The Parks and Recreation star is still stealing from her favorite show
When Amy Poehler needs a break from working on Parks and Recreation, she unwinds by heading back to her trailer and cueing up Cheers. “It’s the only show I have on my DVR, and I watch it all the time,” says Poehler. “Not only because it’s comforting, but also because I relate to that feeling of loving the people you work with. [Parks showrunner] Michael Schur and I will watch together, and just geek out for an hour about, like, the Thanksgiving episode.” As part of GQ’s celebration of the classic sitcom’s 30th anniversary, we rang up the Boston native to talk Sam and Diane, the enormousness of Norm, and TV’s finest surrogate family.
GQ: Cheers took a while to catch on with viewers. When did you start watching?
Amy Poehler: I remember being on board from the absolute beginning. I grew up in Boston, and we always felt like it was a hometown show. I had some small personal connections to the show: Every once in a while, they’d stick a true Bostonian in there, to remind everybody about the accent, because nobody was really doing it [on the show]. One of the guys from my local pizza place was an extra, and I remember meeting him and being like, “Oh my God, this guy is the best.”
My other small personal connection was that, after Cheers was over, when I was doing Second City in Chicago, George Wendt came to [see the show]. Afterwards, we walked about two blocks to a bar, and I’ve never, ever seen anybody swarmed by more people. Norm was everybody’s character. America felt like they owned him.
GQ: So were you heavily up in the Sam and Diane relationship?
Amy Poehler: Oh, yeah. When they kissed, it was so exciting. I loved how the show let us be tortured for a while by their relationship—how [the producers] pulled them apart and got them back together. And I loved the chemistry between Ted and Shelley. There was shared respect onscreen. [But] the cool thing about the show was that you loved every character. They were so finely drawn, I could always imagine what they were doing on the weekends. And that, to me, is a really well-written character.
GQ: Do you have an all-time favorite episode?
Amy Poehler: The last one. I could watch it every day. When Danson turns the bar’s lights out, it’s that incredibly rare moment in TV where it feels real and earned and sweet. And that episode’s still packed with jokes, you know? That theme song that tells you “You want to go where everybody knows your name”—it delivers in the show, because you actually feel like there’s a real family there. And I remember watching that [finale], and being so crushed that I wasn’t going to see that family again.
GQ: Where do you stand on the Diane years versus the Rebecca years?
**Amy Poehler:**You know, those first seasons with Sam and Diane will always be imprinted on my mind. But it’s an indication about how strong the writing was that both [eras] worked. Look at how strong the structure of the show was. When they had to replace Coach, it was like, “Oh my God—how is it going to happen?” And then Woody Harrelson comes in, and it’s so unbelievably good, you realize that the bar is what’s important in the show. The bar is the character, and the fact that Cheers not only survived [change], but became interesting in a totally different way, is so cool.
GQ: There’s a feeling among certain _Cheers _vets that young comedy writers are more interested in post-modern sitcoms like _Seinfeld _than a traditional show like Cheers. Is that something you’ve observed?
**Amy Poehler:**I think that’s true, sadly. Perhaps, ten years from now, [that’ll change]. Every high-school student goes upstairs and says, “Have you heard this band Led Zeppelin?” So I hope and assume that every good comedy writer, no matter the age, has a moment where they discover how great Cheers is. And I would encourage any young person getting into comedy to sit down and watch the best television show that’s ever been on, and see the structure of it. Because their jokes were evergreen. They didn’t do a lot of topical stuff, so nothing feels dated. There’s no jokes about DeLoreans and the Jimmy Carter administration. I [revisited] the pilot a few years ago, and it’s still hilariously funny and completely fresh and better-written than 90 percent of the stuff that I’ve ever read.