Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

(If you missed my explanation of this blog series, click here.)

Let's start our exploration of television past in an easy place. Let's start with my favorite show, my comfort show, my go-to show: Frasier.

It is always funny when Kelsey Grammer says this.
I know Frasier pretty much as well as you can without having actually worked on it. I'm currently almost done with my third complete watch-through, and that's not counting all the random episodes I've seen in syndication.

So let's talk about it. Or, probably more aptly, let's gush about it. I freaking love this show.

Frasier ran on NBC for an impressive 11 seasons, from 1993-2004. My sisters used to watch it when it was still on, but I was a little too young to watch at the time. It was, as you probably know, a spin-off of the super-popular Cheers, but it couldn't be more different, which was a purposeful decision by creators Peter Casey, David Angell, and David Lee. (On that note, don't expect a post about Cheers--at least not for a long time. It's fun once in a while, but in large quantities it gets pretty dull and repetitive. Will Sam and Diane yell at each other and then make out? Will Cliff defend his ever-important job as a mailman? Will Norm drink beer? So many burning questions!)

Frasier sees the "lovably pompous" (S7, Ep. 9) Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) freshly divorced, moved out of Boston and into a brand new job as a radio psychiatrist in his hometown of Seattle. His guy's-guy dad Martin (John Mahoney) is a retired cop who was shot in the hip by a would-be robber and has moved in with Frasier, bringing his hideous recliner and dog Eddie with him. Frasier's neurotic psychiatrist brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) is unhappily married to the never-seen heiress Maris (Ha. Unintentional rhymes) and promptly falls madly in love with Martin's British live-in physical therapist, Daphne (Jane Leeves). There's also Roz (Peri Gilpin), Frasier's sassy producer and eventual best friend, along with a ton of endearing and hilarious side characters who show up from time to time.

What a group. I don't think the show could have worked without every one of these characters and their relationships to each other. The casting is perfect, and their chemistry with each other is priceless and totally believable. Niles wasn't even supposed to be a character originally, and he was never mentioned in Cheers, but the producers saw a picture of David Hyde Pierce and realized that he looked exactly like a younger Kelsey Grammer and decided that yes, Frasier really needed a brother. Niles is really my favorite character, so I'm pretty happy about the resemblance myself.

Everything about Frasier works. The writing is witty, and the innuendo is subtle and hysterical. The timing is spot-on. The show seems a little high-brow at first glance, what with Frasier and Niles's penchant for opera, sherry, fine art, and all things high class, but really there's something for everyone. There's farce, there's slapstick, there's satire, there are puns, one-liners, cultural references. I still laugh out loud, even after having seen every episode at least three times.

Each episode is great on its own, but the story arcs are generally interesting and fun to follow. The series as a whole isn't sacrificed for the benefit of stand-alone episodes, like in a lot of other sitcoms (even Cheers). The scenarios the characters get themselves into are always good for a laugh, and the characters are never afraid to make fun of each other for their sheer stupidity. And the show isn't afraid to get serious or tug at the heartstrings sometimes, which just builds the viewers' connection to the characters even more. We really feel for them when bad things happen. Not every comedy is willing to take a step out of all-funny-all-the-time, but I think it can get kind of old if there's no break from constant jokes.

So how does Frasier fare in my five-season-limit theory? Well, as I said in my last post, this is one of the exceptions to that theory. It gets a little slow in seasons 10 and 11, after a major plot event that everyone had been waiting for (no spoilers, though I'm sure you'll guess it even from the first episode), but overall it does a really good job of staying interesting. Plot lines aren't really given a chance to get stale, because the story always keeps moving, and that's the way to keep it from jumping the shark or simply fizzling out. And the series finale more than makes up for the lost momentum of the last two seasons. I may have cried a little the first time I watched it.

So overall, five stars, two thumbs up, and all of those things. Frasier is the best. Maybe I have a few too many moments when I identify a little too strongly with Frasier and Niles, which makes me feel a little weird about my potential for snobbishness, but who cares? It's truly a gem, which is one of those words that people only use in reviews. It's no wonder it won more Emmys than any other TV series ever (37, which is just a ridiculous amount).

What are your thoughts on Frasier? Leave a comment and let me know.

My favorite episode:
"Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" (S6, Ep. 10), in which Frasier meets an attractive woman whose mother thinks he's Jewish, so Frasier, Martin, Niles, and Daphne spend Christmas Eve hiding all signs of Christmas while doing their best to pretend to be Jewish for Mrs. Moskowitz. It all goes hilariously awry, of course.

Some trivia:

  • David Hyde Pierce actually had no interest in opera or wine before playing Niles. Ironically, he was introduced to these finer things by John Mahoney, whose character Martin hates all things cultured.
  • The character of Roz Doyle is a tribute to the late TV producer Roz Doyle. Doyle was a producer on Wings (1990-1997), which was part of the same universe as Cheers and Frasier.
  • John Mahoney grew up in Manchester, which is where Jane Leeves's character Daphne is supposed to be from.

Next up in the series:
The Sopranos

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