Friday, December 3, 2010

The Seventh Season Of Frasier Starts And Ends Well (With A Mediocre Middle)!

The Good: Very funny, Exceptional character development, Good acting
The Bad: Acting seems familiar, No DVD bonus features
The Basics: With just enough to enthusiastically recommend it, the erratic seventh season of Frasier ends with enough to compel viewers to keep coming back!

As a show progresses on television for several years, it often hits a point where it is arguably not as fresh as it once was. With Frasier, there’s an odd hump in the seventh season of the program where the show plods along in a familiar fashion, then takes a strong right turn. At that point, the series reinvents itself even as it struggles to find its footing. As a result, the seventh season of Frasier is a little more erratic than those that preceded it. Even so, it is a pretty wonderful season of television and as it becomes more serialized, it sets up for a very different direction in the seasons that follow it.

The ironic thing is that in the seventh season of Frasier, the show focuses less on the title character and it is in this season that Dr. Frasier Crane finally becomes an empathetic character. Up until now in the series, Dr. Frasier Crane has been arguably one of the least likable characters on the show, with his brother Niles more often garnering moments of “Oh, poor Niles!” than anything as emotional from the audience for the show’s lead protagonist. Here, though, both Niles and Frasier begin to have great character arcs that make the viewer care about both of them. And it is in this season that the big secret that has been held for years finally comes out. Yes, Daphne – now engaged to lawyer Donnie Douglas – finds out that Niles is in love with her!

The seventh season opens with an unsettling episode where Frasier dates a woman who is the spitting image of his mother and only he does not seem to realize it! With plans for their wedding escalating, Daphne and Donnie are thrilled when Frasier accidentally offers to pay for the wedding, which allows Daphne to get out from under her mother’s oppressive thumb. Niles begins dating, starting with an escort and then Maris’s plastic surgeon. Roz, in the meantime, finds herself drawn to the least likely person and Frederick, Frasier’s son, schemes to get Frasier and Lilith back together. And after getting a Winnebago, Martin takes the boys on the road for the Millennial New Year.

But when Frasier gets ill, Daphne gives him a painkiller and in the process, Frasier blurts out that Niles is in love with Daphne and has been for years. This puts Daphne at the forefront as she wrestles with her own feelings for Niles. This takes a turn for the horrible as Daphne – still engaged to Donnie and rapidly moving toward her own wedding – realizes she does have feelings for Niles. But on the verge of her telling him how she feels, Niles returns from a vacation with a surprise of his own that changes everything again!

In the process of getting to where the season is going – Daphne’s wedding to Donnie – the show has moments where it feels like the wheels are spinning. Take, for example, “Everyone’s A Critic,” where Niles lands a job as a critic. This feels largely familiar when Frasier becomes so jealous, he tries to get the new station owner’s daughter to get him a second show on KACL, despite the fact that he despises her. And while Frasier goes round and round with his neighbor, Regan, for a relationship, when it finally comes time for the show to do something about the near misses, it fizzles. “Rivals” is a pretty standard Frasier farce – which was novel at the show’s beginning, but now seems to be one of the standards the series falls back on when they are aching – and it leaves both Niles and Frasier in a place where they do not grow or evolve and the audience feels cheated.

This is not to say the season is by any means a disappointment. Episodes like “Dark Side Of The Moon” are arguably perfect episodes and as Daphne finds herself on the therapy couch, the viewer is treated to a real look inside her psyche for the first time. It also salvages the sense of serialization for the end of the season as Daphne learning of Niles’s feelings could mean absolutely nothing. It is only in “Dark Side Of The Moon” and an earlier episode where the resolution to the season becomes reasonably foreshadowed.

The nice thing about the seventh season of Frasier is that the show seemed to realize that they were in the process of reinventing themselves. As a result, they begin to introduce new characters, even as some others make their departures. Bulldog tries to let go of Roz after he becomes Alice’s babysitter and uses his proximity to try to actually build a relationship with her. This becomes his only episode of the season, but added to the mix are Regan, Poppy (briefly) , and “Dr.” Mary and Lorna Lynly who both show up in later seasons.

What makes Frasier work this late in the series is that the characters continue to develop. As a result, it helps to know who the principles are and where they are headed. In the seventh season, the regulars are:

Dr. Frasier Crane – In a rut back at KACL, he finds himself annoyed by the new station owner’s daughter and often missing his chance to be close with his new neighbor, Regan. He and Lilith team up to thwart Frederick’s attempt to get them back together (or get a bike) and he tries to throw a big Christmas party to upstage his upstairs neighbor. He accidentally lets slip Niles’s secret (when drugged) and competes with Niles to become the corkmaster of their wine club. His meddling leads him to talk to both Niles and Daphne as Daphne’s wedding day arrives,

Martin Crane – When the boys think they are related to the tsars, it is his old clock that he cashes in to buy a Winnebago and it is in that the three spend the Millennial New Year. Advising Frasier not to meddle with Daphne or Niles, he comes to accept the new addition to his family, even though he is not thrilled about it. When Frasier finds himself attracted to a woman and needing some time alone with her, he poses as gay to give Fraiser a real chance. He begins to bond instantly with Daphne’s slovenly brother, Simon,

Daphne Moon – Given a greater part than ever, she begins to be focused on as her wedding to Donnie Douglas approaches. Excited when she gets the chance to plan her own wedding, she soon stands up to Frasier for meddling like her mother does. But when she learns of the feelings Niles has for her, she is forced into a real moral dillemma and compelled to do some soul searching, even if it is the courts that make her!,

Roz Doyle – Raising Alice on her own begins to bring her fulfillment. Still, she becomes infatuated with the less slimey (though equally-manipulative) Bulldog and she has a weekend with Frasier where she goes blonde and they almost have a romantic relationship. She gets antsy when Frasier pulls a stunt for a television deal which might leave her unemployed and she becomes a better friend to Daphne as Daphne’s wedding approaches,

And Niles Crane – His crush of over six years exposed and the woman he love off to marry someone else, he tries his best to move on. He focuses his energies on Poppy and then on Maris’s plastic surgeon, Mel Karnofsky and the most unlikely advice from Frasier prompts him to make a radical change in his life. Just as Niles is manipulated by Frasier, he also finds himself being worked by Mel!

In addition to wonderful character development, the seventh season of Frasier has great acting. In addition to recurring roles by Saul Rubinek and Jane Adams (Donnie and Mel), Frasier makes much better use out of Jane Leeves in this season than in prior ones. Leeves is given a chance to emote as opposed to just bitterly deliver punchlines and she proves her worth time and time again. And as she is given more opportunities, the cast does a great job of giving Rubinek and Adams a place to play so their characters begin to seem equally vital.

For the first time in the series, Kelsey Grammer is given real opportunities for the viewer to care about his character. Grammer plays Fraiser as enthusiastic when he goes overboard for a theme song but also as hapless and likable as Frasier stumbles around trying to impress Regan. It is David Hyde Pierce, though, who once again steals the show as Niles and with his secret out, he is given the chance to stretch in different directions. Always a master of physical comedy, Pierce keeps Niles awkward and strangely vibrant and when called upon, he delivers some of the season’s best dramatic moments.

Unfortunately for fans, there are no DVD bonus features in this boxed set, so there is little to recommend the DVD outside having it and being able to watch it whenever one wants. This is unfortunately chintzy of CBS Home Video (Paramount) and is something of a slap in the face to fans of this wonderful show.

Still, there is plenty to love about Frasier and the seventh season is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection.

For other shows that air(ed) on NBC, please check out my reviews of:
30 Rock – Season 1
The West Wing
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Star Trek


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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