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25 best, 25 worst “Frasier” episodes

Posted by therebelprince on July 13, 2017

Frasier is one of the great sitcoms of the 1990s – and certainly the greatest spin-off of them all. Transplanting Kelsey Grammer‘s Dr. Frasier Crane – now divorced – from his lengthy run on Cheers across to Seattle, where he is reunited with his uptight brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and his down-to-earth curmudgeon of a father (John Mahoney) was perhaps not that original, but the series proved its genius very early on. Like all of the best sitcoms, the series could wear multiple masks – family comedy, workplace sitcom, grand farce, character analysis – and reveled in luxury guest stars. Today, I wanted to explore the series’ 25 best and 25 worst episodes.

Readers of my writing, here and elsewhere, know that I’m usually a “redemptive” reviewer. It’s very hard to write 22-24 episodes a season, and sometimes an idea just doesn’t land, or the timing just runs out and an episode gets made. What’s remarkable about Frasier is that any one of its 264 episodes carries some charm, and I’d only consider perhaps 5 of them to be truly lamentable. This was a series that respected its audience, both in its consistent wittiness and its faith in character. All of which is to say: many episodes that didn’t make it into the Top 25 are still remarkable. And even some of those on my Bottom 25 are quite good by average sitcom standards. But this isn’t an average sitcom. This is Frasier.

(A note on methodology: having previously reviewed every episode for “Frasier Online“, I revised those episodes and the ratings out of 10 for this piece. Episodes ranking 9.7/10 and higher merit a place on the “Best” list, with episodes 9.2 and over making it on to the short list. Meanwhile, episodes ranking 6.9/10 and lower merit a place on the “Worst“, with episodes under 7.5 on the shortlist. For seasons where limited (or no) episodes fit either criteria, I’ve extended up or down the list as needed.)

Season One

1.07 Call Me Irresponsible


Frasier dates a woman whose breakup he inadvertently caused, but his ethics have other ideas…

The series’ first average, installment this is one of those shows any first season has to have. The idea of Frasier going against his ethics is a good one, and begins an oft-mentioned joke that the Brothers Crane have visceral reactions to ethical violations, but the script doesn’t go anywhere other than expected. This is a series still discovering the characters but, when you consider other sitcoms of the time such as Seinfeld and The Nanny, which took time to find themselves, the fact that we’ve made it several episodes without a dud is itself remarkable.

1.17 A Midwinter Night’s Dream


After attempting to spice up his marriage, a misunderstanding sees Niles thrown out by Maris. Daphne (Jane Leeves) assists Niles in a grand attempt to win back his wife, but Niles’ growing crush on her begins to take over – leaving Martin and Frasier to worry that he will act on these feelings.

The series’ first true classic episode, focusing on Niles’ pursuit of Daphne but giving intelligent weight to all five characters. While Niles’ puppy love for Daphne began as a running gag early in the season, it is here cemented in the hearts and minds of fans (on Daphne’s current boyfriend: “How could she like him – the man has community college written all over him!”) The series’ decision to make Maris such a fascinating character is perhaps a first despite the “unseen character” trope being as old as Shakespeare, and here it allows the series to make the intelligent choice for Niles, while never losing sight of the situation’s inherent hilarity. Written by the very talented Chuck Ranberg & Anne Flett-Giordano, who would contribute numerous other gems, this is the highlight of season one.

1.20 Fortysomething


Frasier ponders his increasing age when a youthful shop assistant shows a romantic interest in him – and everyone around him has an opinion on the situation.

I’d rank this in the series’ bottom ten, and certainly it’s the first season’s weakest episode. And yet I still would call it an average sitcom episode, so I think that says something about Frasier‘s staying power. Either way, this was perhaps a necessary episode to look at Frasier’s vanity and feelings of being obsolete, both prime territory for the remaining ten seasons. Nevertheless, despite a fertile basic idea, nothing comes of it. Nothing about this episode is novel or interesting, despite some valiant effort by the cast.

1.21 Travels with Martin


Frasier’s desire for father-son bonding sees him let Martin choose the destination of a holiday: and the choice is seeing America in a Winnebago. Joined by Niles and Daphne, they find themselves in one muddle after another, especially when an impromptu trip across the Canadian border has major implications for Daphne…

One of the all time greats. An early indicator of the kind of farce-cum-bottle-episodes this show would become so adept at, the script by Linda Morris & Vic Rauseo allows all of the characters to have some fun (including Peri Gilpin‘s Roz: “There’s nothing wrong with pampering yourself on your vacation – after all you do work 3 hours a day.”) showcasing yet again why the series could be less reliant on the endless cavalcade of supporting characters we see on competing sitcoms of the time. It’s also an example of where the series truly attempts to interlace both Martin’s views and those of the boys. The first season can sometimes show the strings of its class-comedy origins, but by now we’re aware that the three Crane men are much deeper characters than their initial descriptions might suggest.

1.22 Author, Author


Spurred on by Niles’ publisher, the Crane brothers determine to write a book together

David Hyde Pierce is under-utilised in the first season, but this episode provides its share of good moments as it explores the rivalry between Frasier and Niles. Despite the fantastic chemistry between Hyde Pierce and Grammer, this episode feels like it’s missing something. It’s a concept that could have been laugh-out-loud funny, but instead just hums along, happy to be mildly humorous. Unsurprisingly, this is one of those episodes written by a team of jobbing writers who don’t appear to have worked on the show again. It’s another one of those things that often happen in a first season – guest writers fill out a script based on the show’s concept. What we end up with is something of a “made to order” episode that doesn’t quite feel right.

Other season one highlights: The Good Son (the show’s pilot), Miracle on 3rd or 4th Street, The Show Where Lilith Comes Back (beginning a rewarding run for Bebe Neuwirth as Frasier’s ex-wife and mother of his child), Frasier Crane’s Day Off, and the bravura season finale, My Coffee with Niles

Other lesser episodes: Dinner at Eight, which is really quite good but something has to go at the bottom, Oops, an episode very much still ironing the kinks out of the KACL side of things, and Death Becomes Him, which becomes more relevant as I age but nevertheless feels like the show feeling out which styles will suit it – and ultimately rejecting this one.

Season Two

2.03 The Matchmaker


Frasier invites over his new boss Tom (Eric Lutes) for dinner, with the intention of setting him up with Daphne. Unfortunately, Frasier hasn’t realised that Tom is gay – and assumes Frasier is too.

A mini-masterpiece, and the first of the show’s grand farces, written by Joe Keenan who brought out this aspect of the show perhaps more strongly than any of his colleagues. Every character plays a pivotal role in the plot, completely believable yet surprising at turns. It’s a shame the character of Tom didn’t really take hold as a recurring member of the show, but he’s used here to strong effect. Every line is hysterical, leading up to a poignant and uproarious finale. At the same time, this is a show with multiple gay men amongst its cast, so the gay jokes come thick and fast (no pun intended!) without once being derogatory.

2.13 Retirement is Murder


Niles, Daphne and Frasier become obsessed with the “Weeping Lotus” case, a murder mystery that remains unsolved years after Martin investigated it.

On the one hand, this is a classic class-conflict episode the show has done many times, with an amusing comedy of errors. On the other, this is the rare early Frasier that feels like a standard sitcom script has been grafted onto these characters. The writers, Elias Davis & David Pollock, were sitcom veterans dating back to the 1960s, but Frasier is their last TV credit, writing both this and the next episode on the list. Like most jobbing writers, scripts can be hit or miss depending on how much a concept – perhaps rattling around in their head for months or years – fits the show on which they’ve managed to get a contract. Despite how funny it is for Frasier to be convinced of a monkey’s murderous guilt, it’s also perhaps too ridiculous. And I say this fully aware that one of my favourite episodes of this show ends with Dr. Crane wearing a nappy and screaming in front of an audience. This is padding – satisfactory padding, but no more. Elsewhere, it’s immensely enjoyable to see interaction between Niles and Bulldog. In season one, Dan Butler‘s character sometimes felt like a network note, the kind of addition that a sweaty, white executive suggested to offset a series reliant on jokes about Sondheim and Jungian psychology. Yet Butler persisted, and found every possible edge to this character. All of which is to say that Niles and Bulldog may be a rarely utilised pairing but they’re played by two classically trained actors who make every scene at the least tolerable. So, perhaps this is my least valued episode of the second season, but it’s not exactly a write-off.

2.18 The Club


Frasier and Niles support one another for entry into Seattle’s prestigious Empire Club, only to discover that there is only one place available…

Is David Hyde Pierce the reason this show lasted so long? I’m tempted to say yes. Despite initial network fears that you couldn’t have two such similar lead characters, Niles Crane is simply sparkling, and his rivalry with Frasier is the best element of the series. What makes it work so well in episodes like this is the fact that, ultimately, Niles and Frasier are rivals with the rest of their set more than each other. It’s fair to say that some of the dialogue occasionally arises more from the pen of the talented guest writers and less from a natural place in the characters, but it’s funny enough that this doesn’t matter. (Frasier: This is my brother, Dr Niles Crane – the eminent psychiatrist. Niles: My brother is too kind – he was already eminent while my eminence was merely imminent.) This is bliss from beginning to end.

2.21 An Affair to Forget


Through one of his radio callers, Frasier discovers that Maris is having an affair with her German fencing instructor but, when he attempts to confront her, Niles finds out instead. Niles is forced to confront his fears if he wants his wife back.

The first episode of the series I ever saw, and I fell in love. It’s the first shot in the Niles/Maris war that will rage for several years, and the infamous translation scene – whether or not it’s a nod to I Love Lucy – is exquisite. The late Glenne Headley is fantastic as radio caller Gretchen and even the smaller material, like Roz’s realisation that Frasier knows “who the liver dumpling is” gets milked for great comedy. There’s an absurdity to every part of this episode, true, but it’s a joyful one. Bonus points to Irene Olga Lopez, who brings a pizzazz to the one-note character of Marta.

2.24 Dark Victory


Martin’s birthday party devolves into a disaster, with everyone at odds and an unexpected blackout.

Season one’s finale, My Coffee with Niles, is fantastic – an endearing and intelligent script focused on the character of Frasier, and his development since leaving Boston for Seattle. By focusing on the core five rather than just Frasier, Dark Victory tops that to become the best episode of season two. The series would last an exhausting 11 years, and this lays the groundwork for how the lives of the five can progress without altering the status quo beyond recognition. It’s a respectful and realistic piece of theatre, with Roz getting some of the best moments both comedically (taking her chances on the street) and emotionally (as she ponders her carefree lifestyle). And this really is theatre. Aside from Shelley Duvall‘s voice role, and a small cameo at the start, this is an episode featuring only the core five, and set entirely on two of the three main sets.

Other season two highlights: The Candidate, Adventures in Paradise, and Daphne’s Room

Other lesser episodes: Slow Tango in South Seattle, a fairly fluffy season opener, Fool Me Once, Shame On You; Fool Me Twice…, and Someone to Watch Over Me”

Season Three

3.11 The Friend


Frasier determines to make new friends, until he meets a guy in a wheelchair who he can’t stand – but feels socially obligated to spend time with.

Frasier doesn’t often deal with more edgy themes, but the idea of disliking someone and then being unable to say so because of their minority status is one that can yield comedy gold when handled correctly. Indeed, this series would do exactly that the first Dr. Mary episode. But this show – despite a committed performance by Griffin Dunne as the obnoxious Bob – never deals with it’s “awkward Frasier” storyline humorously or sincerely enough to be memorable. David Hyde Pierce has some fun in his subplot, but this is a thoroughly average outing. At best, it’s a first-time script that could have used some work by the regular writers to get it up to par. At worst, it’s a rare sign of a successful series in its third year coasting on its own fame.

3.13 Moon Dance


Now separated from Maris, Niles needs a push to restart his own lovelife. With Daphne teaching him how to dance, a Fruit-at-the-Bottom yoghurt heiress as a date, things are looking up.

A potential competitor for best episode of the season, Moon Dance is one of those fan-pleasing pieces that combines comedic delight with the powerful flames of Niles’ love for Daphne. The chemistry between Hyde Pierce and Leeves is bristling, and despite the fact that the series must return to the status quo, manages to satisfy both our immediate and longer-term needs. The script is credited to eight writers, which would usually be a sign of disaster, but here everyone is in top form. It’s a simple set-up but filled with laughs. Perhaps Frasier had it easier than many “will they or won’t they?” series in that Niles and Daphne were only one part of a larger whole, so their relationship could exist in the background when not required, as opposed to the more overt need of a show like Moonlighting or Friends to string their central pairing into every single plot. But it’s also the sensitivity and spontaneity of episodes like Moon Dance that reward long-term viewers.

3.16 Look Before You Leap


On a breezy February 29th, Frasier inspires everyone to “take a leap” into the unknown, with his own ambition being to sing “Buttons and Bows” at a PBS pledge drive. Of course, no-one’s leap is going to end as they would like it…

An episode remembered primarily for Kelsey Grammer singing “Buttons and Bows”, this is actually a champion from start to finish. It’s positively refreshing, with Frasier the catalyst as he pushes the characters to achieve their goals, and everyone is given a funny and appropriate subplot, from Daphne’s disastrous makeover to Niles attempting to hold his ground right when Maris wants him back. It’s an example of the series firing on all cylinders in what could otherwise just be another midseason script – gleeful fun.

3.18 Chess Pains


After receiving an antique chess set, Frasier is stunned when his father – a chess novice – easily and consistently beats him, setting off a chain of mindgames and psychological self-analysis.

While I can’t personally connect to the Frasier/Niles rivalry, I find the child-parent disconnect embodied in Frasier and Martin to be a powerful force. The series typically approaches it from the comedic standpoint but here, although there are a lot of laughs, it’s the subtle and poignant interplays that stand out. Martin is the easiest character for the show to write one-dimensionally, but in episodes like this John Mahoney reminds us that he’s not just the other half of an odd-couple sitcom. And the Niles/Maris separation begins yielding the comedic fruit we will enjoy for the next two years, when Niles buys a canine substitute for his wife that everyone but him finds slightly creepy. Chess Pains could have been useful viewing for some of the lesser writers of the late seasons: there actually isn’t that much to any of the plots this week, but they’re allowed to develop or at least play out in a variety of permutations, letting the actors do their thing.

3.19 Crane vs Crane


Frasier and Niles find themselves expert witnesses on opposite sides of a court hearing over the mental competency of a wealthy old man.

The weak point of the season, Crane vs Crane is memorable enough, and the catalyst is a very good one – the issue of whether Harlow (special guest star Donald O’Connor) is insane or just eccentric is touching and contemporary. Unfortunately, despite O’Connor’s sparkling performance, none of the characterisations are keenly observed enough to make this plot last 22 minutes. And although the title promises a clash of brothers, very little time is given over to this. Regular writer and creative consultant David Lloyd wrote some of my all-time favourite episodes of Frasier, but many of his scripts tend to leave me regrettably cold. Many of his scripts – such as season 2’s The Innkeepers and season 3’s Frasier Grinch – are solid concepts and told well, but seeming not to take full advantage of the characters and ambience of this series. Here, it’s worse than that – it feels like the idea hasn’t been polished beyond a rough draft. This could have been an exploration of the brothers’ rivalry – but instead we just get Niles preparing for the camera and Frasier psychoanalysing someone. Perhaps this could have been an exploration of Frasier’s ethics – but, until the last minute twist, the script sets us up to believe he’s correct. Or perhaps this could have explored the guest character (a dangerous concept) but the script, by its very nature, requires us to keep him at arm’s length so as not to know the answer. At the end of the day, it’s not just that the script is lacking motivation, it’s that I don’t think the writer has found it. Crane vs Crane is a nice idea in search of a script.

3.21 Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fired


KACL’s new station manager, heavy-hitting media magnate “Big Willy”, asks Frasier to help his fiancee quite smoking. Unfortunately, she turns out to be Bebe Glazer. The game is afoot…

Even more so than Lilith or Bulldog, Harriet Sansom Harris‘ Bebe Glazer is the only guest star whose complete take-over of an episode I will accept. She’s a genuine member of the cast, and the Mefistofeles-Faust relationship between Bebe and Frasier is a source of endless humorous business. The script is smart enough to blend in character motivations here for Daphne, Martin, and Frasier, but it’s Sansom Harris’ show, and she milks every moment. The highlight, though, has to be Frasier’s description of Bebe’s attempts to keep walking Big Willy down the aisle. It strikes me that my list of “bests”, at least thus far, prioritises episodes with a central A-Plot and non-existent or minimal subplots (the subplot here, of Niles addicted to a discount bulk warehouse, feels a bit like something from the writer’s grab-bag of story ideas, but it works because of the feverish glee Hyde Pierce always brings to such stories). Perhaps this speaks to the series’ strengths, or perhaps to my biases; I’m not sure which. Regardless, I find this the comedic peak of season three, if not the emotional one.

3.23 The Focus Group


Frasier obsesses when a single member of a focus group dislikes his show, while Niles takes advantage of Daphne’s anger at Joe by getting her even more angry – as it turns him on.

Season three is just divine, and this is actually a passable installment, with some good material for Bulldog and Roz, and Niles especially. Frasier’s obsession goes back to a core element of his character, dragging Martin along in his attempts to find out why this single man (Tony Shalhoub) didn’t care of his program. But things peter out, and despite some great lines this is a muted version of the soul-searching Dr. Crane installments that pepper the series. Rob Greenberg‘s scripts are typically rewarding, so I’ll chalk this one up to one of those real-life moments I spoke of at the top of this article – sometimes, in the course of 24 episodes a year, an idea just never really comes together. If I were doing a Bottom 24 instead of a Bottom 25, this episode wouldn’t have made it on the list.  The Focus Group isn’t worth disliking, it’s just not all there.

3.24 You Can Go Home Again


On his third anniversary at KACL, Frasier recalls his first day back in 1993, meeting Roz and attempting to overcome his fractious relationship with brother Niles and father Martin.

In what could have been a gimmick, the flashback to Frasier’s first week in Seattle manages to show us everything we could have surmised – Roz and Frasier’s unhappy first interaction, Niles lying to get Frasier in the same room with dad – but make it emotionally count. It’s to the credit of Grammer, Hyde Pierce, and Mahoney that their vastly changed relationships make perfect sense as we look back across the first three seasons. Plus, we get the beginning of the running joke that Daphne’s mum thinks Frasier is a tyrant. Ace.

Other season three highlights: Kisses Sweeter than Wine, in which Daphne begins dating Joe (Tony Carreiro), Come Lie with Me, which furthers that plot even if Frasier’s complaint about Daphne’s sex life seems overdrawn, and The Show Where Diane Comes Back, continuing the enjoyable Cheers reunion episodes of Lilith and Sam with the long-awaited reunion of Kelsey Grammer and Shelley Long.

Other lesser episode: Shrink Rap, an enjoyable enough episode featuring a fantastic performance by Milo O’Shea but takes what could have been a season-long idea – of the brothers going into practice together – and reduces it to a single episode gag.

Season Four

4.01 The Two Mrs. Crane


When Daphne’s former lover, a layabout, arrives in Seattle, she asks the family to lie so that he’ll go away. Unfortunately, it turns out he’s a self-made man now – but the cycle of lies has already spiralled out of control.

Working perhaps even better than The Matchmaker, this season-opener allows every character in the farce to have solid motivation for why they allow this series of lies to escalate. Daphne can’t break the lie because it would make her look bad in Clive’s eyes; Niles won’t break it because it’s the closest he’s ever been to a relationship with her; Roz is desperate and thinks Daphne has already had her turn; Frasier is committed so as to escape a painful weekend away with Martin; and Martin just doesn’t care. Playing out almost entirely on the closed set of Frasier’s apartment, the series relishes in Martin’s fantasy (“I remember the first time I ever drove a Moon Crane”), the increasingly desperate love lives of Daphne, Niles and Roz, a delightful gag for Eddie, and some quality Kelsey Grammer exasperation into the mix. And let’s spare a thought for poor Scott Atkinson. Despite giving a game performance as Clive, he’s remembered for appearing in such an hilarious episode and forgetting to bring a plausible British accent. However, as he was hired once rehearsals had already started, I’ll forgive him that.

4.06 Mixed Doubles


When Joe breaks up with Daphne, Niles wonders if the time has come to confess his attraction. But a twist of fate – and a singles bar – sees both of them on separate dates with people who seem perfect for them.

A gem of an episodes which permits the series to extend the “will they or won’t they?” component for several years without causing its characters to look like utter idiots (coughFriendscough). It’s a story of a growing friendship veiled in gags and wackiness, and the series can still surprise us after three years of being on Niles’ side of the affair – it becomes clear that Daphne, of course, sees Niles primarily as “Dr. Crane’s brother”. Featuring a cavalcade of classic moments, from Niles discovering a singles bar to Martin finding himself “in The Twilight Zone” with Daphne’s disconcerting new beau, Rodney. Written with panache by regular writer Christopher Lloyd, we can relax in the knowledge tat the characters are in good hands.

4.18 Ham Radio


Frasier prepares a 1950s radio script for performance on KACL, with a cast including a terrified Bulldog and his dyslexic girlfriend, a showboating Gil Chesterton, an anaesthetised Roz, the sound effect skills of Noel, and – as a last-minute replacement – Niles, playing six roles and already objecting to his brother’s directorial fascism.

A minor miracle, and one of the greatest episodes the show ever produced. The episode effectively divides into two extended sequences. First, a rehearsal at Elliot Bay Towers, and then the recording of Nightmare Inn, generously given the entire last act, and which remains my favourite extended segment in the entire series. Perhaps I’m no longer objective, having found this episode uproarious since I first discovered it in the late ’90s (before I was very familiar with the show as a whole) but this is delightful farce. Everyone gets their spotlight, with some rewarding material for Roz (“I never dreamed one of my guests could be a… mobabbble murberererr”) and Edward Hibbert practically stealing the show as Gil, one of the most enjoyable recurring characters who is never really placed at the centre of things. Meanwhile, Patrick Kerr‘s Noel gets some of his best moments from the show, and it’s even fun to see Daphne and Martin offering commentary from home. But this episode isn’t just about the hilarity of the Ice-Cream Man and the one-man band that is David Hyde Pierce performing various accents with no preparation time. The episode smartly grounds its farce in Frasier’s control-freak tendencies, which drive the story forward. Perfection.

Other season four highlights: Dad Loves Sherry, The Boys Just Whine, Three Dates and a Breakup, and Daphne Hates Sherry – I’ll have more to say about Marsha Mason‘s sublime performance as Sherry below, but it’s no coincidence that three of her focal episodes fill out my list of favourites from this season.

Other lesser episodes: there are no failures in season four but Head Games is the closest, with a script famously retooled for Hyde Pierce at the last minute when Grammer was detained by problems of addiction – although the story suits Niles quite well, it’s ultimately a fairly lacklustre outing. Also at the bottom of the totem pole are the creaky Liar! Liar! and the patchy Odd Man Out, which is nevertheless satisfying to long-term viewers due to its mature treatment of character.

Season Five

5.01 Frasier’s Imaginary Friend


After a lonely few months, Frasier’s courage is rewarded as he finds himself dating an intelligent supermodel and zoologist (Sela Ward), who needs to keep the relationship secret while she breaks up with a famous football player. It’s a story that sounds too good to be true – and no-one in the family will believe it!

Frasier’s fifth season opens with a Rob Greenberg episode that is sublimely silly, but works because it’s entirely honest about it. Season five is possibly the greatest of all seasons, with a perfect blend of the characters (including Bulldog, with Dan Butler now a full-time player) and there’s so much fun to be had here. The level of doubt from the rest of the family grows naturally out of season four, and the fact that Frasier brings about his own destruction is what elevates this farce. But it’s all about Kelsey Grammer, who plays the complicated absurdity of this episode completely straight. (Meanwhile, has there ever been a more true character moment than the fact that Frasier faked a penpal relationship with Leonard Bernstein as a child, and that Niles exposed the scam not because he found it ridiculous, but because he ultimately found a factual discrepancy?)

5.02 The Gift Horse


Frasier and Niles compete to find their father the perfect gift for his birthday. Frasier’s upsettingly large television is topped by Niles’ purchasing of Martin’s beloved police horse, but their father has more on his mind.

Marsha Mason as Sherry Dempsey fits perfectly into the milieu of the series, as a great partner to Martin and a fascinating exploration of the psyches of the other members of the Crane family. The Gift Horse could have been just another in the long-running saga of Niles and Frasier one-upping each other but instead becomes an hysterical, deep analysis of the three Crane men. The closing scene at the stables, where Martin comes clean to his sons about his feelings of self-doubt, is perfectly modulated. Few if any of the classic ’90s sitcoms could attest to this level of character creation – all the more impressive since this script is credited to Ron Darian, who has no other credits on the series (and indeed has few credits of any note, besides two years spent on Mad About You). This is one of those episodes restricted solely to the central cast, a mark of faith the writers had in their performers. Even other strong 1990s sitcoms like Seinfeld and 3rd Rock from the Sun typically drew their catalysts from outside of the main actors; here, Frasier revels in keeping it in the family.

5.03 Halloween


Niles hosts a literary-themed ball, where a series of misunderstandings confuse Daphne, Frasier, Martin, and especially Roz – until a surprise announcement stops everyone in their tracks.

Capping the purest three-episode run in the show’s history, Halloween is an instance of the cast is just having a heckuva lot of fun. And, despite the fact that this episode brings in one of the biggest plot developments of the entire series in Roz’s pregnancy, it’s completely driven by comedy. Written by the very capable Suzanne Martin, who is responsible for many of the series’ Bulldog-centric scripts, there isn’t a line or a concept out of place here. It’s also worth noting the attention to detail of this cultured series, from the scene intertitles to the great visual gag at the end – that the devil goes home with Eve.

5.14 The Ski Lodge


Pregnant Roz gives Frasier her competition win of a free ski lodge for the weekend, where Frasier pursues a swimsuit model (Cynthia Lamontagne) who is pursuing Niles, who is pursuing Daphne, who is pursuing a handsome ski instructor (James Patrick Stuart), who is himself pursuing Niles.

A punchline-upon-punchline experience that showcases the series’ farcical nature without being as ridiculous as they sometimes come, written unsurprisingly by the master, Joe Keenan. A clever examination for Frasier, a show which didn’t often explore the variety of relationship options available amongst its central characters. No elaboration necessary.

5.15 Room Service


When Lilith’s husband leaves her (for another man), she’s desperate for companionship – but Frasier isn’t the Crane she ends up with.

The closest Frasier came to a Neil Simon play, this is a neat little episode that pairs Lilith with Niles to the improvement of both. It’s a smart portrayal of these three characters, and one of Lilith’s better outings on this series. As I write this, I’m rewatching Cheers, and reminded how often the fantastic, award-winning Bebe Neuwirth had to service a script driven by other characters, rarely getting her full due. This is what makes Frasier special, encapsulated here: punchlines, zingers, farce and intelligent humour, but deepened by the psyches of the beautifully realised characters.

5.23 Party, Party


Desperate to prove his worth to a date who is tiring of him, Frasier finds himself up against a surprise birthday party and a ritzy dinner. And Niles dates a neighbour of Frasier’s until his secret is outed to her macho husband.

I have a theory that all great sitcoms build a firm sense of place. When I think of my favourite sitcoms – Dick Van Dyke, The Nanny, NewsRadio, Mary Tyler Moore, The Golden Girls – they all revolve around a warm and well-documented location. Frasier’s apartment and the Elliott Bay Towers (not to mention KACL) are such examples. So, it’s no surprise that I enjoy an episode which plays with this space so well. This one is great fun, as Frasier gets dragged between two parties in his building while trying to make it with a date who’s already doubtful of his loyalty. Between Martin’s party-planning skills, the KACL interlopers, and Niles’ latest uncomfortable dating experience, Frasier’s night is – of course – ruined. And it’s done so in style. Elevators, slideshows, and ice all conspire against our hero, making Party, Party a fun little spin on the usual one-set Frasier farces.

Other season five highlights: Roz’s pregnancy gets a worthy exploration in The Kid, a bunch of sweet vignettes make a lightweight but very funny episode in Perspectives on Christmas, and Niles’ marriage officially comes to an end in The Maris Counsellor

Other lesser episodes: The 1000th Show, which is better than its reputation but still feels like an indulgence, Bad Dog, which gives Dan Butler some great material but feels like it could have made each individual scene something more, Frasier Gotta Have It, which is the low point of the season but features a great scene of the gang sharing steamy stories, and Sweet Dreams, an inauspicious finale that aims for introspection but is more suggestive of the writing team’s end-of-year exhaustion.

Season Six

6.14 Three Valentines

Niles faces challenges preparing a Valentine’s Day dinner; Frasier seeks Roz’s help by phone when he finds himself on a date – or is it? – with Cassandra Stone; and Daphne and Martin have a non-date on Valentine’s Night.

The sixth season is an interesting beast. There are very few utter masterpieces, but there are no real duds either – with nothing making my Bottom 25 list for the third season running. It’s a year of a show cruising along at a high standard, but not having to try so hard anymore. Three Valentines is an undisputed Frasier classic, but there’s much more to it than that first act which is David Hyde Pierce’s one-man (and a dog) tour de force.

The second act introduces Virginia Madsen‘s Cassandra in a riotous seven minutes of comedy for Kelsey Grammer, with the added bonus of some witty interplay with Roz (Frasier: Roz, I’m in Cassandra’s hotel room but I’m not sure what that means. / Roz: What it means is that even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.). The true highlight is the softer character-based duologue for Jane Leeves and John Mahoney. These two have always had a mutual respect, sometimes more grudging than others, and the dinner reflects their own insecurities. What’s more, the heartfelt moment when Daphne calls Martin her pet is particularly touching: some part of him was hoping she’d say something more. It’s not that he actually has feelings for Daph, but at the same time this happens to many of us when we spend so long with someone of the right gender: the possibility lingers. It’s a well-modulated scene that really gets to the heart of the two characters.

Other season six highlights: another in the surprisingly successful Cheers reunion episodes: The Show Where Woody Shows Up, Decoys, a loony farce with a poignant Niles plot underpinning it, as well as revealing the big secret to Roz, Dinner Party, a fantastic experiment in form, and the tightly-packed finale, Shutout in Seattle, which sadly says goodbye to Amy Brennemann as Faye, but lets her go out in style.

Other lesser episodes: Good Grief, a pleasing but limp opener tasked with developing the previous season’s loose ends, the slightly sleepy Secret Admirer, The Seal Who Came to Dinner, a lightweight farce that fits the template but rarely jumps off the page, and Good Samaritan: an episode emblematic of the series at this point. Everyone gets some fun here (I’m not sure which is more hilarious: Roz’s “leave it on the floor” or David Hyde Pierce’s frozen smile as he presents the Louis Pasteur cake) but this seems like an episode on cruise-control, buoyed by the fact that everyone involved has a genuine love for the work they’re producing. That’s not a complaint, but it’s not a compliment either.

Season Seven

7.04 Everyone’s A Critic


When Niles gets a job as an art critic for an upscale magazine, he becomes insufferable, and jealous Frasier teams up with the station owner’s daughter, Poppy (Katie Finneran) to start his own art show. But Poppy’s insufferable too.

I adore Katie Finneran, and she manages to bring what could be a one-note character to life, particularly as the character’s obnoxiousness so unites our beloved KACL characters against her. At the same time, the script (by longtime contributor Joe Keenan) is fairly flat by middle-season standards, if we’re being honest,  and the “Poppy invades Seattle” plot feels like it’s competing with the Niles/Frasier rivalry rather than complementing it. Having said that, there’s plenty going on so that the action never flags, and everyone involved is giving it their all. Noteworthy is that this is the first episode where Tom Daly’s Kenny gets to be more than just a slight Dilbert crossover, and it’s the beginning of a very good run of episodes for him. Nevertheless, it’s perhaps the weakest episode of season seven – but for a show still at its peak, that’s not necessarily a negative.

7.08 The Late Dr. Crane


Frasier’s death is announced on television due to a mix-up, leading the doc to re-examine his life. And Niles finally steps out from Maris’ shadow when he meets her plastic surgeon, Dr. Mel Karnofsky (Jane Adams), and falls for her.

Season seven is the last of the truly fantastic seasons of Frasier, and even this rather humdrum outing – by regular writer Rob Hanning – incorporates plenty of easy laughs. Jane Adams is both a consummate comedienne and a very intelligent performer, making her the perfect choice as Mel. She’s a character who will ultimately have to be sacrificed for the sake of the plot, but here is a startling combination of Frasier and Niles, while being fantastically real. It’s wonderful to find a partner for Niles who shares his pretentiousness but can also see through it at the same time. The Frasier storyline, however, settles for almost a gentle melancholy at the expense of laughs. And, although I find Jane Leeves’ line readings fantastic when Daphne expresses her disbelief at Frasier’s obituary, I feel like it’s another example of the series taking the ridiculousness to hyperbolic heights. Even this pompous man would hardly believe he could solve perpetual motion or discover the treasures of the Incas. A bridge too far.

7.15 Out With Dad


On Valentine’s Day, Martin reluctantly accompanies Frasier to the opera. While there, Frasier falls for a beautiful woman (Marg Helgenberger), but it’s Martin who ends up in a tricky situation – when her mother (Mary Louise Wilson) thinks he is gay, and tries to set him up with a close friend (Brian Bedford).

Although season seven is solid, the second half tends toward lightweight outings that seem to be indicative of both a shift in writing staff and a desire to remain attractive to casual viewers as the series shifts into “plot arc” mode. Thankfully, Out with Dad is the comedic highlight of the season, the much publicised second act of Joe Keenan’s gay trilogy. It’s a superb spin on The Matchmaker although, unlike that episode, it takes a while to build the farce. Everyone is having a lot of fun, but it’s John Mahoney’s episode. It’s less common to see Martin as the fish out of water, and it’s a reminder of how far the character has come – he’d rather feign enthusiasm than just grumble his way through now. And it builds to a sweet conclusion that is rooted in the basic formula of the show. (Note the luxury casting of a theatre luminary like Mary Louise Wilson for quite a small role; this show had cachet!) This may not have The Matchmaker‘s mercenary wit, but it makes up for that with quick-thinking dialogue and truthful character interaction. Beside which, it features one of my all-time favourite Frasier lines as the anguished Niles, denied anywhere for Valentine’s Day except the Salad Experience, delivers one of my favourite lines from the show: ” May your opera box be full of cellophane crinklers and a stage swarming with stand-bys!”.

7.21 The Three Faces of Frasier


When Frasier gets a chance to have his caricature hang on an esteemed restaurant wall, he finds himself unable to accept the result.

Another over-stuffed season 7 episode, trying to factor in a stand-alone comedic plot with side-plots for all the main characters. What is this, Seinfeld? The idea of Frasier unable to accept a caricature despite the fact that he aspires to it is perfectly suited, and Robert Loggia is an impeccable choice as Stefano, but there’s just something missing. The credited writer, Jon Sherman, would pen several more episodes of the show ranging from classics to duds, so this one’s a real gamble. Perhaps the build isn’t right, I’m not sure: something’s off. Besides which, the episode is attempting to serve two masters. The stand-alone script is straddled by the need to be part of a larger story arc – a problem that continues to upset such programs as modern Doctor Who. Despite the powerful ending foreshadowing trouble for the future Mrs. Donny Douglas, it’s underwhelming as a whole.

7.22 The Dark Side of the Moon


Daphne recounts to a therapist how a chain of incidents led to her causing a four-car pile-up only days before her wedding.

An utterly gut-wrenching episode that deals Jane Leeves some of the best material she ever received on the show. S. Epatha Merkerson is perfect as the sympathetic therapist, in a portrayal that is layered with a surprising amount of complexity for a 22 minute episode. Although many of the tropes – from the hen’s night (with Mel in charge) to the arrival of Anthony LaPaglia‘s effortlessly disgusting Simon – are unoriginal, writer Lori Kirkland constructs them around a compelling dilemma that has thoroughly earned a full episode. Roz’s attraction to Simon is perhaps a bit harder to explain, but I suppose her feelings of being less appealing since Alice was born may be the key. Rather than leaving the season finale to be about whether Daphne realises the depth of her feelings for Niles, we’re now prepared for a climax where Daphne will have to make the choice she wants to make, aware of how much hurt it would cause. Just beautiful.

Other season seven highlights: Backtalk, a fantastic episode with the unenviable task of wrapping up a seven-year plot arc, The Fight Before Christmas, which deftly navigates the relationships of these characters in the aftermath of that previous one, and the immensely satisfying season finale, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue

Other lesser episodes: Rivals, an enjoyable enough episode that never quite breaks free of the pan, Whine Club, an episode necessary to further the plot arc but one that doesn’t find enough for any of its plots, and lets down the usually well-written Mel with variations on the “off-putting to everyone” joke we’ve had for seven years with Maris, Lilith, and Bebe (although it transitions into some fantastic final scenes with just the core five), and To Thine Old Self Be True, an episode I rather enjoy but is fairly scattered in the first half and cluttered in the second.

Season Eight

8.02 The Bad Son


To get to know an attractive woman, Frasier takes Martin on a tour of a retirement home – with unexpected results.

It’s received wisdom but also true, season eight is the weakest of the lot, with no episodes appearing in my Top 25, and a great deal appearing at the bottom. The problems are numerous and not all unavoidable – a change in writing staff with a tendency toward the sitcom formula, the inevitable shift now that the Niles/Daphne tension is gone, the timing of Jane Leeves’ pregnancy (a joyous event for her, but a groin-kick for the plot!), and an approach to psychoanalysing Frasier across numerous episodes that ultimately sees the series settle into a more mellow mode where the guest characters begin taking over the asylum. And The Bad Son, although certainly not one of the least, simply just runs out of steam. Why do we focus so much on the character of Miranda, who ultimately becomes a non-event? What does the episode really want to say about Frasier and Martin’s relationship? I’m not sure I get it. Interestingly, the series decides to double down on what a good pairing Niles and Daphne are, rather than explore their differences. It’s a surprising choice, but their scenes are nicely heartfelt.

8.03 The Great Crane Robbery


When KACL is sold to a twenty-year-old dotcom millionaire (Alan Tudyk), Frasier mentors him in matters of culture, until the young man decides to mimic his entire existence on Dr. Frasier Crane. Niles, meanwhile, is caught up in Mel’s elaborate plan of public embarrassment before she will allow him to divorce her for Daphne.

An incredibly dull episode that commits 22 minutes to a single plot which deploys perhaps season 8’s most upsetting formula: the joke of diminishing returns. Alan Tudyk has fun playing Frasier’s new protege, but it takes everything in Kelsey Grammer and Peri Gilpin’s arsenals to keep us even vaguely interested. The first joke is the last joke, and the rest of the script (by first-time writer Gayle Abrams) is just permutations upon the same thing. Meanwhile, it’s a shame to see Mel cast as the villain in her penultimate appearance but I think the series has done a good job of explaining her motivations thus far. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s certainly uninspiring.

8.05 Legal Tender Love and Care


Facing a lawsuit from Donny, Frasier falls for his lawyer (Teri Polo) until Martin convinces him that she’s unethical.

Legal Tender Love and Care is an episode that encapsulates what happens to many sitcoms – from Seinfeld to The Golden Girls in their later years. A new era of writers see the characters in their earlier incarnations, failing to recognise some of what made them complex. It’s nice to see Daphne close off the Donny chapter of her life, and Teri Polo plays her character with a no-nonsense approach that works, but the farce never elevates here, for a few reasons. Frasier sabotages his date not out of his own flaws (as is the series’ wont) but on advice from Martin. The episode seems to suggest that he’s being a fool for standing up for his ethics, which goes against everything the show has taught us. And the characters remain on a superficial level throughout.
And yes, it’s worth noting this is the first of seven episodes by Saladin K. Paterson, the most notorious of writers among a certain kind of Frasier fan. His scripts are typically dismissed by fandom, although I think this first one can be chalked up to a new writer. For my money, Paterson wrote two watchable mediocrities (this and season 9’s Love Stinks), two satisfying delights (season 9’s War of the Words and 10’s Tales from the Crypt) and three duds, which we’ll discuss.

8.16 It Takes Two to Tangle


Seeking a wealthy philanthropist to save their old high school, Frasier and Niles settle on Martin’s wealthy new girlfriend. Unfortunately, it turns out Martin is also seeing someone else…

This is an episode I’m loathe to criticise. Martin Crane deserves to be at the centrepiece of an episode that lets him be the sexual bounder. And guest appearances by Barbara Babcock and Michael Hitchcock should never be lamented! The first five minutes, in which Frasier and Niles try and miserably fail to earn money for Bryce Academy, are highly satisfactory. The rest… not so much. Perhaps it’s just because Jane Leeves is on maternity leave and Peri Gilpin’s presence is minimal. Or perhaps this is just a lily-livered script that never leaps off the page.

8.17 Forgotten but Not Gone


As Niles is returned to the office of Wine Club Corkmaster for a second year running, his rivalry with Frasier reaches breaking point, and Frasier resigns from the club. Meanwhile, Martin gets a new – and unusual – physiotherapist (Jennifer Coolidge).

The series continues its decline with a repeat of season seven’s Whine Club. (Perhaps the writers felt they hadn’t done enough with the concept first time around, or perhaps they were hoping to emulate Cheers’ successful “Bar Wars” series?) It’s nice to see some KACL material, which has faded this season, and the concept is reliably true to the characters.Plus, this is the last television script ever written by David Lloyd – a Frasier veteran with decades of experience. Unfortunately, it’s lacking much of his usual vigour, and the episode showcases how the series is now spinning its wheels. I may be the only person who enjoys Jennifer Coolidge’s cameo as Martin’s German physical therapist. She’s a ridiculous character who feels a little overdone for this series, but I still find myself giggling at her attitude and deliberately whacked-out accent. Yet, this feels like it should’ve been a recurring arc. Perhaps the Daphne-free episodes would’ve been stronger if something more was made of them. Why is Martin only getting a physical therapist one episode before Daphne returns? Why is this storyline of an interloper in Frasier’s home given all of three short scenes? Nothing makes sense. Ultimately, a confused script that has some genuine laughs but also raises more questions than answers.

8.19 The Wizard and Roz


Frasier’s mentor, Dr. William Tewksbury (Rene Auberjonois) sleeps with Roz, and Frasier can’t get rid of the image of this important figure in a pink bathrobe. And Daphne takes action when she realises that Niles doesn’t believe she’s psychic.

I think it’s fair to say that, by a significant margin, The Wizard and Roz is the worst episode this series ever did. The crux of the episode is fair enough: Professor Tewksbury has always been the wizard behind the curtain for Frasier. Seeing him in an unsavoury light would have an effect, particularly on someone as id-driven as Frasier is. Yet, everything is off. The characters are meek or illogical (I don’t buy for a second that Tewksbury would say “my pants are stuck in the ceiling fan” in front of Frasier). The episode buries the actual conflict for so long that, by the time we reach it, the confrontation scene doesn’t seem earned (a problem that also sticks out in another of the writer, Saladin K. Patterson’s, duds, Analysed Kiss). It’s not the actors’ fault. In fact, they’re finding smiles where there aren’t any. (Rene Auberjonois adds a layer of depth into this meeting with Roz, and Grammer and Hyde Pierce take their early scene – “Thankyou Frasier, laughter is indeed the best medicine” – which is written like a terrible series of zingers, and reclaim it by making the lines sincere.)

I highly admired Frasier’s Edge but in some ways bringing Tewksbury back is a big mistake. Because he’s a recurring character, the script feels obligated to give him plenty of material, and Patterson seems to think that “old guy in a robe” equates humour over and over again. As a result, we don’t get Frasier’s realisation about Roz until literally the final scene. While the chemistry between Frasier and Roz has been elevated since late season 7, and everything about the concern makes sense (he’s the school geek and she’s always been sexually popular, of course he’s asked himself why they’ve never hooked up), it merited an episode focused on this issue, not the gag of a man in a lilac robe! The conflict comes from nowhere, feels contrived, and then isn’t brought up again this season. My thought process is, “Whatever”. I can’t help but wonder if the Roz/Frasier pairing was tossed around in the writers’ room as a serious endgame for the characters but either way, while I’m amenable to the pairing and I really liked their near-hook-up episode in season 7, this just doesn’t feel earned. It doesn’t help that the episode is almost entirely devoid of laughs. The only time I genuinely laughed was when Roz catches Frasier reclaiming the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. And that laugh came mostly from character! (The student misconstruing Tewksbury and Frasier is an amusing concept but… again, we get it. Guy in robe = funny.)

Meanwhile, Niles and Daphne are engaged in an episode which could have been phenomenal! After the fight in Daphne Returns, it makes sense that we’d explore this – after all, these characters have known each other for eight years, and he’s been humouring her on this topic for the whole time. And given the writers (or Jane Leeves) (or the network) have chosen to make Daphne considerably less quirky since the start of the season, I’m glad to see her psychic non-abilities get a mention here. To finally explore one of the foundations of a main character, particularly in the presence of her sceptical husband, is a great idea. But realistically it deserved a whole episode and a good deal of farce, not a vignette-style subplot that ultimately chooses the sweet but easy way out. The only thing I admire about this plot is that Daphne is so confident of herself thanks to her lifelong experience.

Perhaps I can’t explain why I find this episode such a flop. There have been other middling episodes, of course. Early “baby steps” episodes (Fortysomething); one-joke episodes that don’t evolve (The Great Crane Robbery); vignette pieces that are deliberately non-traditional (RDWRER); and sometimes episodes that take an interesting idea or performance but just don’t quite come together over the speedy course of writing and filming (Crane vs. Crane). But they’re few and far between. Never before have I seen an episode that takes a hare-brained concept for a main plot and a vital plot as a throwaway subplot, and achieves no humour or character-based insights with either. This shows a lack of simpatico with the series’ comic style, and an amazing inability to grasp what’s important to the characters. 1 in 264 is an amazing track record, and every writer has a misguided script somewhere in their back catalogue (as discussed above, I enjoy some of Patterson’s scripts immensely). So no lasting judgments for Frasier, but this is the first true failure.

8.22 A Day in May


On a spring day, four stories are told: Niles comes to terms with his masculinity and Daphne’s past; Roz borrows Frasier’s car and teaches Alice a lesson; Frasier is mistaken for being mentally challenged; and Martin attends the parole hearing of his shooter with mixed feelings.

A Day in May is not a good episode, but its ambition deserves special mention. There’s a deliberate thread weaved through these separate plotlines about telling the truth, facing our fears, and how we move forward. This is just a peak into the character’s lives without any comedic structure or big lessons. I entirely respect that. Yet nothing here feels like it works. The Roz and Daphne/Niles subplots are minimalist at best. The Lana/Frasier plot has some well-written jokes but things get thoroughly silly. Why exactly does a man like Frasier Crane end up in such an undignified position and not correct the situation? Are old people mistaking men in their late 40s for babies a commonly funny joke? The series seems to be opening up its world a bit by allowing us into the Lana/Frasier friendship, and it’s sure nice to see Frasier in a different environment, but this is unbelievably slight even for a vignette episode. This feels more like Roseanne!

Finally, there’s Martin Crane. If anything deserves seven minutes of our time (out of 11 years!) it’s Martin’s shooting. We’ve seen some emotional fallout, and we’ll see a bit more early in season 9, but here – well, this isn’t the way to approach it. The two early scenes set up a mystery of where Martin would be, and imply that he’s hiding it from the family. And then the hearing plays out with very little exploration beyond the admittedly heartbreaking look on the mother’s face. I respect this series, and always will, for looking at the honest side of a situation that doesn’t warrant jokes. And I grasp that they were trying to let us make the connection between these things. Yet, I can’t help feeling that Martin’s situation deserved an episode to be explored. And the decision to let this be the last thing we see before the credits is just haunting without good reason.

Each time I watch A Day in May as part of a rewatch, I try and approach it with fresh eyes. I really like the initial concept of just following our characters for a day. Ultimately though, I think some of these storylines deserved to be more thoroughly explored while others didn’t even merit the seven minutes they were allocated. A failure, but one worth discussing.

8.23 Cranes Go Caribbean


Having moved on from Lana (Jean Smart), Frasier takes Claire (Patricia Clarkson) to Belize, where the family joins them, and Frasier faces a psychological crisis.

An uneventful end to the season that sort of misses the point.

While I adore Patricia Clarkson, Claire is a character who was written as a woman with some perfect qualities seen only offscreen and now, after only agreeing to date Frasier in her previous appearance, seems to be going quite strong. There’s not a lot here to convince us of the relationship, which is a shame because – while obviously the series couldn’t give Frasier his perfect woman with three seasons to go – there’s not a lot of thought put into the construction of the characters. The writers are just aiming for the endgame. Admittedly, the season nine finale will somewhat satisfy these issues, but that doesn’t justify ending a season on such a sour and confusing note. After a ponderous amount of set-up (seriously, for a half-hour episode that’s grounded in the previous three episodes, this is a lot of work), we finally get the characters en route to Belize, even if I don’t believe that Martin would go on holiday without telling the kids. (The only things that work in the first half of the episode are Claire and Frasier’s uncertainty about the trip and then the jaw-dropping look on Niles’ face when Daphne asks if they’ll snorkel.) At this point, the recurring appearances of Lana – Jean Smart having appeared in numerous episodes by this point – seem a little odd. I know she’s here so that the moment at episode’s end can be tied in, and it is nice – if we’re honest – to have a character with a different approach to Frasier. But the scene in the car is terribly written. Is the uproarious audience on drugs?

Once we reach Belize, things remain quite dull. This Mark Reisman/Rob Hanning script reminds me of The Wizard and Roz in that it disguises the actual point of the conflict – there, Frasier’s concern about his own attractiveness; here, his inability to be content – by giving us 20 minutes of another plot altogether before dropping the surprise. There, it was a nightmare involving a robe. Here, it’s the idea that Frasier’s holiday is going terribly wrong. Only, it’s a very half-arsed attempt. Frasier loses his luggage. His ears pop and he has to yell for a while. Nothing remotely funny or insightful comes from this. If it weren’t for the reliable cheekiness of Niles’ delight about public nudity, there would be nothing to approve at all. As is traditional, the season finale is less outright comic than the rest of the season but here the tension feels manufactured. Is the tone of the series changing deliberately? I could’ve supported that notion except once we hit season 9, things will be back to normal again. This is just creative fatigue.

So, after 20 forgettable minutes, we reach the crux: Frasier has a sexual dream about Lana. In and of itself, this makes sense. If he’s thinking of Claire as “The One”, of course his mind will cast itself back over the things he won’t have once he chooses her. Lilith, unfortunately, makes a wrong diagnosis here – the idea that he may really have feelings for Lana because she challenges him is laughable! He escaped from her as a dating option quite early, and nothing since then has suggested otherwise. (In fact, the season 9 premiere will back me up on this.) Simply put, this is a mistake of a cliffhanger. It’s terribly structured and exists primarily as set-up for Don Juan in Hell. Obviously season finales often leave things dangling, but here we’re not entirely sure what’s being left dangling. To a longterm viewer, perhaps this makes sense: the issue is Frasier’s own crippling self-doubt. To a casual viewer though, it seriously seems as if the series is asking us to wait several months for the lead character to choose between a loudmouth he doesn’t like very much or a perfect woman who has never been anything more than bland onscreen. (With no disrespect to the two brilliant actresses who play those poorly-scripted characters.)

Season 8 has been a distinct step down from the first seven, however it has still had some character highlights and some very enjoyable episodes. At least it ends with Frasier and Lilith saying “I love you”. Their relationship is a beautiful, honest portrayal of characters who have known each other for nearly two decades, filled with poignant moments but also frequently hysterical. Why couldn’t the writers of these last few episodes apply those techniques themselves?

Decent season eight episodes: There’s Frasier’s Edge, an admirable, warm episode that dares to examine the main character on both an in-series and meta-level. It’s certainly not the funniest – and gets a lot of flak among fans for that – but I have a lot of time for this script, although I’ll concede it’s oddly placed, perhaps better suited to a more introspective season for the character, like #6 or #10. There’s also The Show Must Go Off, an enjoyably ridiculous episode with a fun performance by Derek Jacobi, although its climax lacks surprise, Hungry Heart, a standout episode for the season, which handles Jane Leeves’ maternity leave with aplomb while rewarding Tom McGowan with the best episode for the character of Kenny yet, Docu.Drama, an apparently divisive episode that defies formula but provides a satisfying continuation of Roz’s series-long arc as well as featuring some spectacular material for Grammer and a delicious cameo for Senator John Glenn, and Daphne Returns, which is somewhat muted comedically but treats the problems of a sitcom couple with smartly-written drama (although the revelation that Daphne and Niles haven’t slept together seems at odds with the way the actors played the start of the season).

Other lesser episodes: Taking Liberties, a script by the interesting duo of Sam Johnson & Chris Marcil, which farewells the character of Mel while providing a solid guest role for Victor Garber, but still feels like it’s bogged down in the rubble of season seven’s shattering of the status quo; Mary Christmas, an average episode that is bolstered by the return of Kim Coles as Dr. Mary; and the two-parter Semi-Decent Proposal/A Passing Fancy (originally two separate episodes that were combined after the fact), which is langorous and surprisingly sombre at times, as the season continues its experiment in long-form storytelling, here introducing us to Patricia Clarkson’s Claire and Brian Klugman‘s Kirby. It’s fascinating to see the series open up its world, but I think the ambition of this two-parter deserves more praise than the ultimate result.

Season Nine

9.10 Bully for Martin


Frasier feels compelled to stand up for his father, when he witnesses Martin being treated unfairly by his boss (M. Emmet Walsh).

Although season 9 has no episodes in my Top 25, it only has one episode in my bottom list, so that’s something. Bully for Martin is a thoroughly average episode that at least tries to tackle a new idea for the series. It was surprising for the writers to send Martin back to work, but was a development that built organically out of his character, and was an inventive way to give the character some further shading after nine years. M. Emmet Walsh is fantastic as Martin’s bully, with Robert Picardo and Jay Karnes passed by in smaller roles. The subplot takes a funny enough idea (Roz can’t shut up about her new relationship with Tony Goldwyn‘s Roger, to the detriment of everyone else’s happiness) and hammers it into the ground. There’s no climax at all to Roz’s storyline and an ending to Martin’s that eschews either a satisfying comedic pay-off or an emotional confontation. The writers, admittedly, seem to have chosen to treat the ninth season as a year-long character exploration, but this means that many of the individual episodes sit in the “satisfying but underwhelming” range. This one – one of several by Eric Zicklin that seem to have great concepts but mediocre execution – veers slightly closer to just “underwhelming”.

Decent and great season nine episodes: Room Full of Heroes, which caps a five-episode experiment in which the show examined each character and then put them all together to interact, with a rollercoaster of emotions; Bla-Z-Boy, the best episode of the season which feels “classic” although the structure is still a bit wonky; The Proposal, a neatly constructed approach to the most important moment of the last two seasons; Three Blind Dates, which is just thoroughly enjoyable; War of the Words, an episode with a checkered history among fans but one (by none other than Mr. Patterson) I find consistently entertaining, with an admittedly absurd approach to the plot of Niles, Frasier, and Freddie (Trevor Einhorn) in a parodic take on inspirational sports films; and The Love You Fake, the final appearance of the magnificent Brian Stokes Mitchell as Cam Winston in what is admittedly more “amiable” than “hilarious”, but delights with the Martin/Cora (Emily Yancy) pairing and the fiendish glee of Niles on a Segway.

Other lesser episodes: the drawn-out, lightweight Junior Agent, which feels like act one of a longer story; Juvenilia, which is no slight on the lovely Kirby but features guest characters with no motivation, two subplots that seem to have been designed as vignettes in the season-long approach to storytelling but thus feel very mellow, and one of the weirdest studio audiences I’ve ever heard – intrusive at the wrong times, hooting and hollering, and completely out of whack (I assume it was some kind of tour crowd and not regular viewers); and Frasier Has Spokane, which gives us a middling plot for Daphne and Niles, and tosses Kenny Daly on the waste pile of an “early 2000s office humour” writers’ kit, which is a great shame after two seasons of strong writing for the character. The episode is redeemed, though, by a beautiful conclusion for Peri Gilpin, which trusts the relationship that Frasier and Roz have built up over the last nine years. So not a complete waste.

Season Ten

10.15 Trophy Girlfriend


Frasier begins dating a gym teacher (Jeanne Tripplehorn) but her attitude conjures up traumatic memories of his boyhood Coach (Bob Hoskins).

After a strong first half of the season, Season 10 begins to disintegrate in the latter half, a series that probably wishes it could wrap things up but has decided to do another season nevertheless. Here, after contributing everything from absolute disasters to delightful inventive shows, Saladin K. Paterson returns to his weaknesses: despite his ability to write good lines, many of them come across like generic sitcom zingers rather than being tailored for the characters, and he simply doesn’t know how to structure a script. (Even my favourite of his scripts, War of the Words, never quite decides whether it will be a tale about Freddie, Niles, or Frasier.) Here, Trophy Girlfriend sets itself up to be a story about sibling rivalry, with Niles abandoning Frasier at the squash court, but becomes a tale of Frasier’s residual feelings of childhood inadequacy. Jeanne Tripplehorn puts in a solid performance as Frasier’s date, a gym teacher, and Bob Hoskins is effortlessly funny as Coach, who takes Chelsea’s place in Frasier’s mind. But the law of diminishing returns applies here, as it did in The Wizard and Roz. There’s no comic development, just one funny idea repeated ad nauseum. In the subplot, it’s nice to see Felicity Huffman‘s Julia – introduced earlier in the season – utilised as a member of the ensemble rather than the guest star, and her verbal interplay with Roz is the highlight of the episode. But this is a misfire.

10.18 Roe to Perdition


Astounded by the price of gourmet caviar, Niles and Frasier discover a Russian source who sells high-quality material at a significant discount. But as they rise in social circles, the brothers become entangled with Russian mobsters, the Feds, and Roz: who quickly turns into a desperate addict. Elsewhere, Martin’s attempt to return money accidentally handed him by an ATM leads to comic confusion for him and Daphne.

The best episode of the season, Roe to Perdition is a spectacular morality tale, following the Brothers Crane’s ambitions down a dark, dark path. Everything adds up so well in a simple but effective manner, with the inspired addition of Roz being reduced to a caviar tweaker. The Martin/Daphne storyline isn’t quite in the same comic stratosphere, but Mahoney and Leeves play it well and the script deliberately goes to the well of self-parody in scenes like Daphne’s childhood story. Season 10 has shown numerous flashes of the series’ old vitality, and this is the best of them.

10.19 Some Assembly Required


After assisting a home-building charity, Frasier finds it hard to let go, forcing himself into the lives of the new home-owners.

Patricia Breen, a staff writer in the show’s last two seasons, got off to an enjoyable start with We Two Kings, as the last writer to debut a script on the show (although a few minor niggles annoy me there, such as the casual use of the name “Rick” in Roz’s storyline, which surely should conjure up memories of Alice’s father). Unfortunately, Breen’s remaining three scripts are very limp indeed. Some Assembly Required never really finds a funny concept to begin with, and certainly does nothing to pretend it has one. The problem stems from the fact that Frasier’s imposition on the Grants doesn’t really rain down torture or lead to a climax: it’s positively mundane. Perhaps Frasier could have tortured their lives. Perhaps they could have actually taken his advice only to lose their humanity in the process. Perhaps he could just face an angry band of citizens with pitchforks. Something. Anything! This script – like much of the latter half of season 9 – sticks to the small stuff. I’m a fan of Millicent Martin‘s Mrs. Moon, and she’s had some great fun since her introduction back at Daphne and Donny’s near-wedding. But this is the beginning of the character being unnecessary to the series. To have Gertrude work at Nervosa is a smart way to retain the character but in truth her place in the series has expired. Much like the dying days of season 8, the writers seem to be attempting to expand the world and again it isn’t working. The tightness of the structure has been lost, and will remain so for the rest of the season.

10.20 Farewell Nervosa


Frasier faces financial problems, the stoic owner of Nervosa (Amy Hill), an obnoxious musician (Elvis Costello), the need to find a new local haunt, and the discovery that Julia is having an affair with his married accountant (John Hannah). Meanwhile, Daphne seeks to expand her career as a home carer, being observed with Martin by an auditor (Alex Borstein).

See that synopsis? There is a lot happening here, and yet it feels oddly stilted. The idea of plot #1, that the boys need to find a new cafe, is essentially wasted beyond a couple of visual gags. Imagine the heights this story idea could have reached in, say, season three. Meanwhile, Daphne’s interest in expanding her career – an idea floated since at least the sixth season and then repeatedly ignored – will be forgotten for the remainder of the series, leaving this to feel like the beginning of a story arc when instead it’s just an episode in search of a climax. Meanwhile, there’s a third plot with Julia and Avery that’s just a bit sloppy, really. With a cast of favourites (can anyone land a line like Felicity Huffman?), this final script by Eric Zicklin leaves much to be desired. If it didn’t feature the bravura sight of David Hyde Pierce feverishly shaking a maraca to the tune of “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”, I’d be much more unimpressed!

10.23 Analyzed Kiss


Julia breaks up with Avery, turning to Frasier for support. Niles makes some unexpected friends when he joins Martin at the shooting range. And Roz gets a major job interview at a rival station, until she realises she has a past with the interviewer.

Analyzed Kiss where Farewell Nervosa left off, and has that episode’s scattered quality. A bunch of forgettable subplots do not an episode make, and that’s what we get here. Niles learning how to shoot is not an example of Niles and Martin bonding, or a serious analysis of how two people with different views on gun culture can co-exist, but mostly an excuse for us to laugh at the idea of David Hyde Pierce firing a gun with a manic glint in his eye. A tiny moment – Martin, Daphne and Niles fleeing some militia men – is worth a chuckle, but it doesn’t feel like we had to strive much to get there. Meanwhile, Saladin K. Patterson’s tendency for standard sitcom lines take over several of the characters and despite the title it takes 18 minutes until we’re analysing a kiss! The entire episode, particularly Julia and Roz’s plot, feel like setup for the finale. Setup is necessary, of course, but a good show will mask it in plot and humour of its own accord. And, although I’m glad the show has finally developed Roz’s aspirations after ten years, I’ve always felt the show missed a trick back in the start of the season when Kenny had an awakening in Kissing Cousin. Imagine if he had left the station and been replaced by Roz. The humour of Roz as the boss of Gil, Bulldog and Noel, not to mention Frasier, would’ve been ideal – an idea that might have reinvigorated the writing staff with those secondary characters. The only thing keeping this from being a mandatory chore is residual interest in the characters. And that’s a grave moment for any series.

10.24 A New Position for Roz


Frasier and Roz’s relationship deteriorates quickly when he starts dating Julia and she makes the decision to leave KACL – not aided by an interfering Gertrude. Meanwhile, Daphne and Niles’ decision to start trying for a baby also hits a snafu due to Gertrude’s presence.

After a bumpy latter half, the season 10 finale does right by its supporting characters, with some great moments for all, and redeeming Gertrude Moon – who has a great episode all around. It allows for the narrative to write Mrs. Moon out as a recurring character (overall, season 11 features less of just about every recurring cast member) while still advancing her character, and – although, perhaps, the certainty with which Niles and Daphne start trying for a baby makes it clear we won’t be “trying” for long – there’s a natural progression that feels earned.

It’s elsewhere that troubles arise. The KACL Farewell dinner is underwritten, particularly upsetting as it’s one of the last times we’ll see the complete KACL team in one room. What’s particularly disappointing is that Roz’s storyline is not about furthering the career ambition that has been a prominent part of her since the first season. It’s set-up for a Roz vs. Julia plot that is ultimately transitory and possibly even a mistake. Roz’s intervention is a huge decision and I don’t think it’s justified, despite game performances from Gilpin, Grammer, Mahoney and Huffman, all of whom play the hell out of it. What I see here instead is several episodes’ buildup directed primarily at creating a divide between the characters which, although it stems from pre-existing conflicts and past entanglements, seems too sudden and built on shaky ground to be fully believable. There’s some enjoyable material in this episode, as in any episode (Frasier’s passion for Noch Einen Stuhl comes to mind), and everything that happens is certainly possible, but the series has gone out of its way to clarify that Julia isn’t a dangerous person; Frasier has analysed her in two separate episodes to confirm this. The writers made a decision to have Roz make such a significant choice, but I’m not sure the series has convincingly sold the necessity. We can justify Roz’s actions if we wish, but I think ultimately we should take our lead from the writers’ room, who make every effort to rewrite this when season 11 begins, and move on.

Other season ten highlights: Tales from the Crypt, an inventive episode that amps up the absurdity to eleven, and does so successfully, the well-oiled Daphne Does Dinner, and Fathers and Sons, which explores the relationship between the three Crane men in a novel way that draws on the emotional resonances of ten years’ history, and features a rewarding guest appearance by David Ogden Stiers.

Other lesser episodes: Lilith Needs a Favour, a nice enough episode that doesn’t feel like it’s quite passed draft stage; Kenny on the Couch, which is also amiable enough but just doesn’t leave a strong impression, and The Devil and Dr. Phil which actually does an enjoyable job of handling the real-life guest star, although its subplots are fairly sleepy.

Season Eleven

11.10 SeaBee Jeebies


Frasier determines to increase his celebrity by having a reporter shadow him at the SeaBee awards. Unforunately, he also has to contend with incompetent event management, his rivalry with Niles, Roz and her sister, and a host of other woes.

The final season of Frasier was often a chance for the show to have a “victory lap”, and return to subjects or characters for one last time. So an episode about Frasier’s inability to lose gracefully, about the beloved SeaBee awards, about the brothers’ rivalry and Roz’s feelings of inferiority in her family? What a brilliant idea. Alas, Sea Bee Jeebies is an almost complete failure of an episode, providing – to the best of my knowledge – four laughs. Worse though, the episode isn’t just bad because it’s unfunny; it’s bad because so many of the situations seem to suggest deep wells of humour… where instead is found nothing. It’s the series’ lowest ebb outside of The Wizard and Roz. Why isn’t it a complete failure? Well, as always: ladies and gentlemen, the cast.

Jane Leeves is clearly in her third trimester so sits out most of the episode, and John Mahoney similarly gets  nothing to do, but the remaining trio really sell the show. Niles is swept up in a burst of fame due to Maris’ murder trial and while this offers little humour on its own, the way that David Hyde Pierce plays it is perfect. Niles’ gloating (and feigned humility) is just gorgeous, and it brings out the best of Kelsey Grammer’s ability to play Frasier’s outrage. Unfortunately, that subplot yields very little fruit. Meanwhile, the idea of Denise (a welcome if unexpected return from Suzanne Cryer) having a perfect marriage somewhat undercuts The Guilt Trippers of season 9, which was about how she wasn’t as perfect as Roz claimed – I know it turns out to be a facade, but Roz acts like she doesn’t know it! Although I suppose this is legitimate, since long-standing family issues are rarely resolved from one positive experience. The script smartly ties Denise into the main plot by becoming Frasier’ date but, again, opportunities are missed by making Roz so meek in her presence, especially when Peri Gilpin does such a good line in catty one-liners (cf Julia). Still, Gilpin gets two of the episode’s laughs with her radiant acceptance speech and her dry, “make sure one of them is poisoned, I don’t even care which one”. By and large, the cast are wasted. Broadway veteran Stephen Spinella appears as a reporter riling up Frasier against his brother, but doesn’t even get a single funny line. (The incredibly weak “can I get a big cup of coffee” gag gets a laugh from the audience – who have possibly been drugged – but is a desperate stab at humour. The audience also laughs when Frasier loses an award even though nothing funny happens in the show. Whether this is because we missed the funny thing on set, or because they were simply laughing out of habit – “main character is set up for something and fails to achieve it!” – we’ll never know.)

This is Kelsey Grammer’s episode, though, with some pitch-perfect line deliveries that again prove why Frasier Crane became the unlikely lead of an 11-year series. His bitterness at Niles, desperation with Denise, infuriated ranting at the awards, and finally his masterful performance of “Moon River”… it’s a phenomenal performance from the man. Sadly, the script throws away opportunities for jokes at every turn. Perhaps this was supposed to be one of the show’s trademark poignant episodes and I missed the memo? I mean, the vague signs of a farce are there, with the awards being ineptly held on a Saturday morning, but instead it’s as if the character of Kenny Daly wrote the script. Spinella’s reporter character simply asks inane questions that are “funny” simply because he’s asking them to Niles and not to Frasier. Cryer gets stuck with a terribly cliched Denise plot where the script hopes you’ll accept the proposition that Denise’s happiness makes Roz squirm, and don’t expect anything more, and then accepted the inevitable structural twist in the final reel. The SeaBees have long been a way for the series to mock both Frasier’s self-importance and general aspects of award shows. Instead, even the “In Memoriam” segment features three generic faces that could have been real-life figures. As with the other nominees up against Frasier, why wasn’t this a chance for some completely ludicrous figures to appear on screen (a gag done well on both 30 Rock and Arrested Development)? A series of missed opportunities. I don’t know what happened here: was a weak script let through because of time constraints? Perhaps. The cast amble gamely through the material, but they’re trying to create gold from dross. While the final moments with Frasier singing amidst a field of chaos are amusing, they build from a series of contrivances that aren’t justified by the text. Many appear at the last minute or are – again – only funny because we’re told they are. It’s a perfect sitcom ending in search of a 20-minute beginning.

11.15 Caught in the Act


At an emotional lowpoint, Frasier is reunited with his first wife, children’s entertainer “Nanny G”, when Roz and Alice seek tickets to her concert. Here, the former partners find their inevitable lust blockaded at every turn.

My favourite episode of season 11, Caught in the Act rises from a constantly entertaining beginning to a final act of epic comedic scope. As Nanny G, Frasier’s first wife (seen once on Cheers and referenced occasionally in the series), Laurie Metcalf is an absolute coup of casting. Metcalf is of course a sitcom veteran but also a highly-trained Broadway actress, and she brings all of these attributes to the performance. While it’s of course sad not to have Emma Thompson reprising the role, Metcalf makes you forget any such woes straight away. She so believably fills out the role of a children’s performer, but at the same time is comfortably cast as the slightly bitter, lustful husk of a woman she has become. The clever script is one of the series’ dirtiest, from Niles reading Nanny G’s track listing to Frasier’s sly “weekly handshake” joke. Season 11 has analysed how Frasier’s loneliness has reached an all-time high, and we’ll see for the remainder of the season how much he is pining for love. But of course he’s also pining for sexual affection, and this episode is a pinnacle of Frasier’s rampaging lust. Caught in the Act creates such simple but implacable barriers between two people who just want to get their rocks off: a meek husband, a busybody family, and a career and schedule that waits for no man. It also makes perfect sense that Frasier and Nanny G would fall into that pattern: they’re acquainted as sexual partners, are both reaching points in their lives when they are not  satisfied, and bring out a reminder of youth in each other. There’s plenty of grand humour throughout, from “SpongeBob Hotpants” to Roz’s “next time you say something like that, cover MY ears!”, and Daphne’s subplot as she destroys Niles’ happiness along with his sweater. The best line reading must surely go to Grammer for his chagrined “no hugs for Frasier”. There’s a decent little sincere moment where Niles rationally tries to talk Frasier out of committing adultery, which shows this series’ usual maturity approaching such subjects. However, by explaining that the marriage is one of convenience, Joe Keenan’s script has given us enough of an ethical loophole to – if we so choose – ignore this. It’s nice to see Ashley Thomas as Alice again, and give Roz a chance to show off her mothering skills now that she has a school-age child. (The structure of the episode caters to the cast dynamic very nicely, I must say.) And of course the audience goes wild for the most meta joke in the series’ 11 years, even if one suspects that they would have had to be warned of this for any newcomers or tour groups in the audience.

When this episode’s plot was first announced, I was surprised by the decision of a retiring series bringing back a  minor character from its far distant past. Yet, the comparison of Nanny and Frasier ties right into the season’s themes, and allows this to be one of the series’ trademark “Frasier almost gets some” episodes while also performing the role of an enjoyable character piece and a sidesplitting tale. It’s all leading up to that final setpiece, filmed on location at a theatre in Los Angeles, in which Nanny prepares for her show. The sequence is surprisingly lengthy but carries with it a frantic comic pace. Frasier’s lust quickly subsumes his ethics, Nanny has a wonderfully believable collapse, and then – with the very funny line “For the children!” – we’re off. The music is spot on, Metcalf brings an incredible energy to the part, and the comic imagery of everything that happens on stage makes this a surefire win. (Grammer is often depicted as having been slightly isolated during filming and, by implication, self-centered. I’m sure that much of this is just harmful rumour – particularly after seeing this. Only a generous and self-humoured comedian would allow themselves to be so thoroughly degraded on screen!)

Perhaps the greatest praise for Caught in the Act isn’t its solid structure, brilliant acting, or funny lines. It’s that an episode that ends with Frasier in a nappy saying “waaah” is the kind of an image that the most puerile scriptwriter (someone far worse than we got even during the wilderness days of season 8) would come up with. Instead, it feels comically justified and downright fitting.

11.23 Goodnight, Seattle


Martin and Ronee get married, Niles and Daphne have a baby, Roz embarks on a new stage of her career, and Frasier is left to make a choice about his own future.

Although I reached my list of 25 without it, it would be madness not to acknowledge the sweet and thoughtful ending the series gives us. Everyone gets great material, be they regular or supporting, in a script that takes time to remind us of the various formulas and tropes this series could wheel out. There’s emotional set-pieces, comedies of errors, softer character touches, and much more. It’s fascinating the journey taken from that moment Kelsey Grammer showed up in Boston to steal Diane away from Sam. Although much of the final season focused on Frasier Crane at the expense of the others, it became clear this was because they had all reached those self-content moments in life earlier than he had. Frasier’s final broadcast reminds us that there is much more to come for these characters, and provides us with the neat little twist of his arrival in Chicago. It’s been thirteen years and I still miss those coffees, Niles.

Other lesser episodes: The Placeholder, an episode that is serving something of a narrative purpose for Frasier’s final season arc but feels a bit like we’ve seen it all before; I’m Listening, a bit of a one-joke wonder that is nevertheless enjoyably complex in its script structure; and Freudian Sleep, an episode whose ambition I’ll defend to the hilt, and which the production team evidently enjoyed. Still, I ultimately think this is a failed experiment, with none of the dreams being particularly surprising or edifying, and the script only occasionally daring to be truly absurdist. Nevertheless, I find it hard to speak ill of this little amuse-bouche at this point in the show’s run.

Other season 11 highlights: A Man, A Plan, A Gal: Julia, which feels like the writers consigning a season 10 storyline to the fire but deciding to do so in style, in a script that is pitch-perfect psychologically but also is very meaty for the five performers involved; The Doctor is Out, the final instalment in Joe Keenan’s “gay trilogy”; Murder Most Maris, a very strong instalment that reminds me of the way the series handled major plot points in its early years: with solid combinations of comedy and character analysis; Guns ‘N Neuroses, a sweet, low-concept episode that farewells Lilith by setting her up on a date with Frasier, much as she was in their first meeting;  and Boo!, which is an episode I always think I dislike until I watch it. The clown set-up is incredibly contrived, and the structure would make a creative writing teacher weep: the discussion of Ronee’s mother seems to be building to a plot, until it turns out to be set-up for a future instalment, and the clown subplot is wrapped up rather abruptly in that elevator. But writer Jeffrey Richman has a sterling track record, having written a bunch of episodes that would appear were my “best” list twice as long, and this is another one of them. Wacky, witty, and rewarding for the cast.

16 Responses to “25 best, 25 worst “Frasier” episodes”

  1. saronne said

    Did I miss something, or did you leave out the hysterically funny Bar Mitzvah of Frasier’s son where Frazier unknowingly gives the boy a blessing in Klingon, thinking it was Hebrew?? Is it possible you are not really familiar with Star Trek?

    • saronne said

      Did I miss something, or did you leave out the hysterically funny Bar Mitzvah of Frasier’s son where Frasier unknowingly gives the boy a blessing in Klingon, thinking it was Hebrew?? Is it possible you are not really familiar with Star Trek?

      • therebelprince said

        Saronne, you make a very good point! I do think “Star Mitzvah” is a very amusing episode – although I am only somewhat familiar with Star Trek. I think if I were doing 30 best episodes, rather than 25, it would make the cut. It was hard to decide, as I love almost every episode the show ever made. (Even in my “worst 25” are still some episodes I enjoy.)

  2. Conor Tangney said

    I’m sorry but how could you not mention high holidays as a good episode or highly commendable? Two words Fridge Pants

    • therebelprince said

      Conor, I have to be honest – I think you have caught me. That must be a mistake on my part! BBQ Pudding chips are definitely an inspiration. I may have to amend the post to include a reference to “High Holidays”, as it definitely deserves a mention. Thankyou!

  3. Sasha said

    I like Season 9 a fair bit, but I disagree with A Bully for Martin being the weakest.
    It’s a fun, low-key episode which is acted with great conviction, and utilizes its guest stars to good effect.

    It was great seeing Martin and his boss put their feud aside when they start discussing the shortcomings of their sons.
    I remember reading some critical reviews stating that the episode is weakly scripted. I have to disagree. There’s more resonance in it than it’s given credit, as it tackles what is often at the core of “Frasier”-the father-sons relationship in a humorous way.

    I also have to oppose to some of the weakest choices from Season 10, which I really like.
    Aside from the plot-heavy finale, Analyzed Kiss,and Niles’ surgery episode, I think everything works in this season.

    Even at some of its goofiest, the show has remained funny, endearing and self-aware.

    • therebelprince said

      Sasha, thanks for reading! Looking throguh season 10, I think I should note that I like the season as a whole. I don’t think it has many highlights of the series, but looking back at my ratings I like all episodes except for the five that I mention. The first half of season 10 especially is very strong.

      However I think we will have to disagree on “Bully for Martin”, though! I don’t hate it, not by a long shot, but I guess for me I have to agree with those who say it is weakly scripted. Some good ideas, and some good guest stars, but not utilised well, in my opinion. I would happily watch the episode when it comes up in the rotation, though – as you say, whatever material they were given, the actors were able to bring an endearing and honest appeal to all of their performances.

  4. AlexF said

    I’m in the middle of rewatching Season 10,and I think Kissing Cousin is probably the weakest episode of the entire show. Nothing sticks here for me, and it’s all so juvenile.

    I’m glad you mentioned War of the Words from Season 9 as being underrated.

    I wasn’t a fan of the episode before-the concept just felt weird, and the critical consensus off-putting , but I watched it a few days ago, and really enjoyed it- the highlight for me being the scene between Niles and Frederick
    Just a nice family-centered episode that’s well-put together.

    I actually consider Season 9 to be fairly underrated. It’s nowhere near as funny as the first seven, or the subsequent season 10, but nonetheless, there’s a level of maturity with which the characters are profiled in Season 9 that makes it rather special. And even some of the lesser episodes of this season offer plenty of good character moments

    I’m glad to add another episode to my roster of Season 9 favorites.

    A Room Full of Heroes
    Don Juan in Hell
    The Proposal
    Wheels of Fortune
    The First Temptation of Daphne
    The Return of Martin Crane
    A Bully for Martin
    The Love you Fake
    War of the Words
    Moons over Seattle

    • therebelprince said

      Thanks for reading, Alex! I’m glad to have a fellow supporter in my War of the Words love. And the more I rewatch the show, I think you’re right about season 9 too. It does what season 8 tried to do (profile the characters in a mature way) but more succesfully. I agree with every one of your choices – it’s an exact replica of episodes I would rate A- or higher (except Bully for Martin, which I think is weak, and I would add Three Blind Dates). Even Deathtrap, which shouldn’t work because they give away the surprise at the beginning, is a fantastic showcase for Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce.

      As for Kissing Cousin, hmmm. It’s far from my least favourite episode of season 10 (Trophy Girlfriend and Some Assembly Required both confuse me) but although I don’t think it’s all that strong, I find myself warming to it. The subplot with the boys and Daphne is funny enough, and maybe it’s because as I get older I relate to Roz, clinging to her youth, but having to admit the changes we’ve seen in her over 10 years. What I find disappointing about the episode is that it seems like a wasted opportunity. Kenny (who hasn’t always been written well) has a good run of episodes here, and the fact that the seriousness of his plot never leads to anything is disappointing. In fact, he goes back to being poorly written later in the series. I personally wish they’d written Kenny out in this episode, and given Roz his job. It would’ve given Peri Gilpin much more to do, created more story opportunities for the characters at KACL, and had some weight to it. Still, we can’t have everything, I suppose.

  5. AlexF said

    Thanks for your comment.I guess i just don’t like Zooey Deschanel’s overbearing character in Kissing Cousin. She stuck out like a sore thumb.

    Yea, Season 9 is actually organic,with significant improvements in characterization, presentation and writing that actually shows affinity for the characters, while Season 8 is flawed, scattered and underwritten- the new scribes’ adaptation period.

    Still, there are episodes in Season 8 I really like,especially:

    The Show Must Go Off
    Cranes Unplugged
    Hooping Cranes
    Daphne Returns
    Frasier’s Edge
    Taking Liberties

    Also, I don’t think The Great Crane Robbery is all that bad, though the script is questionable. Alan Tudyk is clearly having a ball in the guest role, and he’s just fun to watch.

    The rest is fairly average by the show’s high standards.

    I don’t mind the concluding 3 episodes as well, as they segue nicely into Season 9. I agree, for instance that A Day in May isn’t a great installment, yet there’s a kind of quiet ambience to it that I quite enjoy, and it really does feel more ambitious than its underwritten nature would suggest.

    In general, I think Jon Sherman was the best “Frasier” scribe in the show’s late era. He really knew how to write the characters, so often the episodes he penned were highlights.

    Still, even in the show’s weaker seasons there are so many redeeming qualities. It just goes to show what a fantastic series “Frasier” was that in its twilight years, it still managed to stand above many others.
    And even calling it a sitcom sometimes feels like an affront. It’s clearly in its own league.

    I think even beyond the deep characterization of its characters, the rappor, the writing t and the comedic timing, there’s so much integrity and charm to it, which definitely makes it my favorite US show to this day.

  6. AlexF said

    I’ve finished watching the series, and I have to agree with you on Seabee Jeebies. It is definitely the lowpoint of Season 11, and , the nadir of the entire show. Can’t think of an episode I liked less.

    To tell you to the truth, I’m really not a fan of the final season, save for Maris Returns, and 2 or three other episodes.
    Too much of this season is spent on Frasier’s love life. But while before all the relationships were strongly embedded in the family dynamic, in this season they are not.

    Frasier simply has no foil in this final outing, and a character like him needs a strong counter-balance, something that had always been provided before.

    I wasn’t a fan of the writing too , to be frank. I think it became more contrived. And the show, on the whole, felt rushed, as if the finale was written first, and the other episodes were written around it to provide a happy ending for everyone.

    Even season 8 which I consider average, compared to the 7, is thoroughly watchable and enjoyable to me on its own merits.

    My ranking of the seasons:

    Seasons 1-7(fantastic)> Seasons 9(good)>Season 10(good)>Season 8(average)>Season 11(weak)

    • therebelprince said

      Thanks, Alex, I really enjoy hearing your thoughts. I can understand where you are coming from with season 11. I’m okay with the show focusing on Frasier’s love life, personally, since I think that’s the one thing he’s been searching for that he hasn’t yet resolved – but I think you’re right that it feels like he is just running wild, to an extent, without any real counter-balance or narrative structure to rein him in. Thinking about your idea, I wish they could have told a story for Frasier’s final love interest that was more interwoven. I think of season 7, and how well everything worked with Daphne/Niles/Donny/Mel and how that also connected to Martin, Frasier, and Roz. If only they could have found something more to it – Laura Linney is charming, but the Charlotte storyline pulls Frasier away from the ensemble, who are often left with very minor plots to make do.
      The biggest shame for me is that the writers didn’t think of a decent KACL storyline that could give some real meat for the supporting KACL cast, many of whom don’t get anything this season, and especially for Roz.
      Still, I’m not sure if I’d rank season 11 below season 8, personally, because for me there is a more generic sitcomm-y tone that feels out of place. I don’t mind the writing of season 11, but I certainly agree with you that it is “rushed” in some sense. Thanks for reading and your thoughts!

  7. AlexF said

    I think that the writers made a mistake in Season 11 to pair Martin and Frasier with two random women.

    Martin should have gotten back with Sherry, and Frasier should have reunited with Lilith, or should have been left searching.

    Season 11 really doesn’t give us enough time to warm up to Ronee and Charlotte.It’s all too cramped.

    On the contrary, Niles’ eventual pairing with Daphne is made all the more special because it comes as a result of a drawn out pining period.
    If the show had ended in Season 7, it would just have been a standard ending where the guy gets the girl and they live happily ever after.

    The fact that the show continued with them as a couple helps flesh out the characters even more.

    This eventual pairing reveals an interesting contrast between the brothers( Niles has settled while Frasier is still on the lookout) and adds another shading to Niles’ character- he loosens and matures.

    And while Daphne’s comical nature is diluted as a result, it’s only natural since she no longer needed to play the unattainable fantasy woman which was always at the core of her character.

    Truthfully, I don’t think the show would be even one fifth as good, or lasted as long without the characters of Martin and Niles(David Hyde Pierce’s Niles is truly one of TV’s best creations) , since Frasier’s lack of self-awareness would have run the show into the ground without someone to cut him down.

    What makes this show so special is how “Frasier’s” characters continuously balance and round out each other, and how easily they can laugh at their own faults, and the fact that they’re portrayed with a strain of vulnerability is what makes them so so likable .

  8. Tom H said

    Saw “Liar, Liar” for the first time today and wow was it bad. “Creaky” describes it well. Do you know anything about the writers? Didn’t have much of a modern feel.

    • therebelprince said

      Hi Tom, thanks for reading! Glad to hear you agree with me on that one. It’s funny, because the writers credited for that episode (Chuck Ranberg & Anne Flett-Giordano) wrote some very good episodes in the show’s first seasons, including “An Affair to Forget”, where Maris allegedly takes up with a Bavarian fencing instructor, and “Moon Dance”, where Daphne and Niles practice for his first ball as a (temporary) single man. “Liar, Liar” was their second last episode before they left the show. They subsequently wrote for popular but less well written shows such as Becker, Hot in Cleveland, and Mom.

      So my suspicion is that either: a) a junior writer penned the draft of this episode, and then Chuck and Anne were brought in to fix it, but weren’t able to make it good. Or b) this was just one of those episodes that fell victim to a rushed production schedule. Sometimes at the last minute (literally even when filming is starting) an entire storyline might be removed and rewritten, or the show may find itself with a few other scripts running late, and have to rush something into the studio. Those can occasionally make for great TV (Larry David wrote George Costanza’s famous “pulling a golf ball out of a whale” monologue the night before they filmed that scene – the episode was already in production) but I think more often they those circumstances create episodes that are, yes, creaky.

  9. Sorry you missed the funniest episode of the whole series It was season 2’s “Agents In America Part 111”.This is the classic where Frasier,encouraged by Bebe .stages a sick-out,sleeps with Bebe and has Bebe pretending to commit suicide Has some of the biggest laughs in sitcom history.

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