Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Conflict Leads To Passion: Frasier The Complete Third Season Is Close-Enough To A Perfect Season!

The Good: Funny, Great acting, Wonderful character development, Interesting DVD bonus features
The Bad: No commentary tracks
The Basics: Funny and heartwrenching in repeatable ways, The Complete Third Season of Frasier offers a lot on DVD (except commentary tracks!).

For those who follow my many, many reviews, it may seem like I am going soft on Frasier, a series I clearly love, by rating its third season so highly. I am able to openly admit that there is something the series has lost by this point and that the second season (click here for that review!) is better than it.

There is a ton to recommend the third season of Frasier and it consistently delivers on the laughs. Moreover, when it is not trying to be funny, the series takes a very serious and adult look at love and relationships. It is in this season that Frasier Crane has his passionate affair with his boss, breaks it off and tries to rekindle it later on only to discover that outside their animalistic passion for one another, there is nothing that connects them. It is in this season that Niles is abandoned by Maris and the writers have the chance to explore the agony of separation. Indeed, it is tough to not feel one's heart ripped out when Niles, in "The Last Time I Saw Maris," cries about his impending bachelorhood, "I don't want to be a bachelor; I didn't enjoy it the first time." This is a season where the characters grow, change, and work their way even deeper into the hearts of fans. And for those who might not have seen either of the prior two seasons, the episodes explain themselves well-enough to be accessible to newbies.

In the third season of Frasier, Dr. Frasier Crane continues his call-in radio program which enjoys success on the airwaves of Seattle. However, Frasier's old boss has moved on and is replaced by Kate Costas, a powerful woman with a well-earned reputation for success. She instantly orders a few changes to Frasier's show, which is met with his resistance. As Frasier adapts to Kate, Martin tries to woo Frank Sinatra's people with his song "She's Such A Groovy Lady," and Roz leads a revolt of the off-air talent at KACL. This leads Frasier, who accidentally played a disastrous prank on Kate which cost her a fingertip, to have passionate sex with her . . . on the air!

After Daphne meets a talented contractor on the night Frasier entertains for his wine club with Niles, Niles is aghast to find Maris has disappeared. Maris pops up, having simply gone off on a shopping trip, which spurs Niles to tell her off and for Maris to demand a divorce from Niles. Separated from Maris, Frasier tries to be supportive and is thrilled to have Frederick home for Christmas, despite the fact that his gifted son wants a toy instead of something educational. As Daphne and Joe get closer, Niles wallows in his singlehood, Frasier encounters Diane Chambers, and Niles tries to get back on Maris's good side by using a gangster. When Frasier's leap-year advice backfires, Kate leaves, and he continually loses at chess to his father, he hits bottom when a woman he is romantically interested in turns out to be interested in his father!

Frasier The Complete Third Season is an excellent progression of all five characters from the series and Bulldog gets more airtime this season, as well. And while the season pushes the principles forward, it ends with a look back to a period prior to the first season as Frasier returned to Seattle, met with the people who became integral to his life and tried to patch things up with his father the first time.

For those who know me, there is great irony to my love of Frasier. I loathe family television shows as a general rule, though Frasier is very much about how an adult family works (when it does work). The relationship between Frasier and his father, Martin, often takes a back seat to the relationship between the siblings, Frasier and Niles - especially when they find themselves trying to open a private practice together and find themselves working for opposing clients in an important court case - but the show in this year is still very much about how a family of adults interacts. It is funny and poignant and has a great mix with the characters who have been around since the first season.

And for those looking for milestone episodes, the third season is chock full of them. Frasier and Kate might fizzle, but the return of Diane Chambers is a big event, at least for fans of Cheers. For those who are unfamiliar with her, Diane Chambers was the original barmaid on Cheers for the first five seasons and it was her character's nervous breakdown which introduced Frasier Crane to the series. She and Frasier have a sordid history and she once left him at the altar, breaking his heart. "The Show Where Diane Comes Back" allows Frasier Crane the closure with Diane he has always sought and the backstory between Frasier and Diane is aptly explained for those who are not fans of Cheers (my wife, who had never seen Cheers, told me she got it just fine by the time the episode was over). This is the season where Niles is separated from Maris and he and Daphne share a passionate tango in "Moon Dance." "Moon Dance" was also Kelsey Grammer's directoral debut and won the series a writing Emmy. This season also contains the first episode to truly explore the sexual chemistry between Roz and Frasier in "Frasier Loves Roz."

And for the nitpickers, it is worth noting that if one tries to assemble a timeline of the episode, Frasier The Complete Third Season actually takes place over the course of more than a single year, based upon notations on when Frasier has sex. "Frasier Loves Roz," in fact, takes place over the course of an entire month. This is not a huge thing, but it is interesting considering how frequently shows reference events back and forth in time.

That said, the time element is only truly for the nitpickers, what the series and this season is actually about is the characters. And through this season, the primary characters are stable. They are:

Dr. Frasier Crane - Esteemed and haughty psychiatrist, he spends much of the season wrestling with his passions for Kate Costas. As well, he has the chance to get closure from the first woman who truly ripped his heart out and tries to teach Seattle a lesson about basic kindness by throwing a rude man out of Cafe Nervosa. And while he is usually selfish and has to be convinced Daphne isn't having sex under his roof, he tries to do right by Martin, Frederick, and Niles and even goes to great lengths to protect Roz from getting truly hurt. He also tries to make a friend, only to become bothered by the fact that the man talks incessantly about barbecue (though Frasier won't "dump" him because he is bound to a wheelchair),

Martin Crane - The retired police officer and father of Frasier, he helps Frasier out of a jam when the apartment needs a whole lot of construction work on an important night in Frasier's life. He laughs at the schemes Frasier and Niles get into, like working together in the same office or opposing each other in the case of a demented timber baron, is down-to-Earth about Frasier's inability to make jokes and lives in denial of the problems the family might have. He falls for a policewoman who lets Frasier out of a speeding ticket and tries to get a song to Frank Sinatra,

Roz Doyle - Frasier's producer, she continues to go through men virtually every episode. She and Niles spar when they encounter one another, though she comes through for Niles when he wants to help fix some warrants against Maris. She falls hard for one of Niles's womanizing clients, which puts Frasier in an ethical dilemma,

Daphne Moon - Martin's live-in physical therapist, she gets a boyfriend in contractor Joe. She remains oblivious to the affections Niles has for her and takes him dancing. And she hums "Flesh is burning (na na na na na na!)" (that's a little in-joke for fans!). She proves herself indispensable as the family almost falls apart when she goes away for a single weekend,

and Niles Crane - Frasier's brother and an equally-good, though less flashy psychiatrist. Often neurotic and germaphobic, he is left by his weird wife and as he struggles to develop enough backbone to stay away from Maris (unsuccessfully in "Look Before You Leap") and maintain his social network and finances without her.

The third season of Frasier sees the full ascendancy of David Hyde Pierce and he steals every scene he is in this season. Pierce plays Niles and he has an amazing physical sense that makes the comedy of such things as him trying to barricade the door in "The Last Time I Saw Maris" absolutely hilarious. And he and Jane Leeves have amazing chemistry in "Moon Dance." This is the season where he is undeniably great and funny and heartwrenching in every one of his scenes.

This is not to say Kelsey Grammer does not give viewers anything new as Frasier Crane. He is deeply compassionate in "Frasier Loves Roz" and the moment where the character of Frasier takes a (metaphorical) bullet for his not-friend Bob in "The Friend" shows real depth. But one of Grammer's best performances is in "Martin Does It His Way," where Grammer plays Frasier as spontaneous and tries to give his father a real gift. The climax of that episode is energetic and beautiful for the fans and a real treat. The entire cast does an amazing job of regressing their characters for the season finale, "You Can Go Home Again."

On DVD, "The Complete Third Season" is a little bit of a letdown on the bonus features. None of the episodes have commentary tracks and as a result, the best we get are featurettes where David Hyde Pierce and Kelsey Grammer talk about the season and their costars. Each disc has a collection of clips from the episodes on that disc of the celebrity voices who were used to call into the show. There are also clip shows of Bulldog and Maris and a look at the set designs with the art director who designed the Crane apartment, mimicked the radio station off an ABC radio station and designed Cafe Nervosa to be the archetypal Seattle coffee house. The featurettes are good, but I'd still have liked a few commentary tracks or deleted scenes!

Still, this is a very easy season to recommend and get enthusiastic about sharing on DVD. After all, it is close enough to perfect!

For other boxed sets of third seasons, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy - Season 3
30 Rock - Season 3
Six Feet Under - Season 3


For other television boxed set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here and going to an organized listing of my reviews!

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

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