They Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore: The Ten Best Episodes Of Frasier (Part 2)
Continuing onward with our countdown…#s 5 to 1:
5. Author! Author! (Season 1, Episode 22)
The Premise: Niles has a book deal with a demanding publisher and decides, spur of the moment, that bringing Frasier in on the action might help him get through a bout of writers block. They decide to write a text on the history of sibling relationships, using Frasier’s radio show as a source for stories of great and awful brother-sister interaction, alike. While Frasier resists at first, he’s tempted by the fruit of additional fame.
Just after they‘ve collected their material, Niles mentions that George and Ira Gershwin, when writing a symphony, would lock themselves in a hotel room and refuse to leave until their sonata was completed. The Brothers Crane, mistakenly thinking themselves on the level of the Gershwins, decide to adopt the same tactic.
The title card that reads “George and Ira” is a sardonic springboard for the finest seven minutes of the premier season. It’ll come as no surprise that the psychiatrist brothers spend $200 on room service and come up way short the prose. And, as usual, Martin does an outstanding job of helping Frasier and Niles reconcile their differences in the final moments. This is the first truly great episode of this long-lived sit-com.
Frasier: I do not have a fat face!
Niles: Oh, please! I keep wondering how long you’re going to store those
nuts for winter!
4. Something Borrowed, Someone Blue (Season 7, Episode 23)
The Premise: Considered by some to be the last truly magnificent episode of “Frasier,” the season seven finale unfolds in the days before and on the day of Donny (Niles’s divorce lawyer, played by Saul Rubinek) and Daphne‘s wedding.
The circumstances: Niles still loves Daphne, but, on a whim, married his uptight girlfriend Mel (Jane Adams) during a weekend respite a couple earlier; Daphne’s outrageous family, including her preposterously lazy brother Simon, are all in for the wedding; and, to top it all off, Daphne thinks she might have feelings for Niles.
The whole thing starts lightheartedly enough when Simon, probably my favorite of the show’s recurring characters, barges into Frasier’s apartment and somehow comes to the conclusion that Daphne’s having a child. And he leaves NO euphemism or insult unused.
Nothing quiets down when the whole family treks to northern Washington for the wedding. Donny, terrified of Daphne’s mom, starts boozing with Roz (Simon‘s date through unfortunate circumstances) at about noon. Daphne’s entire family gets abundantly trashed at the rehearsal dinner. And, to end the night, Niles and Daphne have a wonderfully funny and heartfelt conversation–one that proves the show’s writers were, in the midst of scribing chaotic comedic sequences, more than capable of penning sincere, emotional dialogue.
At the original broadcast‘s time, the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger–would Daphne leave Donny and run off with Niles, or go on with the wedding as she kept insisting she would? In our hearts, we all knew exactly how things would play out.
Daphne: Oh, for God sakes Dr. Crane!
[They kiss for a few moments.]
Niles: I think you can call me Niles now.
3. Ham Radio (Season 4, Episode 18)
The Premise: Frasier, who’s set to direct a classic amateur radio program called “Nightmare Inn,“ finds a way to take something that could be cool and make it miserable. The entire supporting cast–Gil Chesterton, Bulldog, Noel Shemsky–is present in this ep, and all of them give uproarious performances.
To begin with, the Doctor invites the KACL gang over to rehearse the script. Hiring a renowned voice actor, Mel White, to read five or six bit parts, Frasier remarks that the man’s German accent sounds just a bit too “Austrian” (among other things).
The spiral downward continues when, after Frasier’s endless nitpicking, Mel bails on the production altogether (final words: “I kvit”). Niles then excitedly steps in as Mel’s replacement and finds working for his older brother to be supremely intolerable, especially when “Nightmare Inn” actually hits the airwaves.
The night of the broadcast, Roz comes in blitzed on Novocain after an impromptu dentist visit. Meanwhile, Gil, slated to play the part of a loquacious Englishman, is especially brilliant, and he shines when his favorite monologue’s cut from the final production. Bulldog, the overbearing sportscaster, freezes when he must read the part of “Mr. Wing,” an Asian tailor. His girlfriend, however, steals the show by botching her solitary line.
“Ham Radio” explodes with comic tension–we know early on that the broadcast will fail, yet we perch on the edge of our seats waiting to see how badly Frasier can screw things up. Naturally, “Ham Radio” doesn’t let the audience down.
Maxine (Bulldog’s Dyslexic Girlfriend): Look Out! He’s got a…NUG!
2. The Two Mrs. Cranes (Season 4, Episode 1)
The Premise: Season four’s premier was a harbinger for the future of the entire series. Though the first three seasons are excellent, it’s seasons four and five of “Fraiser” that’ve truly stood the test of time. “The Two Mrs. Cranes” is too good to be true–a whirlwind farcical episode that keeps upping the ante with every passing moment. It begins with Niles using a tweezers to pull bits of dried fruit from his breakfast muffin. That’s the mellow part. It only gets better when Daphne hears from Clive, an English bloke she used to date. She invites him over to the apartment for a solitary beer.
It gets crazy when Clive actually shows up. Though she’s actually single, Daphne decides to let her old boyfriend down easy by telling him, in a frenzied moment, she’s married to Niles. For him, it’s heaven on Earth acting out this fantasy. And while Frasier half-heartedly agrees to go along with the charade, the biggest mistake the brothers make is condescending to Martin, who walks through the door at an inopportune time.
To mess with his sons, Martin kicks things up a few notches–first, by telling Clive that he used to be an astronaut, and second, by introducing Roz, who stops by to return Frasier‘s opera glasses, as Maris–who, in this case, is supposedly Frasier’s, not Niles’s, wife. Roz, being herself, immediately starts flirting with Clive, ignoring that she‘s supposed to be playing the part of a separated wife.
When Clive unexpectedly admits that he‘s become rich since Daphne‘s left England, she becomes smitten with her old flame once again. In due time, she and Roz start to compete for the Manchurian, exchanging some ridiculous backhanded banter.
In another brilliant farce, the whole fiasco ends pitch-perfectly, and only Martin, the biggest bullshitter of the bunch, comes out of the verbal battle looking like a saint. Clive’s words near the credits perfectly sum it all up: “You’re the most appalling family I’ve ever seen!”
Daphne: I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward position.
Niles: When it comes to you, no position is too awkward.
**And my favorite episode of “Frasier**
1. Halloween (Season 5, Episode 3)
The Premise: A somewhat overlooked episode, I find “Halloween” to be the most inspired and ludicrous of all of the “Frasier” farces. It’s one of the only episodes of TV to end with the deadly three-word phrase, “To Be Continued” and make it work.
“Halloween” centers on Roz’s potential pregnancy (which, at the end, becomes less ‘potential’), and her exasperation with Frasier when he inadvertently gabs the secret to Daphne in an unlikely, but entertaining conversation.
What’s more, Niles overhears an exchange between Daphne and Frasier and comes to the conclusion that Daphne’s pregnant and Frasier is the father. Martin, the retired detective, discovers something entirely different: Frasier’s the dad of Roz’s baby.
First consider all the circumstances, and then consider the setting: a Halloween party at Niles’ place where everyone’s costumed like a character from classic literature. Niles, drunk out of his mind for pretty much the entire running length, is dressed up as Cyrano De Bergerac, with a long plastic nose to boot. Frasier‘s meanwhile donning a costume from the Canterbury Tales and swears that his “pointy hat is a babe magnet.”
From start to finish, this is Niles’ show. It helps that he spends the majority of the episode piss-drunk, but it’s also remarkable how much of a mess he makes of the entire situation. In the end, after he drunkenly proposes to Daphne, and then finds out the truth, I laughed ’til I cried.
Beyond that, the ep is full of brilliant one-liners and a couple of phenomenal sight gags.
Just as in “The Two Mrs. Cranes,” the misstatements and mix-ups pile up like unpaid parking tickets. It has to be seen (and seen again) to be believed. This is one of the smartest, funniest half-hours of TV since Mary Tyler Moore cracked up during Chuckles the Clown’s funeral back in 1975.
Roz: No one’s more careful than I am when it comes to birth control. But, then again, even the best protection is only effective 99 out of a hundred times. I can’t beat those odds!