Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mature And Well-Developed, Frasier The Complete Eighth Season Is An Exceptional Season (Lousy Boxed Set)!

The Good: Funny, Great character development, Wonderful acting, Great plot arcs
The Bad: No DVD bonus features
The Basics: Funny and filled with genuine character development, the eighth season of Frasier is a perfect one, even without any DVD bonus features.

There are so few television shows that get an eighth season that it is unsurprising that my personal collection only has two. While most of my science fiction standards cut off at a seventh season, Friends had more than seven as does one of my favorite television shows of all time, Frasier. Frasier The Complete Eighth Season is a remarkable season of television and it is surprisingly accessible to those who might not have seen any of the prior seasons. However, because of where it begins, it is impossible to discuss the eighth season of Frasier without referencing both where the seventh season ends and what character aspects came before.

In the eighth season of Frasier, the long-running comedy reinvents itself and it does it remarkably successfully. While the show seldom ventures into KACL and focuses on Frasier and his career as a radio psychiatrist, the relationships become far more complex and yet the show is funnier and more heartwarming than it was in prior years. It is also quite a bit more focused on characters other than Frasier Crane. But, in truth, it is impossible to discuss this season without revealing aspects of the conclusion of the seventh season that I labored in my review of that to not mention. That's the last spoiler warning I'll give!

Beginning moments after Daphne runs out on Donnie at her wedding, Niles pulls out of his parking spot in the Winnebago and begins driving toward his future with Daphne. Almost immediately, they realize that they cannot escape the consequences of Niles telling Daphne he loves her and Daphne leaving Donnie at the altar. Going back to face the music, the couple finds Martin remarkably supportive and Frasier ridiculously pleased with himself for his part in letting both Niles and Daphne know about how the other feels. But the pleasure soon turns to shock and horror as Donnie sues Daphne and Frasier. As Niles struggles to get out of his marriage to Mel, Mel agrees to a divorce, only after Niles has humiliated himself so she can maintain her high social standing. Donnie abruptly calls off the lawsuit, when he falls in love with someone new and Niles ends the charade of a marriage to Mel when her demands conflict with his desire to be with Daphne.

Now free to explore a relationship with one another, Daphne and Niles begin dating. That, though, is not without consequences as Niles has put Daphne up on a pretty tall pedestal. As Daphne begins to overeat, Niles is the only one blind to her stress. Meanwhile, Frasier tries his usual efforts to date and fails, until he finds a woman who is perfect for him. Unfortunately for Frasier, the best way to Claire's heart is through helping his hideous ex-girlfriend (former prom queen) Lana. Roz gets a new dog and she and Martin have conflict over how to raise it. Roz also snags a most unlikely date when Frasier's former mentor develops a professional relationship with his former protege. And as things begin looking good for Frasier, he begins to question the direction of his life.

In the eighth season, Frasier becomes a brilliant season of television that has an immortal quality on DVD. This is a season packed with universal character struggles and the only element that is truly intimidating to most people is that this season actually delves into surprisingly deep psychological issues. Daphne and Frasier both grapple with serious issues that they have not had to wrestle with before. Television shows that explore that level of character are few and far between. With twenty-two episodes (at least two of which are perfect half-hours of television) the eighth season of Frasier is more than just a comedy, it is a continuing story with vital characters who the audience becomes remarkably attached to.

This season has fewer episodic (bottle) episodes and instead, most of the season builds upon itself in the best possible way. As the season opens, Niles and Daphne are dealing with consequences and the entire season almost every action has a consequence that is built upon. The notable exceptions are an episode ("Sliding Frasiers") where a simple choice fractures a week of Frasier's life. By choosing to wear a suit or a sweater, his entire week becomes a series of events that affect him, Roz, and Niles. The episode (like the movie Sliding Doors) explores two realities, one where Frasier ends up dating a woman, another where he does not and the episode is a concept episode that works, even if it does not have any consequences after the episode is done. Similarly, in "Docu.drama" Roz gets a documentary and she and Frasier predictably clash over the reversal of their relationship (Roz is suddenly Frasier's boss). This episode does not have any consequences in their relationship past the episode, nor does John Glen's hilarious insinuations about having encountered alien life.

But the rest of the season truly is a growing series of events which are building a strong sense of who the principle characters are. Frasier receives a lifetime achievement award and this completely throws him because he feels that from this point on he is somehow on a downswing in life. The brilliant thing about this is that after the episode where he essentially has a meltdown, he truly begins wondering about his relationships - including the one he has with his son, Frederick and with his constant string of romantic liaisons. He begins to go into real therapy and the fact that the show sticks with Frasier feeling listless and somewhat damaged makes the show compelling to return to and a real exception for a situational comedy. In the eighth season of Frasier, the show seems less preoccupied with being funny (there are fewer farce episodes) and puts more of a premium on creating or developing adult characters whom the audience truly empathizes with.

This is not to say the show does not keep the viewer amused or laughing. The eighth season of Frasier is quite funny, including moments when Niles sets his menu on fire when the family runs into Donnie out at dinner. Also, Martin's sense of humor reaches a new high when he gets involved in a poker game with members of a retirement home Frasier has him visit! And while Frasier is deep in his personal journey of self-discovery, Niles makes an impossible shot at a basketball game and the result is almost as funny as Frasier hosting as parade with his professional nemesis from last season, Mary!

Frasier is truly about characters and in the eighth season, the quintet is just that; Bulldog is gone and this is about the Crane family (including Daphne) and Roz. The characters have moments that pleasantly unearth the formula that the show has lived by for years and as a result, this season remains remarkably fresh feeling. In the eighth season of Frasier, the principle characters are:

Dr. Frasier Crane - Managing to avoid a lawsuit from Donnie after bringing down the lawyer's wrath, he dates his lawyer only to lose the relationship to his feeling that she has been unscrupulously billing him! Moving on, he is given a lifetime achievement Seabie and this causes a crisis within him, almost as much of a crisis as seeing his mentor in Roz's silk robe! When Frasier meets the woman of his dreams, he makes a deal with his ex-girlfriend to help her witless son pass his courses to try to get Claire's attention,

Roz Doyle - Not seeing Frasier as a romantic interest, despite dating someone like him, she continues to raise Alice on her own and she gets a dog for Alice and herself. She is one of the first to notice - and vocalize her observations on - Daphne's weight gain. She grows professionally by taking a job as a documentary producer and she dates a man who has lived on a boat, much to Frasier's chagrin. As well, she discovers a common bond with Frasier's mentor,

Martin Crane - More supportive this season, he advises Frasier to keep out of Niles and Daphne's relationship. In an easily-neglected b-plot, he appears at the parole hearing for the man who shot him,

Daphne Moon - Martin's physical trainer begins to have more opportunities opened to her and for the first time ever, Frasier invites her to have sherry with him and Niles. This seemingly small act is one of many character changes for her. When Daphne finds herself overwhelmed by Niles's love for her (and the sweets he brings her), she begins to put on a serious amount of weight. When nothing else works, she goes off to a spa to get rejuvenated and returns for a groundbreaking relationship step with Niles,

And Niles Crane - Manipulated by Mel after he runs off with Daphne, he finally stands up for the love of his life and manages to get a remarkably speedy divorce. He begins spoiling Daphne after the two have a wonderful first date on the roof of Frasier's building. Locked in a stairwell when a meteor shower would make another great date for them, he lucks out with making an impossible basket. And when Daphne has to go away, he is heartbroken . . . and when Daphne returns, his life begins to truly come into focus.

Peripheral characters in this season of Frasier are more recurring roles from prior seasons, like the return of Mary and Frasier's former beauty-queen ex-girlfriend. While NBC has a tendency to lure wonderful actors in for guest starring roles, in this season of Frasier, they seem more substantial than trading on their celebrity. So, for example, appearances by Patricia Clarkson, Gary Cole and Rene Auberjonois are not greeted with the hoots and hollers that greet such caliber of celebrities on shows like Friends.

As far as the main cast goes, Kelsey Grammer spends a lot of time off-screen directing episodes and this gives Peri Gilpen and John Mahoney more time to develop their characters with more emotional depth. Jane Leeves, who plays Daphne, got pregnant early in the season (hence the Daphne getting fat plot) and she uses the pregnancy in the character's storyline wonderfully. She has a great sense of humor about it and when Daphne returns after her spa treatment, Leeves is able to hold her own with a sense of chemistry that comes back naturally to her.

David Hyde Pierce continues to steal the show as one of the premiere physical comedians of our time. David Hyde Pierce is wonderful with stiff-backed performances that are awkward and hilarious. But at the moments he plays off Leeves, he is able to play loving and charming in a way that his adoration from afar has pretty much been exhausted. Rejuvenated by actually being able to play his character in a love that is reciprocated, David Hyde Pierce shows his full emotional range this season.

Unfortunately, on DVD, Frasier The Complete Eighth Season is devoid of bonus features. There are no commentary tracks or featurettes that make this season more than what they get in syndication. Still, this is a truly great season of television and worthwhile for anyone who loves comedy with depth.

For other comedy reviews, please check out my takes on:
The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.
Glee - Vol. 1: The Road To Sectionals


For other television program reviews, be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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