Monday, December 6, 2010

In Its Ninth Season, Frasier Reinvents Itself (Almost) Perfectly!

The Good: Good character development, Decent story development, Funny, Good performances
The Bad: No DVD bonus features
The Basics: Another near-perfect DVD boxed set, Frasier Season Nine is funny, heartwarming and continues to evolve the characters of the long-running sitcom!

One of the nice things about going through a complete series of a television show one has loved for a long time, but forgotten about, is finding the point where episodes are new to the viewer. For me in winding my way through Frasier (click here for my review of the complete series!) I was delighted in Season Nine to find episodes peppered throughout that were new-to-me. The delightful thing about finishing Frasier: The Complete Ninth Season was experiencing the high episodes that I had loved when they originally aired as well as the episodes I had missed and discovering that the season was a perfect one. On DVD, Frasier The Complete Ninth Season is funny, progresses the characters well and continues to reinvent itself in a direction that makes one want to come back for more.

In order to discuss Frasier The Complete Ninth Season, it is impossible not to discuss how the eighth season ended. For those who value surprises, this is a good time to stop reading. Even so, by now Frasier is much more effectively using the entire ensemble as opposed to focusing on the title character. As the show moves into its final seasons, Frasier balances with Niles and Daphne and the ninth season is flawless on DVD save that there are no bonus features in the boxed set. That said, season nine picks up right where season eight left off, with the Crane family in Belize.

As Niles and Daphne grow closer in Belize, Frasier's call to Lilith has him questioning whether or not to stay with Claire - who is perfect for him - or to try to get back together with Lana. Unfortunately for Frasier, no sooner has he dumped Claire than Lana's ex-husband turns back up to reconcile with Lana. Finding himself alone again, Frasier begins dating again. As Frasier lists from relationship to relationship, he finds himself in the unlikely position of hiring Lana's dimwitted son Kirby for an internship at KACL. At the same time, Martin returns to work as a security guard and tries his hand at love yet again.

When Niles and Daphne plan to move in with one another, their relationship is strained by the appearance of Simon and Daphne's mother. Abusive and abrasive, Mrs. Moon takes up residence with Niles and prevents Daphne from moving in with Niles. Even so, Niles does his best to progress the relationship with Daphne and by the end of the season, the pair is happily engaged. As Frasier finally says goodbye to his Cheers friends, he finds success in syndication and finds romance in the least likely spot!

In season nine, Frasier and his family have some intriguing challenges and there are moments when the show continues to push the envelope of what it does for its characters. So, for example, when the family gets together for a game ("Room Full Of Heroes") Niles comes as Martin and when he gets drunk, he reveals a deep-seated sense of resentment that Martin has never articulated. In addition to confronting very real issues, the show takes the characters in directions that are complicated and real. Daphne becomes concerned when she learns one of Niles' patients has a crush on him and she goes through his briefcase to learn more about her. The result is a character conflict that brilliantly deepens a relationship that has largely been Niles fawning over Daphne.

Similarly, Frasier himself continues to become ever more complicated. The initial character conflict of the season has Frasier questioning whether or not he is even capable of being happy. The season premiere is a two-parter which intensely explores Frasier's past. While the first part resolves the Lana/Claire plot, the second part becomes an incredible psychoanalytical half-hour which pits Frasier against his own psyche . . . represented by Lilith, Diane and Frasier's mother! And for the most part, the season finds its conflicts from character aspects.

There are, however, a few exceptions which are not the prized moments of the season. For example, Frasier engages in a battle of wits with teenagers who come to the radio station and ambush him on-air. This is more plot-based than most of the episodes and it seems contrived by the standards of Frasier. The only other plot that seems as contrived is one where Niles gets a Segue and will not let anyone else ride it.

Beyond that, Frasier The Complete Ninth Season is character-driven and this season takes some risks that the prior season avoided. Roz has a serious relationship for most of the season in a garbage man named Roger and Martin's job changes things for him. If anything, Frasier is underemphasized after the season premiere and the show uses fewer conceits than earlier seasons. In fact, only one episode this season is a farce episode (some prior seasons have several) and the rest are character-based conflicts.

Still solid in its cast, in the ninth season of Frasier, the characters are familiar to anyone who has been watching the show. In this season, the principle characters are:

Dr. Frasier Crane - After returning to the United States, single, he finds himself getting to the root of why his prior relationships have failed. Reinvigorated, he delights in Frederick's success at a spelling bee and accidentally sets Martin's recliner chair on fire and has to pay to have it reconstructed. With his two thousandth show, he finds his collection of tapes is incomplete and he goes in search of his ultimate fan who has it. After exploring a mystery with Niles at the old house the boys grew up in and he gets into a war with his upstairs neighbor who prompts him to go to the condo board. After being ditched by his corrupt agent Bebe, he gets a new agent and he finds himself in Boston in time for Cliff Clavin's retirement party,

Roz Doyle - Falls head over heels for a garbage man named Roger. When she gets over her insecurities over his profession, she truly opens up to him and actually falls in love with him. Continuing to raise Alice on her own, she helps support Martin when he goes back to work and finds herself with a surprising partner at the climax of the season,

Martin Crane - Wanting to feel useful, he returns to work as a security guard. In the process, he finds himself making out with one of his co-workers there. When Frasier gets into his war with Cam Winston upstairs, Martin pretends to date Dr. Winston to annoy Frasier and Cam. He finds himself bullied by his boss,

Daphne Moon - More and more in love with Niles, she finds herself jealous of one of Niles' patients. She is supportive of Martin going back to work. She is mortified when Simon and her mother pop up and she is forced to put up with her mother's abuse. When Niles makes his move to propose, she is unfortunately ill, but she knows just how important Niles is to her. And when Niles tries the grand romantic gesture, she struggles to appreciate him and his efforts (if not the execution of them),

And Niles Crane - Thrilled over how he and Daphne romped all over Belize, he is furious when Daphne goes through his briefcase and professional files. He gets a Segue as part of a psychological experiment. He tries to emulate Martin for a party, but finds himself projecting his own feelings of inadequacy upon him. He tries to keep Frasier emotionally grounded and is completely disrupted when Mrs. Moon comes to Seattle and stays with him. As his relationship with Daphne deepens, he tries his best to help Daphne fix her family problems by meddling in the nicest possible way.

By the time the ninth season of Frasier begins, the actors have their parts down pat, so everything that is thrown at their characters is well within the range of greatness that fans expect. Kelsey Grammer, Peri Gilpin, John Mahoney, Jane Leeves and David Hyde Pierce are all excellent as Frasier, Roz, Martin, Daphne and Niles, respectively. In this season, the performances illustrate great comic timing as well as appropriate dramatic chops when the parts call for them.

In fact, the only real disappointment with Frasier Season Nine is that the DVD presentation has no bonus features. Apparently, Paramount/CBS figures anyone buying the set will just be happy it is on DVD without minding that there is nothing extra for fans there.

That said, the source material continues to evolve the show remarkably well, which is a rarity for a series that has been on for nine seasons. This is a season that anyone who likes a great character study will enjoy and while it is accessible to any audience, it will be most appreciated by those who have seen the earlier seasons of the show.

For other television that is surprisingly funny and smart, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Sports Night
The West Wing
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip


For other television series reviews, be sure to check out my index page!
© 2009, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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