If the mid-1990s to early-2000s could be defined by one single comedy series, it’s not a stretch to say that most people would pick Friends as the one that illustrated a generation. But for me, the 1993-2004 sitcom known as Frasier was the one that kept my eyeballs glued to the screen.
At the time I wouldn’t have been able to adequately explain why I preferred the Café Nervosa’s of Seattle over the Central Perk’s of New York. But looking back I think it was because, while the inhabitants of Friends were popular and at the centre of their respective social circles, Frasier felt more like an outsider. While he had his own developed brand of social beliefs, he spent all his time trying to fit into a sub-culture that was either far more elitist than he was, or far more grounded than he could ever hope to be.
It meant that, while Frasier and myself had very little in common on the surface, it was easy to relate to a man that was constantly trying to fit in, but ultimately always failing. And of course, when you add in the wonderful supporting characters and elegant writing, it’s no wonder the show created 264 episodes across 11 amazing seasons. With the possibility there may be a continuation of the series; it felt like a good time to look back at a few episodes that really stood out to me.
Give Him The Chair! (Season 1, Episode 19)
Synopsis: Frasier throws away Martin’s armchair, convinced that his father will love the new one he has purchased. However, he is sorely mistaken and Frasier must search the city to try and track it down.
While most first seasons may be a little uneven, with its characters not fully formed; Frasier arguably has the distinction of pretty much coming out of the gate guns blazing. Perhaps this was because it was a spinoff from the popular Cheers; or maybe just the brilliant chemistry between the actors.
Whatever the reason, the comedic genius of the previous 18 episodes was undeniable. But it wasn’t until Give Him The Chair! that Frasier showed it could have heart too. It may have been down to an old tatty chair; but what John Mahoney does in those few sentences mark the beginnings of how effortlessly this show could blend comedy with tragedy.
Author, Author (Season 1, Episode 22)
Synopsis: After Fraiser successfully co-hosts an episode of his radio show with Niles, the two brothers decide to collaborate in order to write a book about their life experiences.
Up until this point, the Crane brothers had generally led separate lives that happened to intertwine at various points. Author, Author was the first of many “collaboration” episodes. A chance for the two brothers to prove the old adage “Two heads are better than one.” But like the inevitable rise of the sun, their attempts would always descend into a childlike battle of wills.
Indeed, this episode in particular would be the first to take on many stage-like qualities seen in later episodes, with a single eight minute scene set entirely inside one room. It’s one hell of a risk, considering it takes up over one third of the episode. But with two fabulous physical performances from David Hyde Pierce and Kelsey Grammer, it becomes an utter classic.
The Matchmaker (Season 2, Episode 3)
Synopsis: Feeling sorry for Daphne, Frasier decides to invite his station manager, Tom, for dinner in an attempt to set them both up. It soon becomes clear though that Daphne’s not the one Tom is interested in.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy had just been signed into law by President Clinton only 8 months before The Matchmaker was broadcast. In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine how resonant this episode must have been to the gay community. A chance to see themselves living as openly as any straight person, as opposed to the secret lives that American society had literally just codified into law. Just watch this amazing Youtube video from Matt Baume that really highlights just how important this episode is.
Fortunately the episode could never be thought to be out of date, and that’s mostly down to the incredible writing from Joe Keenan, who would go on to win five Emmys for his work on the series. The Matchmaker is absolutely an episode for the ages.
Agents in America Part III (Season 2, Episode 22)
Synopsis: In an attempt to renegotiate his contract, Frasier turns to his longtime agent, Bebe, for help. Alas, the naive doctor vastly underestimates just how far she’ll go to get him a good deal.
Considering he was a medical professional, it was no wonder that ethics featured heavily in Frasier’s actions throughout the series. I think that was part of the reason why Bebe Glazer ended up becoming such a brilliant character. Yes, there was a fantastic performance from Harriet Sansom Harris. But Bebe’s constant challenging of Frasier’s ethics meant that she essentially acted as an unofficial foil/rival to Fraiser, at least until the introduction of Cam Winston (which was far too late in the series’ run to be truly effective.)
It’s true that this wasn’t her first or last appearance, but considering this episode has Bebe getting to the point of faking a suicide attempt (and it still being one of the funniest moments of the series); this has to be the episode that solidifies her as one of the best supporting characters in the Frasier universe.
The Innkeepers (Season 2, Episode 23)
Synopsis: Not wanting one of their favourite dining haunts to close, Frasier and Niles decide to purchase the establishment for themselves. But as opening night proves, running a restaurant is no easy task.
David Lloyd was easily one of the most established writers in American TV, having done lengthy stints on Taxi, Cheers and Wings. But his first two entries in the Frasier universe, You Can’t Tell A Crook By His Cover and Burying a Grudge, could be seen to be merely adequate pieces of writing.
Not so when it comes to The Innkeepers, which blows the preceding two episodes out of the water. Like Author, Author it’s another of the Crane brothers collaboration episodes. But while Author, Author had the brothers at each other’s throats, here Frasier and Niles manage to stick by each other for the entire episode’s runtime. In fact the most significant success The Innkeepers has over Author, Author is its ability to properly utilise the entire main cast.
But more importantly, The Innkeepers utterly destroys the preceding 44 episodes in its approach to “plant and pay-off.” For example, the introduction of the senile Otto or the constant pouring of liqueur into the cherry jubliee. All of it builds up into an explosion of comedy that results in one of the best episodes of the series.
Moon Dance (Season 3, Episode 13)
Synopsis: Wanting to get back in the dating game after his divorce from Maris, Niles decides to attend a country club function. In order to maximise his impact, he asks Daphne to teach him how to dance.
While notable for being the first episode of Frasier directed by Kelsey Grammer (out of an eventual total of 36), Moon Dance holds a special place in the Frasier pantheon for being a significant milestone in the Niles and Daphne relationship.
But it’s a credit to David Hyde Pierce’s performance that he manages to mine so much pathos in that ending scene. Up until this moment, Niles had just about managed to straddle that line between creepy and loveable. But it’s here you realise that this isn’t mere infatuation, but true unrequited love.
Ham Radio (Season 4, Episode 18)
Synopsis: With the 50th anniversary of radio station KACL approaching, Frasier decides to put on an old-fashioned radio drama. Despite his best efforts, almost nothing goes according to plan.
With a total of 264 episodes across 11 seasons, you might think it would be difficult to decide which is the best one. Not so, ladies and gents. Ham Radio is the single greatest episode of Frasier ever made. While the previously mentioned “Author Author” does a decent job in echoing the farces seen upon the traditional stage, Ham Radio essentially slaps it in the face and calls it a bitch.
An utter rollercoaster from beginning to end; Ham Radio’s brilliant utilisation, not just of the main cast, but also of three popular recurring characters; is a magnificent testament to the fast-paced direction by David Lee.
But the real star here is the intricate writing by David Lloyd. As much as I adore Author, Author and The Innkeepers; both those episodes find success through a mixture of wordplay and slapstick. Not here though. Ham Radio relies entirely on the written word, and it’s not surprising that it is officially Kelsey Grammer’s favourite episode of the entire series.
The Ski Lodge (Season 5, Episode 14)
Synopsis: Frasier, Niles, Martin, Daphne and two friends take a holiday break in the mountains; not realising that passion and confusion awaits.
Misunderstandings are at the heart of any farce and The Ski Lodge is no exception. There is, however, an argument to be made that, unlike The Matchmaker, some of the situations in The Ski Lodge are a little contrived. (And the less said about a certain someone with a rather weak English accent, the better!)
Ultimately though, it’s best to analyse the final product as a whole, and from that prospective it is undeniably a success. With echoes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it’s almost unfathomable that Joe Keenan could have written a script that engineered so many ridiculous situations; and yet comes together with screenwriting elegance. The resulting Emmy nomination that the episode received was well-deserved.
Dr. Nora (Season 6, Episode 20)
Synopsis: Frasier hires a new psychiatrist to help him in his radio show, but is surprised by her barbarous wit.
Admittedly Dr. Nora (Christine Baranski) isn’t usually brought up when people talk about the most memorable recurring characters in Frasier history. But the snide brutality that Baranski brings when doling out her “relationship advice” absolutely lights up the screen. While the character itself seems to be based on 90s relationship advisor, Dr. Laura Schlessinger; it’s hard not to see shades of the modern day shock-jock, Alex Jones.
Regardless of her origins, the episode’s introduction of a female foil is a great chance to truly explore Frasier and his style of psychiatry, much like Agents of America Part III did through the character of Bebe Glazer. All of it building up to an absolutely out-of-left-field ending that resulted in Emmy nominations for multiple actors involved.
The Show Must Go Off (Season 8, Episode 12)
Synopsis: Wanting to revive the career of one of their favourite childhood actors, Frasier and Niles decide to produce a one-man show; not realising that their memories may have been a little idyllic.
Amazingly his very first appearance on American television and one for which he won an Emmy, Derek Jacobi is an absolute master. (Pun intended, Doctor Who fans!)
Some Americans might have missed this, but Jacobi was nationally known in the U.K. as a die-hard devotee of Shakespeare’s work. With significant stints upon the London stage, it was almost impossible to imagine him in a comedy. And yet, Jacobi makes it clear here that he has no problem poking fun at his own image. An absolute class act and one of the funniest performances of the entire series.
Rooms With A View (Part 2) (Season 10, Episode 8)
Synopsis: As Niles undergoes heart surgery, his family and friends reminisce about their life-changing visits to the hospital.
It’s admittedly a little odd to think that the best part of a trilogy is its middle chapter. After all, the engaging beginning has already taken place, while the climatic ending is yet to come. But Rooms With A View Part 2 seems to buck that trend.
In fact, the reason for the episode’s success is that it leaves its comedic pedigree behind and moves into a realm that is far more drama-comedy. Just like Deep Space Nine’s “In The Pale Moon Light” or Futurama’s “Jurassic Bark”, sometimes going against the grain of what’s already established can lead to astounding results. Seeing how our favourite characters have dealt with some of the toughest moments of their lives leads to some incredibly touching moments. This episode may not resonate with everyone, but it’s definitely memorable.
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