They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore: The Ten Best Episodes Of Frasier (Part 1)
“Frasier,” is probably one of the best three or four sitcoms to ever grace the small screen. The premise, that of two nitpicky, sophisticated, unathletic psychiatrist brothers and their interactions with their beer-swilling retired cop father, a sex-crazed producer and a flighty British health-care worker, sounds like it could go either way. It might be just a bit too quirky and self-conscious, right?
That isn’t the case at all. “Frasier” is a remarkable comedy show that aired between 1993 and 2004, at about the same time when “Seinfeld” was considered the gold-standard for half-hour prime-time sitcoms. While I adore “Seinfeld,” my favorite show of that era will always be “Frasier.” Being ten years old, I remember watching “Frasier” with my parents and watching half of the jokes whiz clear over my head. Now, almost fifteen years after I watched my first episode of “Frasier,” I love being able to give it a glance and actually get almost 80% of the jokes. Honestly, I’ve actually expanded my vocabulary by listening to Niles’ and Frasier’s banter.
“Frasier” succeeds not only because of its incredibly literate writing, but because of its perfect casting. There are few better comedic duos than Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce (playing the Brothers Crane, Frasier and Niles). And John Mahoney, as Martin, their blue-collar dad, is always amusing and sometimes surprisingly insightful.
Of course, that’s not to leave the women out of the picture. Peri Gilpin, who plays Frasier’s producer Roz Doyle, is absolutely wonderful and can dish out zingers like almost no other supporting character of sit-coms past. Jane Leeves, as Daphne, Martin’s health care aide, is likewise great–funny, warm and very sarcastic when need be.
If “Frasier” is brilliant for its writing and casting, it’s also quite different than many sitcoms because it blends intellectual humor, farce and pathos so seamlessly. For a 30-minute comedy show, the moments of heartfelt dialogue in “Frasier” are far more authentic than those we see in some one-hour dramas.
Without further ado, here’s part one of “The Ten Best Episodes of ‘Frasier‘”:
Give Him The Chair! (Season 1, Episode 19)
Frasier, in an attempt to decorate his apartment more tastefully, buys Martin a new leather chair with some *wink* extra benefits (Swedish massage anyone?). The consequences of Frasier’s actions are drastic, especially when the hilariously flaky maintenance guy Leo manages to throw Martin’s beat-up recliner away instead of just placing it in storage.
An Affair To Forget (Season 2, Episode 21)
Frasier receives a strange call on the air one day. A German woman is convinced her husband, a fencing instructor, is having an affair with his best student. Of course, the instructor’s prized understudy is actually Niles’ wife, Maris. The final ten minutes of this, from the confused German-to-Spanish-to-English translations, to the epic swordfight, are brilliant.
Lillith, Frasier’s ex-wife, and Niles have a one night stand. Any questions?
Roz and the Schnoz (Season 5, Episode 21)
When Roz got pregnant during season five of “Frasier,” it birthed a whole slew of great subplots. Meeting the parents of the 20-year old who got her pregnant, Roz is uber-nervous, especially when she finds out they have schnozs the size of Gibraltar. The ‘nose’ jokes are far-and-above what we’ve come to expect from a sit-com.
10. High Holidays (Season 11, Episode 11)
The Premise: This is one of the few fantastic latter-day episodes of “Frasier.” Niles, fearing he never really “acted out” when he was younger, insists on getting baked as a way of showing his father, Daphne and Frasier, that, he too, has the gumption to rebel against the establishment. The formula is immediately recognizable from previous “Frasier” eps, but the execution is flawless so that all of the plot elements feel fresh.
Niles, who think’s he’s eaten a pot brownie (supplied by Roz), actually hasn’t. And the contrast of Niles’s actions–thinking he’s blazed–versus the reaction of the character who mistakenly consumed his tasty treat, is mindblowingly funny. Add in a subplot concerning Frasier’s now-teenage son Frederick’s visit to Seattle with a new and unusual “fashion sense,” and you’re looking at one of the series’ greatest episodes.
Frasier: Dad, where are your pants?
Martin: In the fridge. I had a reason. [Fishes out a post-it] Fridge Pants!
9. Flour Child (Season 2, Episode 4)
The Premise: Martin, Niles and Frasier are stuck in a cab together (imagine the possibilities…), and the woman driving the taxi suddenly goes into labor. Though Niles Crane, M.D. is of absolutely no help during childbirth, and Martin picks up the slack perfectly, Niles finds himself changed by witnessing the miracle of life first-hand.
Niles decides the best way to figure out if he’d be a good parent is to kick things sophomore year style by pretending a sack of flour he found in Frasier’s cabinet is actually his kid. Of course, Niles screws it up. He spears his pretend baby with a chopstick and somehow manages to set the thing on fire. Even better, none of these actions are visible on screen–we only hear about it in Niles’ nonchalant descriptions of his klutziness. When his sack of flour meets its untimely demise, I dare you not to howl.
While the humor in “Flour Child” burgeons in the first fifteen minutes, what really grips you is Martin’s speech about actually raising a child near the end. Niles’s soul-searching in the final minutes is equally emotional (and well-delivered). While most episodes of “Frasier” develop two or three concurrent storylines–sometimes with only moderate success–this ep actually manages to meld all of its loose ends in a near-perfect way.
Niles: Last night, I actually had a dream my flour sack was abducted and the kidnapper started sending me muffins in the mail.
8. The Matchmaker (Season 2, Episode 3)
The Premise: New KACL station manager Tom Durant has just moved from London to Seattle after his former relationship went sour. When Tom first speaks to Frasier, they discuss European travel, opera and mens fashion. To the impeccably groomed and well-read Frasier, this is a natural conversation between two straight guys. To Tom, it’s something else.
Frasier finds Tom to be a charming, intelligent guy. He invites him over for dinner figuring the new station manager might be an excellent suitor for the lovelorn brit Daphne. There’s only one problem: Tom is gay, and he thinks Frasier is too. Clearly, this date won’t go as planned.
This could easily be a one note premise, but naturally, “The Matchmaker” aims much higher. When Tom enters Frasier’s apartment, he has no idea what he’s in for–especially when Niles and Martin tumble into the act. David Hyde Pierce and John Mahoney do some of their finest work here. Though I think there are better farcical episodes in later seasons, this is a benchmark installment for the series.
Frasier: That’s ridiculous! Tom is not gay!
Niles: He seems to be under that impression.
7. Are You Being Served? (Season 4, Episode 22)
The Premise: Niles, hoping he and his crazy, anorexic wife Maris will go into couples therapy to solve some marital problems, is stunned to find that his wealthy wife would rather serve him with divorce papers. Just hours later, Frasier and Niles come upon a diary their mother kept, one that seemingly documents all of their shortcomings as children. Niles finds out through her observations he wasn’t terribly assertive, and Frasier realizes that he had trouble showing affection. The only consolation is that Niles was wearing a killer tie made from Maris’ old “fat pants.”
Though all of the main players (minus Roz) are in full-tilt comedy mode here, this is truly Niles’ episode, up until the bitter end when he finds out the diary his mother left might not’ve been entirely accurate. This realization sends the younger Crane on a downward spiral, leading to one of the most inspired resolutions in the show’s history.
Frasier: If you choose to, you never have to see Maris again.
Niles: Oh, please. Half the time I couldn’t see her when she was standing right in front of me.
6. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz (Season 6, Episode 10)
The Premise: Frasier, shopping for a Christmas gift for his producer Roz, accidentally meets Helen Moskowitz, an older Jewish woman who is glad to give him a few shopping tips. Naturally, she has a foxy daughter, Faye (Amy Brenneman). Because Frasier’s a doctor, Helen does her best to set him up with her daughter.
Faye and Fraiser hit it off immediately on their first date. Yet, when Faye and Helen make an impromptu trek to the Elliott Bay Towers (Frasier’s home), things quickly go awry when Faye informs Frasier that her mother mistakenly thinks he’s Jewish. At the same time, Niles is playing Jesus Christ in a pageant Daphne’s theatre group is putting on. And Eddie, our faithful supporting dog, is dressed up in a Santa suit and inconveniently appears the second Helen walks through the door.
As usual, instead of telling the truth, Frasier convinces his entire family, including his rough-around-the-edges old man, to act as though they’re a happy Jewish family. The jokes are sometimes obvious (“The brisket’s still pink!”), but the payoff is entirely original. Watching Niles try to act Jewish is screamingly funny, especially when he gives a toast ending with the immortal phrase, “Le hayim! Next year in Jerusalem!” Frasier’s deadpan response: “Take it down a notch, Tevye.”
Cheating, but the title card that reads “Oy To The World” kills.
Part 2 to follow.