Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Average Than Some Of The Prior Seasons: Frasier The Tenth Season Is Worth Watching!

The Good: Funny, Some great character moments, Acting is decent
The Bad: No DVD bonus features, Some plot/character aspects get tiresome
The Basics: Frasier The Tenth Season is a four-disc set which has the erratic episodes of the penultimate season for viewers to make part of their permanent collections.

Longrunning television shows have it tough in a lot of ways. Television series' which endure have the burdens of staying fresh while maintaining the audience base of loyal fans. This can be exceptionally difficult, especially when the network the show is on does not support the series as vigorously or as well as it originally did. Take, for example, Frasier (click here for the review of the entire series!), which was on for eleven years. By the time its tenth season had come to air, NBC - which aired the program - was devoting far more money to developing and advertising Friends. At the same time, Frasier was being jerked around in timeslots and nights it was aired on, despite continuing to win awards.

Sadly, with Frasier The Tenth Season, viewers are likely to feel some sense that the show deserves its poor treatment from the network. So much of what is presented in Frasier The Tenth Season on DVD will feel familiar to fans of the long-running comedy. Continuing where the ninth season of Frasier left off, the tenth season focuses on the whole Crane family, now with more emphasis on Daphne than in prior seasons. Even so, there are some truly uproarious moments in this season of Frasier and fans will love references to prior seasons, like the resolution to Frasier and Roz's having slept together in the prior season! In "Enemy At The Gate," the entire episode is a set-up for a joke which is hilarious and worth watching many times over.

In the tenth season of Frasier, emphasis returns to Frasier and his radio show, as well as to the new emphasis on Niles and Daphne. Niles and Daphne return from their secret wedding in Reno to realize that their families will be hurt to not share in the special day. So, they stage a series of fake weddings to appease Frasier and Martin and Daphne's mother, Gertrude. As Gertrude continues to live with them, Niles and Daphne become more and more frazzled and at Frasier's apartment, Frasier and Martin look to replace Daphne with a housekeeper, which does not work out. After offending Noel, Frasier inadvertently blesses Frederick at his Bar Mitzvah in Klingon and the family is rocked when Niles abruptly develops a heart condition which requires immediate bypass surgery!

Recovering from the incident, Niles has a slight spell of obnoxious overzealousness about life and he and Frasier fight over where Christmas ought to be celebrated, which is complicated by Martin working on Christmas Day. As Frasier's career begins to become as stagnant as his love life - though he does date a gym teacher - a former CNN analyst, Julia Wilcox, arrives at KACL and puts everyone there on edge. When she begins having an affair with one of Frasier's friends, Frasier is shaken and finds himself troubled.

The tenth season of Frasier is remarkably erratic and fans are more likely to enjoy stories out of a sense of nostalgia than out of the actual quality of the episodes. So, for example, Lilith turns up for her annual episode (she's actually in two episodes this season) in "Lilith Needs A Favor" where she asks Frasier to donate sperm to help her have another child and Bebe resurfaces in "The Devil & Dr. Phil." But there are episodes which are tiresome even when they seem original. While "Enemy At The Gate" effectively holds almost the whole episode in Frasier's car as set-up for a hilarious punchline, "Proxy Prexy" is utterly predictable when Frasier, unable to win an election as condo board president, has Martin run instead and then controls him. Similarly, "Door Jam" seems entirely familiar as Niles and Frasier work to become members of an exclusive day spa's inner sanctums. The season has familiar styles of episodes, like farcical episodes ("Daphne Does Dinner") and episodes where Frasier does absolutely obnoxious things, even when his intent is good, like "Some Assembly Required."

Part of what makes the season so difficult to watch for fans of Frasier is the introduction (or continued and growing presence) of two terrible new characters. Felicity Huffman plays Julia, who is absolutely loathsome. While Huffman does an excellent job of playing Julia as horrible and off-putting, the character is so effectively rendered that the show becomes unpleasant in every scene she is in (though in "The Harassed," it is fun for seasoned viewers to see how Julia acts as a foil to Kate Costas from back in season three). But the one who truly turns the viewer's stomach is Gertrude. Having abandoned her husband in the prior season, Daphne's mother becomes a canker sore on the series. She is crass, obnoxious and utterly horrible, everything that Daphne foreshadowed her to be. And what is more troubling is how her continued presence lessens Niles and Daphne from smart, adult characters to troubled adults who act more like mewling children in her presence.

This is not to say the entire season is a loss: far from it. Frasier is solidly entertaining through most of the tenth season and the three-episode arc - "Bristle While You Work," "Rooms With A View," and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" - effectively toy with the formulas of the series. While "Bristle While You Work" might seem like a sitcom standard, it leads to the hospitalization of Niles and that episode is particularly impressive. "Rooms With A View" is heavily dramatic and illustrates the horror of waiting for medical results through Martin, Frasier, Roz and Daphne reliving significant moments in hospitals. "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" reminds viewers why Frasier was one of the smartest television shows to grace the small screen, when Frasier refuses to fight with Niles and Niles is nervous about returning to lovemaking with Daphne following his surgery. When it tries, it effectively usurps the expectations of viewers by creating a show that is more dramatic than comedic, but is not without laughs.

And there are laughable moments throughout the season, from the many marriages of Niles and Daphne in "The Ring Cycle" to the interplay between Noel and Frasier in "Star Mitzvah." Even "Fraternal Schwinns," which has Niles and Frasier learning to ride bicycles, has good use of physical comedy and the viewer will find themselves laughing pretty consistently, even if it is somewhat predictable.

But to get the most out of the tenth season of Frasier, it helps to understand just where the primary characters are this season. In this season, the principles are:

Dr. Frasier Crane - the renowned radio psychiatrist, who is irked to have time taken out of his program to make room for financial updates by the disgraced Julia Wilcox. He takes an ethical stand against a parking garage, runs the Elliot Bay Towers condo board through his father and tries to one-up Bulldog at pranks. After his son has his Bar Mitzvah, he finds himself in an ethical bind over creating another child with Lilith and he becomes obsessed with a secret day spa. He sets his heart on Julia, a gym teacher and he works to survive an encounter with Bebe, who is Dr. Phil's manager now,

Roz Doyle - Takes her cousin on a tour of Seattle and realizes she is no longer a teenager before sparring constantly with Julia. She and Martin continue to get along, but she and Frasier have a tense exchange over how much attention Frasier is paying to Julia. She has a professional opportunity which leads her to consider leaving Frasier for a much better job,

Martin Crane - Back at work as a security guard, he has to decide the Crane family's Christmas plans. He has some success with Eddie teaching safety to local elementary schools, but gets ill and has to have Niles stand in for him. He befriends Kenny and is thrilled when Niles takes up target shooting. He attempts to right a bank error and instead ends up with a lot of money. He questions whether Niles and Frasier are his children when Hester's old lab assistant arrives and has more in common with them. When he is forced to fire his choice for housekeeper, he begins cleaning the apartment himself,

Daphne Crane - Now married to Niles, she is plagued by her abusive mother's presence under their roof. Still, she and Niles decide to work on having a baby of their own. She is terrified of losing Niles when he gets ill and has a psychic flash of the future when she and Niles have their own babies. Like all Cranes, she throws a disastrous dinner party and finally resolves to kick her mother out of the house,

and Niles Crane - He supports Frasier during his brother's "sit in" before he is stricken with an abrupt and near-fatal heart condition. Recovering from that, he and Frasier fall in with caviar smugglers to try to raise their social position. When a new musician is installed at Cafe Nervosa, he and Frasier begin to search for a new coffeehouse. He continues to illustrate a passion for Daphne that is unmatched and he seems truly happy for the first time in the series.

Supplemental characters continue to make Frasier a well-rounded show and in this season, Bulldog has a wonderful time pranking Frasier in "Tales From The Crypt" (which features an absolutely terrible b-plot involving Gertrude fighting a child in Niles apartment building). Kenny gets two significant plots when Roz's cousin offers him a new lease on life and he goes to Frasier for counseling after his divorce becomes finalized.

On DVD, there are no bonus features, so fans of Frasier are likely to be let down by the boxed set for its absence of any goodies whatsoever. I know I was. Still, there is enough in Frasier The Tenth Season to enthusiastically recommend, even if some of its greatness has passed. It is a placeholding season preparing for the final season and in that regard, it sets up what comes next quite well.

For other comedy reviews, check out how I evaluated:
Family Guy – Volume 1
The Big Bang Theory – Season 3


For other television reviews, please visit my index page!

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

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