Recast Away: ‘Cheers’

Senior Television Writer
04.03.12 102 Comments


Okay, so last week, as a goof, I invited first Twitter, and then the commenters here, to see if you could recast “Gilligan’s Island” using only actors from the same show. 130+ enthusiastic comments later, it occurred to me that we might be onto something here. So as an experiment, we’re going to try this again. Maybe it was just a one-time thing that we’ll get bored with quickly, maybe it’s something we can keep going for a few weeks before it runs out of steam, or maybe it is something that can just run FOREVER, until we’re trying to figure out which actors from “Deadwood” would be best-suited to star in a new version of “My Mother the Car.” We’ll play it by ear.

For today, I’m going to respond to a Twitter request on that first night to try this game with “Cheers,” which remains one of my all-time favorite sitcoms (and which the smart folks at The AV Club have been analyzing weekly for a while.) Wanting to try to recast a sitcom with a sitcom, I again thought of “Community,” since Joel McHale seems an easy choice to play Sam, while Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs would, respectively, make a strong Diane and Rebecca. (The hair color’s reversed, but I care less about appearance than getting at the essence of the character.) After that, though, things started to get sketchy, until I wound up casting Ken Jeong as Norm because there was nobody better in the main cast.

Then I tried “Parks and Recreation,” where I found the opposite to be true: it was simplicity itself to fill all the supporting and even recurring roles with people from the world of Pawnee, but a pain to cast any of the leads. Here’s the best I could do, with some explanation, but it’s not perfect:

* As Sam Malone, Nick Offerman. You’d have to shave the mustache, I think, and playing a (relatively) straight character like Sam would take away a lot of what makes Offerman special on “Parks,” but of the show’s various men, he’s got the best blend of machismo and charisma to pull it off.

* As Diane Chambers, Rashida Jones. More a process of elimination than anything else, as the other women in the cast were natural fits in other roles. Jones did go to Harvard, but is generally best playing earthier characters. I dunno. We may have to just stick to the Rebecca era with this group. Speaking of which…

* As Rebecca Howe, Amy Poehler. Poehler can play anything, and would probably be a good Diane, but I think the hot mess that is Rebecca gives her more to work with than Diane’s more aristocratic airs. (In general, I view Shelley Long as one-in-a-million casting as Diane. I think in the hands of most actresses, Diane would’ve been insufferable, but she found a lovable core underneath all the pretension.)

* As Carla Tortelli, Aubrey Plaza. Easy. A different kind of sarcasm, but she could expertly play Carla’s hatred of Diane and/or Rebecca.

* As Woody Boyd, Chris Pratt. Even easier. Almost tempted to ponder a version with Pratt as Sam and Plaza as Diane, but feel like asking Pratt to be the hero takes even more away from him than it does from Offerman.

* As Coach Ernie Pantusso, Jim O’Heir. Coach’s absent-mindedness is a bit more lovable than Jerry Gergich’s unintentional horribleness, but there’s enough overlap in style and emotional position that it works.

* As Cliff Clavin, Aziz Ansari. It’d be a different spin on everyone’s favorite mailman, but both Cliff and Tom Haverford are fonts of useless knowledge that they believe to be of incredible importance, and both invent or invest in useless businesses (Tan ‘N’ Wash, Tommy Fresh).

* As Norm Peterson, Retta. Norm(a) gets a gender change, but it’s three decades later, and it could work. Plus, Retta’s better with one-liners than anyone else in the cast. She’d kill with the entrance lines.

* As Frasier Crane, Adam Scott. I could go with either Scott or Rob Lowe and have them embody different aspects of the good shrink (Lowe the patrician air, Scott the nerd among a blue-collar crowd), but I have Lowe in mind for a crucial recurring role.

* As Lilith Sternin-Crane, Mo Collins. Plaza would actually make an interesting Lilith, due to the lack of affect, but she’s spoken for. In dipping into the larger pool of Pawnee players, Collins seems more versatile than, say, Megan Mullally; not sure I’d buy Megan as the repressed woman with the tight bun.

And just a few other recurring characters from each:

* As Gary of Gary’s Old Towne Tavern, Rob Lowe. So perfect he’d drive Sam nuts.

* As Henri, the guy always trying to steal Woody’s girlfriend Kelly, Ben Schwartz.

* As Harry the Hat, Paul Rudd.

That’s just one attempt. I’m sure there’s a show out there even better-suited for this experiment. As we discovered last week, when two different commenters went with “The Wire” to recast “Gilligan’s Island” without making any of the same picks, shows with huge ensembles give you more options. So fire away, and see what you can do.

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