Tuesday, December 14, 2010

While Few People Were Looking, Frasier The Final Season Ends Superbly!

The Good: Funny, Great character development, Wonderful performances
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features, Issue with recurring characters
The Basics: With Frasier The Final Season, Frasier comes to a remarkable close on DVD with minimal extras.

As the year comes to an end, my wife and I are feeling a lot of sense of loss over what we watch together. As ridiculous as it may seem, when we get attached to characters on shows, we truly do get attached. Earlier this year, we watched all of Friends and I was unsurprised by how big a deal it was when we finished the series on DVD (I got it for her as a wedding gift, so this was an added component to her recollections of where she was in life when the series itself ended). While I had my hopes that she would enjoy Frasier (the whole series is reviewed here!), I had no idea how MUCH she would come to love the situational comedy that I had long enjoyed. So, when we slowed down our DVD viewing, it was with a cozy sense of melancholy that on Christmas night together we finished Frasier The Final Season. That’s Season 11 for those who actually follow such things, though the DVD packaging refers to it as the final season.

My love for Frasier came at a weird time and when the episodes were airing, there were a surprising number of episodes I had not seen until I managed to get the DVD set. In fact, it is only on DVD that one comes to realize just how tight the final season is. Unlike other seasons of Frasier (or of other television shows, for that matter), the writers and producers had a clear idea of where they wanted to go with the show and as a result, they plant the seeds for it rather early. I had seen the series finale, for example, but it wasn’t until I was watching the episodes that preceded it that I came to realize just how well the show had prepared viewers for the ultimate leap the series takes as it went off the air. It’s wonderful when a show is that well-constructed.

Unfortunately for the writers and producers of Frasier, where they had left the series at the climax of season ten meant they had to clean some things up. Do not read on if you want the surprise (it’s not honestly much of a surprise) of how the tenth season ended! Fans of the series had a feeling that elements from the tenth season that were left dangling would be resolved, but the speed at which they get tied up is somewhere between alarming and ridiculous to many fans, myself included. As a result, the final season actually starts off feeling like many of the other seasons of the show.

Having chosen Julia as a lover over Roz as a friend, Frasier finds himself scrambling to replace his producer. But after her first day at the rival radio station in Seattle, Roz finds herself absolutely miserable. Acting upon a sarcastic quip from Niles, Roz returns to KACL as if nothing had happened and soon “The Frasier Crane Show” is up and running well again. Frasier’s personal life, however, takes an abrupt turn when Julia meets the family and the dinner goes so poorly that he breaks up with her on the spot. In the process, Niles – who was worried about his low motility – discovers Daphne is pregnant with his baby and the family prepares for a new life. Frasier returns to the dating scene, but discovers that his former babysitter who has come back into his life is more interested in Martin than she is Frasier. This leads Roz to set Frasier up with an odious insurance adjustor who robs Frasier of a night with Ms. Right (literally, her name is Ms. Right!).

It is around this time that Maris resurfaces . . . as a murderer! On trial for killing her lover, Niles becomes a local celebrity, which makes Frasier jealous. Lilith returns, as does Frederick (who is anything but interested in spending Christmas with the good doctor) and in an act of rebellion, Niles accidentally gets Martin high with a pot brownie! Frasier’s first ex-wife shows up as well and in a practical joke, Frasier give Martin a heart attack. This leads Martin and Ronnie down an unexpected path. But as he becomes more unsatisfied with his work at KACL, Frasier succumbs to the services of a matchmaker, but finds himself falling for her instead! When Frasier falls in love with Charlotte, his matchmaker who is involved with an environmentalist, it truly changes his life.

Right off the bat, I have a real gripe with the eleventh season of Frasier for the recurring character of Ann. Ann is the insurance adjuster Roz sets Frasier up with who turns out to be exceptionally litigious. Ann is, arguably, the first realistically-proportioned character to pop up on Frasier. The problem I have with this is that she is also in the running (with Julia) for the character with the absolute worst personality the show ever created. She is noisy, mean and just obnoxious. Every frame she is on screen is unpleasant and it stinks that Frasier succumbs to the rather base stereotype of equating inner and outer beauty by illustrating that the “worst looking” (i.e. not Hollywood thin or classically beautiful) character (to show up in eleven years!) also possesses one of the worst personalities. By similar extension, Julia – who was played by Felicity Huffman, who landed her role on Desperate Housewives and had to be written out – goes from being a deeply sarcastic and irritable character to outright classless in her final appearance on the show. The writers did not continue the character well and as a result, fans were quite pleased to see her depart.

Conversely, Frasier The Final Season makes excellent use of the time it had remaining in the forms of Ronnie, Charlotte and her boyfriend Frank. The use of great guest stars Wendie Malick, Laura Linney and Aaron Eckhart, respectively, helps, but the roles are exceptionally well-written. Malick as Ronnie, especially, is able to pull off the part of a character so vital that she fits into the cast as if she had been there forever. Ronnie is a great addition to the character mix as she is a middle-aged woman who falls for Martin and has a real sense of humor about her place in Frasier and Niles’s lives. As well, she becomes a great source for character revelations: a joke she once played on Niles is arguably what led him to his compulsive cleaning!

What works as well is the show’s fearless nature about doing concept shows. The penultimate episode of the series, for example, takes the cast back through several different eras in the series. My partner initially groaned as “Crock Tales” began and it appeared to be a flashback episode, until she realized the “flashbacks” were actually new material! Similarly, in “Detours,” Frasier presents its final farcical episode when Frasier tries to drive Charlotte to a conference and his car dies, stranding them in a house with a dead body, hillbillies and the creepiest adult child to be shown on television in years! As well, the series is unafraid to present episodes that illustrate a deeper understanding of the psychology of the characters on the show. So in “Freudian Sleep,” each of the main characters has a dream or nightmare which reveals where they are in life and their insecurities about that. It’s a very smart episode (though a bit derivative of the M*A*S*H episode “Dreams”) and the characters are well-presented in it.

As usual, it helps to know who the characters are in a series and what their struggles are. In the final season of Frasier, the principles are:

Dr. Frasier Crane – Alone again after Julia insults everyone in his life, he finds himself tied to Ann when she hurts herself in his apartment. When he manages to rid himself of her, he struggles with boredom at his job. He and Lilith say a very real “good-bye” and he tries to relate to Frederick when his son visits for Christmas and has gone Goth! He and Niles compete less as Frasier prepares to be an uncle and Frasier starts to envy what Niles has with Daphne. He inadvertently dates a prominent – but very gay – theater director who offers him all the trappings of a life he wants . . . with an obvious catch. His chance at real love comes when he works with a matchmaker who is struggling through her own divorce and he finds himself more than smitten, but truly in love,

Roz Doyle – Unsatisfied with her new job, she immediately returns to KACL as Frasier’s producer, but starts to suffer ennui when the show begins to slow down. She gets a boyfriend who seems like he might be gay and ultimately finds herself still looking for the right man. As well, Frasier’s advice to Kenny to return to what makes him passionate (in this case, being a d.j.) leads Roz to a career opportunity that suits her,

Dr. Niles Crane – Now expecting a child with the love of his life, he is shocked when Maris’s new lover turns up dead . . . with a murder weapon Niles gave to her! He becomes less secure when he realizes what fatherhood might do to him, but after a brief (annoying) sympathetic pregnancy, he finds himself prepared and happy. This season, he becomes supportive of Frasier when Frasier makes a real effort to find love after Julia departs,

Daphne Crane – Thrilled that her mother is no longer living with her and Niles, they set about to get pregnant and soon discover she already is! Jealous when Niles starts giving Maris attention, she is part of Maris’s plan to flee the country, though she does not know it at the time. She gets moody as she gets further along and she begins to be afraid that Niles will leave her after the baby comes,

And Martin Crane – Competing with Frasier for Ronnie’s affections leaves him the victor and he does his best to impress Ronnie and her very conservative mother. He plays a practical joke on Frasier, which backfires when Frasier plays it back on him and scares him into a heart attack. This brings him and Ronnie closer and provides Frasier with an example of real love to follow to his next stage in life.

The acting on the show by this point is exceptionally honed and none of the performers do anything we have not seen from them before in terms of acting. That said, it is hard for fans to not tear up in the final scene Kelsey Grammar and Bebe Neuwirth share in “Guns ‘N Neuroses.” By that point, of course, both performers knew they were saying good-bye to their characters (arguably for the last time) and the scene is sad and sweet, just as the finale is.

Even so, the show is very funny, as well as a series of protracted “good-byes.” On DVD, “The Final Season” comes with two featurettes on the ending of the series and the final episode. This is underwhelming, but continues predictably the Paramount “F-U” to the fans by not giving them much value for their DVD buying dollar. This is, arguably, because they know fans who bought the other ten seasons are going to want to buy this boxed set, if for no other reason than to see how the show ends.

In this, at least, Paramount is right.

For the final seasons to other television series’, please check out my reviews of:
The West Wing – Season 7
Heroes – Season 4
Lost – Season 6


For other television reviews, please visit my index page!

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