| | |
Great television is a lot harder to come by than most people (I think) think. Truly enduring, intellegent programming is a rare find especially on today's bleak television landscape. So, it might be unsurprising that I have turned my attention more and more to television on DVD and have been going through some of the best series' of yesteryear with my wife. One of the surprise favorites that my wife came to enjoy far more than even I had ever hoped she might was Frasier. Originally dubious about it - she was a big fan of Friends (reviewed here!) - we made it through the entire series Frasier (reviewed here!) last year.
The only thing truly surprising about Frasier's eleven-year run is that it lasted as long as it did. Populated by erudite characters, it took an agonizing six and a half years before Daphne learned of Niles's affections! Watching the show on DVD, one is able to forget just how long plot arcs took in real time or the way Frasier was being beaten around the television schedule by NBC. But, having recently made it through the entire series, I felt someone should take the time to steer people toward the very best of Frasier. While anyone who ever saw the episode “High Crane Drifter” could probably still hum the tune to “Flesh is burning. . .” and the season ten episode “Enemy At The Gate” is a brilliant full-episode set-up for a hilarious punchline, the novelty does not hold up over a slew of rewatchings. The memories from the series are many and it’s a tough thing to cull through. After all, with 262 episodes, there are so many truly wonderful moments, but to reduce that body of work to only ten episodes, here are the essentials:
10."Guess Who's Coming To Breakfast" (Season 1) – The first “knock-‘em-out-of-the-park” episode, this episode is a heavy Martin episode (this and “Martin Does It His Way” are good contenders for the best Martin Crane episode) and features Frasier trying his hardest to be a responsible adult and falling into a situation simply by trying to do the right thing. Martin spends the night with a neighbor, Elaine, who is a fan of Frasier’s show and when a caller’s issue mirror his feelings about Martin having Elaine over, Frasier mentions the situation on his show, embarrassing Martin and Elaine and straining their new relationship. This is funny and while Frasier is the antagonist in it, he is an inadvertent one and he works so hard to right his wrong. This is one of the first episodes where it’s clear Frasier and Martin’s relationship has a chance to grow beyond their initial antagonism,
9. “The Two Mrs. Cranes” (Season 4) – One of the earliest, most effective farce episodes, Daphne’s old boyfriend, Clive pops in for a visit and Daphne begs Niles to appear as her husband. Niles is thrilled by the opportunity and it sets off a series of identity crises around the apartment which are utterly hilarious. Clive’s exit line is one of the most memorable of the series. The simple, bait and switch of a farce works exceptionally well on Frasier and this was one of the best they did,
8. "The Last Time I Saw Maris" (Season 3) – Like M*A*S*H, some of the best work to come out of Frasier was not the humor, it was the heartfelt moments. When Maris, who is never shown in the entire series, disappears and Niles frantically searches for her, the show actually takes a right turn. The viewer realizes that, for good or bad, Niles actually loves Maris and he is very much lost without her. But when it turns out Maris is just off on a shopping trip, Niles has to take action and while Frasier’s bumbling attempt to stop him from returning to Maris is laugh-out-loud funny, it is Martin’s loving support at the end which makes this episode difficult. David Hyde Pierce gives an exceptional performance and this is one of the episodes where it is hard not to acknowledge that he is one of the best physical actors of our time,
7. "Moon Dance" (Season 3) – While separated from Maris, Niles learns to dance from Daphne and when his date cancels, Niles takes her to a society ball where they dance a very saucy tango. This is a giddy thrill for every fan who had to wait another five years before Niles would have the chance to be so close to Daphne! Jane Leeves can really dance and it’s unfortunate that she is overlooked when people make up their lists of sexiest women on television; anyone making such a list should consult this episode to get a reminder what classy sexy can be,
6. "Room Service" (Season 5) – There had to be a Lilith episode. Seriously. It’s a law. Look it up. Any list of the best episodes of Frasier that does not include a Lilith episode (the exunt of the character in “Guns ‘N Neuroses” or season ten’s “Lilith Needs A Favor” were in high contention for this honor) is not a good list. “Room Service” ultimately won out because it had a real Lilith (season nine’s absolutely brilliant “Don Juan In Hell, Part II” can’t count, sadly, as that Lilith is a figment of Frasier’s psyche) who was engaged in what she does best: brilliant psychological analysis and making everyone around her uncomfortable. While Niles battles narcolepsy during his protracted divorce from Maris, Lilith sweeps into town shattered by her husband leaving her for another man. Frasier, terrified that he will succumb to Lilith’s feminine wiles struggles to avoid her and the least likely person ends up in bed with her,
5. "Goodnight Seattle, Parts 1 & 2" (Season 11, the series finale) – Frasier went out with a brilliant episode that was almost entirely overlooked because it aired a week or two after the Friends finale. But while Friends got the hype, Frasier went out with an episode that had a strong theme and it didn’t compromise from it. It bookended the series beautifully and made for truly great television. When Frasier’s girlfriend Charlotte leaves to return to her business in Chicago, Frasier is devastated, having truly believed he had found the love of his life. As Martin ties the knot and Daphne gives birth, Roz is promoted and Frasier feels like the odd man out. At that point, a job opportunity comes along and Frasier decides to move on. The episode is largely about taking a leap and the importance of taking a chance, regardless of the consequences and while some fans might clamor for what came next, the episode brilliantly ends with Frasier making his leap. This is an astonishingly strong end to the series and one that makes for one of the best series finales ever,
4. "The Matchmaker" (Season 2) – I wish I could just say “Dad wanted to, but I won the cointoss,” and have that be all. One of the funniest episodes of the entire series, Frasier’s new boss, Tom (played brilliantly by Eric Lutes), comes to dinner on Frasier’s invitation. Frasier, inviting him for Daphne, does not know Tom is gay. Over the course of the night, the dinner is a brilliant interplay of verbal humor and farce,
3. "Slow Tango In South Seattle" (Season 2) – This was a high-pressure episode for Frasier. Coming back from summer vacation, Frasier had to prove its first season was not a fluke. Fortunately, the second season premiere was a brilliant story exploring a book based on Frasier’s first sexual experience. Funny and surprisingly heartwarming, “Slow Tango In South Seattle” has great character development for Frasier and has some of the best deliveries by John Mahoney as Martin of the series,
2. "The Maris Counselor" (Season 5) – Here is how I know that I am growing; after years as my favorite Frasier episode because of the raw anguish of the final scenes, I set this aside to second (love triumphs over loss). Still, it is hard not to watch this with a lump in one’s throat, especially for anyone who has ever had their heart jerked around or outright broken. Niles, convinced a reconciliation with Maris is imminent, plans a romantic night with her. While there, though, he finds their marriage counselor in Maris’s bed and is forced to accept that it is finally over. The grief David Hyde Pierce is able to emote is heartwrenching and an astonishingly good performance that he never got enough credit for. This has one of the best single scenes of any television series with the final conversation on the balcony that closes this episode,
And . . . the best episode of Frasier:
1. "Daphne Returns" (Season 8) – Yes, it might seem ironic that the best episode of Frasier is a Niles and Daphne episode, but they made up the soul of the series, so it is less surprising in that context. The closest to a clipshow Frasier ever came, “Daphne Returns” features a clip from “Moon Dance” and “First Date” which puts Frasier and Niles in the past analyzing Niles’s feelings for Daphne. Daphne returns from her weight-loss spa and confronts Niles about the pedestal he put her upon. Upset that he might have been a cause for her weight gain, the two find their romance imperiled and Niles turns to Frasier to explore his love for Daphne. Yeah, call me a sap, but the best episode of Frasier is a psychologically-themed love story . . . and it has a happy ending.
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |