull over for a stroll.
The Heather Moorlands
I want to ask her about her new screenplay, the one based on Plath's life that she referenced in her acceptance speech, but enthralled by the beauty of the landscape, Diane's lost in Bronte.  I for one, am not a big fan of Wuthering Heights but I can understand her need for literary parallel of Catherine and Heathcliff and their passionate, forbidden romance; a love requited by never quite satiated for two ill-fated yet star-crossed lovers.  The guise is weak at best but she is too deep into the moorlands to observe her own vulnerability with any sense of clarity.  Despite the glorious sunshine, she is lost in fog but the coquettish dance of Flush through the heather draws a smile.

"Allons-y!" she says to us three and on we walk.  I still don't mention his name, best to circle the subject and let her come to it on her own.  The dialogue bounces between Wagner's Ring Cycle and Japanese fusion cuisine, the journals of Sylvia Plath and her own revelations with her new psychiatrist.  I wonder if she's gotten to the part in the journals were Sylvia says, "we all think we are important enough to need psychiatrists."

"Any news from Boston?" she asks finally.  

"Well," I begin slowly.  "I thought you'd be interested to know that Andy Schroeder was released on parole last month."

I think I see her face twitch.  "Oh," she says, "how nice.  I have heard of the successful rehabilitation efforts made by several Boston psychiatrists.  Kudos to them."  I suspect her congratulatory remarks come only because she is an ocean a part from the man who once tried to strangle her.  "Is that all?" she asks.  "Nothing new with anyone else?"

"Nothing new per se, Diane."  I gaze out at a the waving heather in the fields.  She is right to hope, I think.  Stranger claims have laid stake on my own heart.  "He's not the untamed beast that we often suspect.  He's just a little boy with a broken heart, I think."

"You think so?" she asks, eyes sparkling.

"Sure.  He loved her with the best of himself, that Heathcliff did, and in the end, isn't that all we can ask of life, to be truly wanted?"

My remarks seem to send her down a different rabbit hole, but a pleasant one, one filled with memories of beer suds and bar bets and a certain "tall, dark, and unrepugnant" ex-relief pitcher.
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Thanks for the memories, Diane.
Happy Weekend, Party Go-ers.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely tribute to Diane Chambers, the very best of the best. Wonderfully creative with happily familiar references scattered throughout. I love where you've found and left her. Thanks for sharing.

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