Monday, November 29, 2010

Bulldog Joins The Cast, More Farcical Episodes And Niles Abandoned In "Frasier - The Complete Fourth Season!"

The Good: Funny, Wonderful character development, Good acting, Interesting stories
The Bad: Some sense of repetition, No DVD bonus features.
The Basics: Funny, but without any DVD bonus features, the fourth season of Frasier is not quite as enduring as some of the show's best seasons.

Sometimes there comes a product I review that makes me think that objectively I am being too hard on the product. In the case of Frasier, the fact that I have seen so many of the episodes so many times makes me think sometimes that I downrate some of the seasons. In the case of Frasier The Complete Fourth Season, I suspect that might be the case, as I have little other than praise for the season. But that seems to be where I am having the trouble with considering this a perfect season (hence it not quite hitting 10/10!); viewed over and over again, the show loses its edge some and it becomes tough to consider an enduring great.

Ironically, my wife - who did not think she would enjoy our odyssey through Frasier when we began it - loved the fourth season and is eager for us to pick up the next season. The show continues to develop and while there are several episodes that break the formula - some do not even have any scenes at the radio station! - there is a greater sense of repetition in this season than in prior ones. On four DVDs there are twenty-three episodes ("Three Dates And A Breakup" is a double-long episode) in Frasier The Complete Fourth Season" and unfortunately this season lacks any DVD bonus features. As a result, viewers get only what they saw originally on television, minus the commercials and that is likely to disappoint fans of Frasier.

The fourth season of Frasier finds Dr. Frasier Crane continuing his radio show in Seattle while his brother, Niles, struggles with his separation from Maris. Feeling as if he is in a rut, Frasier finds himself plagued by dreams that seem to have no psychological foundation that he can analyze. Daphne soon finds herself broken up from Joe, which makes Niles think he has a chance with her . . . until she begins dating a man who is essentially the doppleganger for Niles. Roz has her chance to become an on-air personality, which is crushed by Frasier's agent and Bulldog enlists an unlikely ally for an ailing basketball player!

It is in this season that Martin begins seeing Sherry, the vivacious former dancer who is much more working-class than either of the Crane boys. In Frasier The Complete Fourth Season, Niles replaces his Maris-like dog with a bird when he moves into the luxury condominiums, The Montana. Roz is sentenced to community service and spends it at a nursing home, where her patients die abruptly on her. It is also the season where the Cranes go to Boston when Frasier and Lilith team up to try to get their son, Frederick, into a prestigious prep school. It is also the season where Frederick visits and Niles realizes the boy has a huge crush on Daphne.

Frasier is a verbally-funny situational comedy and in the fourth season, the series is largely in stride with what it wants to be. It is mostly serialized (though after Daphne breaks up with Joe she is heard on the phone almost immediately with other guys and that doesn't jive with other episodes) with the characters developing more over the course of the season, especially Niles and Martin. Still, some of the humor is very much wrapped up in a single episode and in this season, the show seems content to be more Farcical than earlier seasons.

So, for example, in the season opener "The Two Mrs. Cranes," Daphne has Niles masquerade as her husband in order to try to fool her old boyfriend, Clive. While Niles is happy to take on the impersonation, the evening spirals out of control when Frasier returns home and Daphne and Niles must think on their feet. They are even more appalled with the balancing act of keeping stories straight when Martin enters the mix, claiming to be a retired astronaut and throwing everyone for a loop when he introduces Roz to Clive as Maris! The shuffle is hilarious and it works wonderfully throughout the episode, but the concept is amusing and without consequence in the larger series.

Also of little consequence is Dan Butler's ascension to series regular (he was a recurring guest star before this and he is not granted even a full episode worth of stories in this season). Butler's Bulldog appears briefly in most every episode, offering a contrast to Frasier and an annoyance to Roz. He has probably as much screentime as Eddie, Martin's dog, does this season, though he continues to impress with his acting ability. This is unsurprising as Bulldog is something of a monolithic part.

Largely, though, Frasier is about the characters and in the fourth season, here is who the primary characters are and what the season does with them:

Dr. Frasier Crane - Bored by the routine his life has taken on, he begins to have vivid dreams about the radio food critic, Gil, before recognizing the root problem. He finds himself largely unattached for most of the season, until a soiree he throws nets him three dates in a row, which are ruined by Sherry! He has a visit from Frederick where he is forced to play on the station's softball team and realizes he will disappoint his son,

Dr. Niles Crane - Estranged from his wife, Maris, Niles moves into the ritzy Montana. After struggling with bad dates and a near-miss with Daphne, Niles signs divorce papers with Maris, only to learn she was bluffing. In therapy with Maris, Niles asks Frasier if he thinks Niles and Maris belong together. When Frasier goes on vacation, Niles takes over the show and gets a chance at stardom by helping a basketball player win games through his therapy,

Martin Crane - Breaks up with his cop girlfriend and is eager because he wants to date Sherry, a woman he has hit it off with. Soon, though, he finds himself seriously falling for Sherry and feeling guilty about it and what is means for his relationship with his dead wife,

Daphne Moon - Martin's physical therapist, she is dumped by Joe and briefly dates a man who looks and sounds like Niles only to have him cheat on her with the woman Niles is dating at the time. She figures out a flawless way to get everyone out of the apartment by claiming to cook English food. When Sherry begins to spend more time at the apartment, she feels her job and territory threatened and she seeks refuge with Niles,

Roz Doyle - Frasier's producer, dismayed by not winning a Seebie for the year, she begins to flounder. Convicted of a traffic infraction, she is given community service where she comes to be known around the nursing home as the Angel Of Death. She tries her hand at her own show, a romantic advice show, which is not picked up, leaving her as Frasier's producer indefinitely,

and Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe - The often offensive sportstalk host following Frasier's show, he gets in quips but does little else (other than win awards) this season.

The fourth season of Frasier continues to see the development of the acting talent of the primary performers. The presence of Sherry gives John Mahoney a chance to play Martin much more energetically and he has moments in the season where he moves differently even. Similarly, Jane Leeves does an impressive job as Daphne, including an episode where she has to fake an American accent (it's actually creepy!). And Kelsey Grammer continues his strong run as Frasier lending a consistency to the show that is flawless.

It is David Hyde Pierce, though, who once again wows audiences as Dr. Niles Crane. David Hyde Pierce has an awesome talent both for comic timing with verbal gags and the physical comedy that makes his character both memorable and awkward. Niles is hilarious to watch and David Hyde Pierce has an energy that makes Niles from an almost too-weird character on the page to a vibrant and real character on the screen.

In fact, there is little not to love about the fourth season of Frasier and those who enjoy smart humor will like this DVD set. It is a worthwhile and fun season that has well-developed characters who continue to progress over these episodes.

For other comedies, please check out my reviews of:
The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.
30 Rock – Season 1


For other television or film reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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  1. Good review. I agree--it was at times farcical. I did really enjoy that Two Mrs. Cranes ep--it's pure gold! Wasn't the Impossible Dream in this season, as well?

  2. Hi! Thanks for the comment. "Impossible Dream" where Frasier has to figure out his own dream is in this season as well! Good call, great episode!

    Thanks for reading and look out for the rest of "Frasier" in the next few days!