Friday, November 19, 2010

A Bundle Pack: Frasier The Complete Series Leaves Us Wishing For More.

The Good: Funny, Great acting, Wonderful character development, Some DVD features
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features/packaging
The Basics: Despite being somewhat low on bonus features and having bulky packaging, Frasier The Complete Series is a winner on the programming and worth buying!

There are essentially two types of "Complete Series" packages on DVD. The first are the bundle packs, the second are repackages. The bundle packs are very simple; they take the previously released seasons of boxed-set DVDs and repackage them together, usually just wrapping cellophane around them all and calling it a complete series. Then there are the "Complete Series" packages that repress or repackage all of the discs from an entire series and then offer incentives to buy it all together. Usually, the repackages are slimmer, sometimes including additional books or bonus features or discs. Unfortunately for fans of Frasier, Frasier The Complete Series is the former type of repackage. This is annoying and problematic, if for no other reason than the second season comes in a thinner package! Ironically, I purchased this at the same time as I bought the Complete Series of Friends as a wedding gift for her, and after going through it twice, Frasier is now her favorite series!

Frasier The Complete Series is a disappointing, neglectful repackaging of one of the greatest television series of the last fifty years. Like most television series' that manage to stay on for over a decade, Frasier was released as individual boxed sets for each season as the series progressed and DVD became the dominant medium. As a result, this is a very true bundling of all eleven seasons of Frasier with no additional bonus features, booklets, or additional discs. There is nothing in this massive boxed set that was not released in the initial DVD releases of each season. Considering how many awards Frasier won while it was on the air, this is a real slap in the face to the series and the fans (I had always hoped they would repackage the DVDs with a little leather couch or a microphone, but that was not to be).

This is a simple, true repackaging of:
Frasier Season 1
Frasier Season 2
Frasier Season 3
Frasier Season 4
Frasier Season 5
Frasier Season 6
Frasier Season 7
Frasier Season 8
Frasier Season 9
Frasier Season 10
Frasier Season 11

Frasier is a rather simple situational comedy that continues the story of Dr. Frasier Crane, from Cheers. When the series begins, Dr. Frasier Crane has returned to his hometown of Seattle six months ago and he has set up a life as a radio call-in psychiatrist offering simplified psychological answers to the callers in the greater Seattle region. Unfortunately, Frasier is visited by his brother, Niles, one day and delivered bad news; their father has fallen in the shower and damaged his hip. Given that Martin, their father, was shot in the hip, his decreased mobility means that he might not be able to live on his own. After a tense encounter with his ailing father, Frasier bites the bullet and takes Martin in.

So begins the series and it originally is preoccupied with Frasier and Martin struggling to get used to one another. While Frasier verbally spars with his producer, Roz, at work, he often returns home to conflict in his apartment. Having hired a physical therapist for his father, Frasier still works to maintain his home as his own and make his father feel welcomed through such incidents as his father having a neighbor over for the night and dealing with his father's ugly reclining chair. While Niles competes with Frasier professionally (he, too, is a psychiatrist, though he despises the pop psychiatry which Frasier now represents), he and Frasier work together to help Martin rehabilitate. But just as Niles struggles to avoid actually interacting with Martin, he finds himself continually drawn to Frasier's apartment, because of his attraction for Daphne (Martin's physical therapist). As Frasier tries to keep the married Niles from making mistakes of his own, he makes mistakes in relationships, Lilith returns and he blunders through various changes at KACL, trying to keep his career intact.

As the series goes on, though, Frasier evolves into the story of a sibling rivalry where Frasier and Niles are not trying to avoid Martin, but rather compete for his affections and for status within Seattle society. Roz develops as a character when she becomes a single mother. And after years of being jerked around by his invisible wife, Maris, Niles pulls himself up, gets some dignity and takes a leap to leave his wife. Throughout, Frasier tries to find the perfect woman and the least likely member of the family beats him back to the altar!

Frasier is much more about linguistic humor than it is about situational comedy. Indeed, situations in the series have a way of repeating, like the sheer number of arguments that come up between Frasier and Martin about Frasier's space and the way the latter wants it kept. As well, Niles and Frasier compete for positions in various clubs and they lament about how competitive they are. As well, as the seasons go on, each season has more farce episodes. Throughout, there are jokes about working class and upper class type differences, with Frasier and Niles representing a sensibility quite different from Roz and Martin. Martin and Roz, for example, get along quite well, while Frasier is often at odds with Martin and does not understand Roz. In the beginning of the series, the show makes a rather obvious commentary on the class differences through Niles repeatedly meeting Roz and never remembering who she is.

Set largely in Frasier's apartment, Cafe Nervosa and the KACL radio station booth where Frasier has his radio program, Frasier is visually unexciting, but verbally witty throughout. There is very little physical comedy, though Kelsey Grammer's stare - usually at Niles, who finds himself in awkward situations with Daphne when Frasier is not around - adds an element that is unique to the series. Throughout the series, characters struggle to relate to one another more often than not and characters like Roz are given a quip an episode in support of Frasier's diatribes, but are otherwise neglected.

Still, this is largely a character-based comedy and as such, it is germane to note who the essential characters are. In Frasier, the primaries are:

Dr. Frasier Crane - Recently divorced from his wife, Lilith, he is the father of Frederick (who lives with Lilith). The talent behind "The Doctor Frasier Crane Show," he receives callers daily who ask him for advice, which he dispenses . . . when they are not too busy living out their various psychosis'. After six months of peace and quiet, he takes in his ailing father and discovers the transition is a greater burden on him than he thought. He deals with other Seattle personalities who hate his call-in show, feeling his age (he is forty-one at the show's start), and the resurfacing of Lilith. Throughout the series, Frasier associates with a unethical agent and he bounces from one failed relationship to the next, often making the same mistakes many times,

Dr. Niles Crane - Married to the unseen Maris, he is an obsessive compulsive germaphobic psychiatrist (Jungian) who does not respect Frasier's pop-culture approach to psychiatry. Lonely because of how horrible his wife is, he is smitten with Daphne and joins Frasier for many activities as a result. He competes with Frasier when the two try to write a book together and takes over Frasier's show when Frasier falls ill. As the series goes on, Niles gets up the courage to leave the cheating Maris - and her money - behind and follow a very different path,

Daphne Moon - A psychic physical therapist, she is oblivious to Niles's affection. She works with Martin to help him recuperate and lives in Frasier's apartment with the two men. She is cheerful and kind. As the series goes on, she continues, oblivious to Niles' advances and usually resentful of the way Frasier treats her,

Roz Doyle - Frasier's producer, she goes through about a man a week and is quite proud of her sex life. A pragmatist, she is hungry for awards for "The Frasier Crane Show" and she offers a counterpoint to Frasier on many issues. As the series progresses, she continues dating and eventually has a daughter on her own and attempts to take on more professional responsibilities,

and Martin Crane - Retired police officer, he is obsessed with solving a murder case involving a dismembered stripper. Cranky and injured over having to move in with Frasier, he struggles to understand the son he never knew well before. Widowered, he misses his wife and he finds unlikely companionship with a woman he meets through a telescope and a neighbor he hits it off with. His favorite things in the world are a cool beer (Ballentine's), pork rinds, his old reclining chair and his dog, Eddie (who is a thorn in Frasier's side). Eventually, he gets himself a Winnebago and begins to see more of the world.

Frasier has an amazing cast and right off the bat, it establishes itself as one of the more stable and winning casts on television. Peri Gilpin and Jane Leeves (Roz and Daphne) play off David Hyde Pierce (Niles) and John Mahoney (Martin) beautifully. David Hyde Pierce steals every scene he is in as the neurotic Niles, with an amazing sense of awkward physical body language that is often enough to make one cringe or laugh. As the series progresses, Hyde Pierce continues to offer a strong physical presence and he has an amazing sense of comic timing that makes him funny both verbally and physically.

The irony here is that the supporting cast and characters are often far more interesting than the show's namesake. Frasier Crane is adequately played by Kelsey Grammer, but his character is hardly the most interesting, even for those coming only to this series (i.e. those who have not seen him on Cheers). Grammer has a wonderful deadpan and he plays Frasier as slightly tense almost all the time, and he does that well. But mostly, it is the one note we see from Grammer early on.

As for those coming just to Frasier, there is nothing one needs to know coming in that is not covered in this series. One need not be a fan of Cheers to fall in love with Frasier. Allusions to Lilith begin in the first episode, so by the time she pops up near the end of the first season, virgins to the franchise are likely to be ready for her and will recognize her. Similarly, when other characters from Cheers pop up, Frasier clearly identifies them and the relationship he had with them on that show.

On DVD, the forty-four disc set is an unremarkable presentation of the impressive comedy series. The show looks as good as it did in its original run, but the DVD set is light on bonus features, which makes it a tougher sell than some more mediocre comedy series' which have better bonus features. Still, as Frasier falls out of syndication in more markets (oddly, it seems to be being replaced by Everybody Loves Raymond or King Of Queens in many markets I've searched) there is greater reason to purchase the DVD boxed sets or the Complete Series!

On DVD, Frasier is rather light on extras. There are a smattering of commentary tracks early on (as the series progresses, the seasons lose any bonus feartures). Early on, there are celebrity voice featurettes and a few full-season recaps. But until the final discs, there is a big gap where seasons go by without any bonus features.

Still, Frasier is a funny and well-developed series and because it is so rich in character, it is delightful to watch the characters develop over the years. And it's nice to have it all together; it is just a shame that Paramount (CBS) didn't think there was enough of a market to make a slimmer package of this series - and more bonus features! - worthwhile. So, until they come out with something better, this remains the best way to get hundreds of hours of America's favorite fictional radio psychiatrist!

For other complete series multipacks of great shows, please check out my reviews of:
The West Wing
Six Feet Under


For other television series and season reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

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

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