Kirstie Alley was tasked with doing the impossible, and that’s something worth underlining and celebrating upon her tragic, sudden passing at the age of 71. Remember: Cheers could have easily ended when Shelley Long — one half of the medium’s definitive will they/won’t they couple — left the series after Season 5. The show had grown from being the lowest-rated show on TV to being one of the biggest hits; Long’s final episode as Diane was the #1 most-watched show of the week. Replacing Long should have been impossible — and then came Kirstie Alley.
Wisely, Cheers chose a performer and character almost diametrically opposed to Diane Chambers. Alley’s Rebecca Howe was an ’80s working woman, all shoulder-pads and upward mobility. That stood in stark contrast to Diane’s studious, somehow endearing elitism. And unlike Diane, Rebecca never really fell for Sam Malone’s charms. She resisted him with ease — except when she didn’t. Rebecca spent 6 seasons on the show, so of course Sam and Rebecca hooked up and had some off-and-on plots. The writers had to come up with 20+ stories a year! But Rebecca was allowed to occupy a different space in Cheers. She related to everyone in the bar in a new way. She was the boss… and she was a mess.
Nowhere is that better exemplified than in Season 9’s “Days of Wine and Neuroses.” This is the episode that would win Kirstie Alley her Emmy — in her fourth season on the show. Take a step back: how many shows get canceled after two or three seasons nowadays? Alley won an Emmy for her 87th episode of Cheers. She was that good for that long. You literally don’t see that nowadays because streaming services won’t let actors get that comfortable in their roles.
Anyway — “Days of Wine and Neuroses” begins to pay off Rebecca’s definitive storyline: her one-sided-ish romance with incarcerated millionaire Robin Colcord. He’s finally getting out of the slammer and he is ready to get hitched. Suddenly Rebecca’s dreams are coming true, and she celebrates in a whirlwind of balloons and roses and wine bottles. And then she has too much.
There’s no need to go into the closing scene of the episode — the heart of the episode — beat by beat, because you really need to watch it. That’s why this article exists, to direct you to Alley’s Emmy-winning performance. It’s extremely evident why Alley won for this episode, too. She strikes an impossible balance in the scene. She’s drunk and chain-smoking and having a true existential crisis, yet Alley plays the whole scene with a comedic swagger that tells us it’s fine to laugh. That was Alley’s magic throughout her six seasons on the show, too. She mastered the art of playing an unquestionably confident kind of pathetic. She cried a lot but she was never demeaned or came across as lesser-than, y’know?
And that’s what the scene is, as Sam tries to console Rebecca in the middle of her wrecked apartment. Alley is at her frayed, down-and-out, raspy-voiced best in the scene as she makes a number of life-changing realizations and repeatedly, unintentionally, puts Sam Malone in his place. Sam’s always been a ladykiller, but suddenly it’s the lady who has him in her sights. Unfortunately her sights are covered by beer goggles — or I guess wine spectacles, considering her drink of choice (bottles of which are stashed all over her apartment).
“Days of Wine and Neuroses” is a must-watch episode that shows exactly what Kirstie Alley brought to Cheers. It shows why, despite having the odds stacked against her at first, everybody quickly knew the name Rebecca Howe — and why we’ll always remember the name Kirstie Alley.