Thanks to sharp writing and a pitch-perfect ensemble cast, Frasier
became one of the smartest and funniest television shows of the 1990s. Following the 1993 demise of Cheers
, Diane's fussy psychiatrist boyfriend, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), seemed an unlikely candidate for a spin-off series, yet the show earned smash ratings and dozens of Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actor (Grammer) in the very first season. In an inspired bit of casting, Grammer was matched with David Hyde Pierce as his brother and fellow psychiatrist Niles, and the rest of the players included his radio-program manager, Roz (Peri Gilpin), his father, Marty (John Mahoney), his father's physical therapist, Daphne (Jane Leeves), and the dog Eddie (Moose).
In the first season, Frasier and Marty try to learn how to coexist in the same apartment; Niles and Daphne spend a stormy evening in Niles's house; Frasier acquires pushy agent Bebe (Harriet Sansom Harris) and searches for love with Amanda Donohoe among others; his ex-wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) makes a guest appearance; the family takes a cross-country trip in a Winnebago; and the two brothers collaborate on a book.
Bonus features aren't spectacular, but are a cut above many similar DVD sets. Executive producers Peter Casey and David Lee provide a commentary track on the pilot episode. In a 20-minute making-of segment, they and the principal cast members discuss the creation of the show, casting (Lisa Kudrow was the other finalist for the character of Roz), and the mystery of the omni-absent Maris. "Frasier Crane's Apartment" looks at the set and props, and each disc spotlights a few of the celebrity voices that appeared as the radio show's callers. --David Horiuchi
Frasier picked up its second season with another round of comedy as intelligent as its pompous title character. Fortunately, the sniping between Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and his father, Marty (John Mahoney), that took up a lot of the first season is mostly past, and the crack ensemble was ready to roll in a number of memorable episodes. Frasier tries to set up Daphne (Jane Leeves) with the new station manager in "The Matchmaker," Frasier, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), and Marty go fishing in "Breaking the Ice," Frasier and Niles jump into politics in "The Candidate," the team of Frasier and Roz (Peri Gilpin) breaks up ("Roz in the Doghouse"), and Frasier and Niles open a restaurant in "The Innkeepers." It was Pierce's Niles who emerged as a star in the second season, lusting after Daphne, learning about parenthood in "Flour Child," and challenging a Bavarian fencer for the hand of his ever-absent wife, Maris, in the comic tour de force "An Affair to Forget." Pierce picked up a well-deserved first Emmy, and the show repeated its first-season Emmys for comedy series and lead actor. Frasier's dates included Jobeth Williams (whom he takes on a disastrous getaway to Bora Bora), Shannon Tweed, and Tea Leoni, and other guest stars were Nathan Lane and, from his original show, Cheers, Bebe Neuwirth and Ted Danson. --David Horiuchi
With this third season, Frasier scored an impressive hat trick, winning its third successive Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. You don't need too much analysis to get to the bottom of this unprecedented success. The series was a primetime oasis of wit and sophistication, with welcome forays into farce that pricked Frasier's bubble of pomposity. His priceless reactions to the assaults on his dignity are worthy of Jack Benny. Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) can be infuriating, as in "The Focus Group," in which he is obsessed with knowing why a lone focus group participant (guest star Tony Shalhoub) doesn't like him. But he is also endearing in his delusional view of himself as, in the words of one mocking bystander, a "man of the people." Frasier meets his match in new station owner Kate Costas (Oscar-winner Mercedes Ruehl). Their combative relationship turns to lust over the course of the first 10 episodes.
But the season's most pivotal story arc is the separation of Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Maris. "Moon Dance," which marked Grammer's directorial debut, is a series benchmark, as a crestfallen Niles tangos with his unrequited love, Daphne (Jane Leeves), at a high society ball. Not that the Crane family still doesn't have issues to work out. Frasier cannot abide being beaten at chess by Martin (John Mahoney) in "Chess Pains." Frasier and Niles ill-advisedly go into joint practice in "Shrink Rap," and find themselves on the opposite sides of a sanity hearing in "Crane vs. Crane." Lilith is sorely missed, but in this season's blast-from-the-past episode, Shelley Long returns in "The Show Where Diane Comes Back." It is a joy to see Cheers resurrected, if only in Diane's self-absorbed new play, which Frasier agrees to back. And any episode with Frasier's amoral agent Bebe (Harriet Sansom Harris) is must-see television. Frasier's humor was character-based, rather than topical, giving it a longer shelf life. For those who lament the end of one of television's gold standard series, this boxed set will be excellent therapy. --Donald Liebenson
Frasier's fourth season was mostly about relationships. Niles (David Hyde Pierce), now separated from Maris, is back on the market like his bachelor brother, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer). That's great when the pair goes to a cabin with a pair of fetching women (Megan Mullaly, later of Will and Grace, and Lisa Darr), but Niles is never able to completely dispel his attachment to his suffocating wife... or to Daphne (Jane Leeves). His obsession with the latter gets an immediate burst in the season's first episode, in which he has to masquerade as Daphne's husband, then later comes to a head when she appears at his apartment door asking to stay the night. The boys have the usual disputes with their father (John Mahoney), including their disdain for the former cop's new girlfriend, Sherry (Marsha Mason), the boisterous, banjo-twangin', "gotcha"-playing bartender who would remain a regular cast member through the end of the series. Ex-wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) makes her annual appearance, this time when she and Frasier try to get Frederick into an exclusive prep school. And the title character? As much as Frasier teases his producer Roz (Peri Gilpin) about her dating habits, he himself is lonely, leading him to a memorable airport encounter with guest star Linda Hamilton and a season finale that proves a kind of a harbinger to the series' final episode. This season made Frasier a perfect four-for-four at the Emmys, winning its fourth consecutive award for Outstanding Comedy Series. Unlike previous seasons, this DVD set has no bonus features. --David Horiuchi
Frasier's fifth season is marked by two central themes. First is Roz's (Peri Gilpin) unexpected pregnancy, which naturally opens the door for countless promiscuity jokes for the radio show's beleaguered producer. The second is the continuing drama of Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and his frosty wife, Maris, which seems to finally come to a head. Not that even a good marriage has ever kept Niles from pining for Daphne (Jane Leeves), of course. Frasier's (Kelsey Grammer) show is sailing along, and for the occasion of his 1000th show, is honored by the mayor for "Frasier Crane Day," which allows the cast to do some rare location shooting in Seattle. But he has some problems with KACL management, and the prospect of tough contract negotiations tempts him to return to the Dark Side, in the form of agent Bebe (Harriet Sansom Harris). His personal life continues to sputter, even when he meets a perfect woman (Sela Ward as a fashion model studying zoology, Lindsay Frost as a high-powered defense attorney). The annual guest appearance by ex-wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) comes with a bizarre twist, and his father (John Mahoney) comes to a critical point with his girlfriend (Marsha Mason). Frasier won its fifth consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, Grammer and Pierce won their third and second statuettes, respectively, and Patti Lupone was nominated for her guest appearance as Frasier's vengeful Greek aunt. --David Horiuchi
This is the pivotal season that finally, finally brings together Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves), Frasier's answer to Ross and Rachel. Daphne, engaged to Donny (Saul Rubinek), learns of Niles' unrequited feelings for her from an extremely medicated Frasier in "Back Talk." If Daphne's impending marriage was not obstacle enough to keep them apart, there is fussy, phobic, and formidable Dr. Mel Karnofsky (Jane Adams), Maris's former plastic surgeon, who is introduced in "The Late Dr. Crane" as a romantic interest for Niles. The season culminates in the Emmy-nominated episode "Something Borrowed, Someone Blue," arguably the show's very best, and most satisfying cliffhanger, in which Niles and Daphne make like Ben and Elaine in The Graduate, only in a Winnebago. Bebe Neuwirth makes another memorable return as the dread Lilith Crane in "The Apparent Trap," in which son Frederick employs psychological warfare to try and get a mini-bike from his parents. Episodes featuring Frasier's amoral agent Bebe Glaser (Harriet Samson Harris) are always a season highlight, and "Morning Becomes Entertainment" is no exception, as Bebe and Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) team up to host a TV morning chat show (who knew that Frasier had "a way with voices," as witness his Sean Connery and James Mason impressions!). Dan Butler also returns as Bulldog in the poignant episode "The Dog That Rocks the Cradle," A welcome addition to Frasier's gallery of colorful characters in Simon (Anthony LaPaglia in an Emmy-nominated performance), Daphne's besotted brother.
Frasier Crane is a witty and urbane New Yorker cartoon in a lewd, crude shock jock world. In the hilarious episode "Radio Wars," he literally becomes the butt of his radio station's new morning team's stunts. Frasier is also at odds with his substitute producer, Mary (Kim Coles), a you-go-girl black woman, in "Something About Dr. Mary." The series excelled at farce, and "RDWRER" is vintage Frasier, as the Crane men embark on a New Year's Eve road trip to Sun Valley, and Niles mistakenly thinks he's been kidnapped when he falls asleep in the wrong Winnebago. Another season benchmark is "Out with Dad," in which Frasier is compelled to pass off his father (John Mahoney) as gay. The lack of extras on this four-disc set is disappointing, but as wine snob Frasier might say, the seventh season was a very good year for the show that bears his name, and it's a pleasure to uncork its many delights. --Donald Liebenson
Seemingly not content to win all those Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, Frasier made a convincing bid in its eighth season for Best Drama. Make no mistake, Frasier still serves up its unique blend of sophisticated wit and farce with the usual panache. But season 8 finds Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) in a contemplative mood and mid-life crisis mode. The episode "Frasier's Edge" resonates throughout the season, as a lifetime achievement award and a suspect (only to Frasier) congratulatory note from a mentor sends him into a characteristic tailspin. "Thank you for honoring my life," a subdued Frasier remarks at the awards ceremony. "I just wish I knew what to do with the rest of it." It is just one of several powerful moments on which many of the season's best episodes fade out. In the season finale, Frasier finds himself torn between a new, "perfect" woman in his life, Claire (Patricia Clarkson), and the tempestuous Lana (Jean Smart reprising her Emmy-winning role, and winning her second consecutive statuette). In an affectionate phone call with Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), he asks, "Do you think I know how to be happy?" In the cleverly constructed "Sliding Frasiers," which takes its cue from the film Sliding Doors, parallel Valentines Day storylines illustrate how "the tiniest decision can change your whole destiny." In "Cranes Unplugged," Frasier feels like he and his son Freddy are growing apart, but on a predictably disastrous camping trip, they manage to share "a golden moment." John Mahoney, too, gives an Emmy-worthy performance in "A Day in May," as Martin attends a parole board hearing for the man who shot him.
But it's not all sturm and drang. "The Show Must Go Off" features an Emmy-winning performance by Derek Jacobi as a former Shakespearean actor Frasier rediscovers at a sci-fi convention and mounts a one-man show, only to discover that he is a talentless ham. In "Motor Skills," Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Frasier enroll in an automobile repair class and take on unaccustomed roles as the class bad boys. This season also resolves all the obstacles keeping Niles and Daphne (Jane Leeves) apart, including a lawsuit by jilted groom Donny (Saul Rubinek), the vindictive schemes of Niles's jilted fiancée, Mel (Jane Adams), and Niles and Daphne's own illusions about each other. For longtime viewers with an emotional investment in Frasier and company, this is a richly satisfying season worthy of this gold-standard series. --Donald Liebenson
After a distinguished run of Emmy-winning seasons, Frasier is, by its ninth season, in something of "a tiny lull" (as Frasier describes the state of his radio talk show career in the episode "Junior Agent") when its guest stars took home more Emmys than the much-decorated ensemble (Anthony LaPlaglia, reprising his role as Daphne's besotted brother, Simon, in the two-parter, "Mother Load"). But Frasier still shows signs of its usual brilliance in balancing farce and sparkling wit. After the hour-long season-opener, in which Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) explores his unhappy love life with the help of subconscious incarnations of Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), Diane (Shelley Long), and a hippy to whom Frasier was briefly married (who knew?; and where's Nanny G?), the series shakes off the melancholia of the previous season. The world still gets the best of Frasier and assaults his dignity, be it the driver of a Humvee who hems him in his parking space; his neighbor nemesis, Cam Winston (Brian Stokes Mitchell); or Lilith's con-artist brother (Michael Keaton), who, in "Wheel of Fortune," arouses Frasier's worst suspicions when he shows up at his doorstep in a wheelchair. But Frasier at long last emerges triumphant in "Juvenilia," in which he gets the best of three smarmy teen radio hosts subjecting him to a fierce on-air grilling.
Character developments this season include Roz (Peri Gilpin) falling in love with a garbage man (Tony Goldwyn), Niles (David Hyde Pierce) at last proposing to Daphne (Jane Leeves), Martin (John Mahoney) taking a job as a security guard, and Frasier and Roz sharing a one night stand. A series milestone, Frasier's 200th episode, features Adam Arkin as Frasier's most devoted (read "obsessive") fan. "Cheerful Goodbyes" reunites Grammer with Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, John Ratzenberger, and Paul Wilson from Cheers on the occasion of Cliff Claven's retirement. Other memorable guest star appearances include Tony-winner Kristin Chenoweth as "The Junior Agent," the inexperienced, but tenacious former assistant to Frasier's pit bull of an agent, Bebe (the always exquisite Harriet Sansom Harris), and Brian Cox as Daphne's father, whom Niles is determined to reunite with his estranged wife. Frasier's ninth, unlike Beethoven's, hits some off-key notes (happily, the character of Kirby, the slacker with the Sideshow Bob hair, is gone after this season), but when everything is in harmony (as in "Bla-Z-Boy," in which Martin's beloved chair is accidentally (?) destroyed), it's still capable of a classic or two. --Donald Liebenson
"Irritating, but endearing." That's Frasier Crane in a nutshell, as diagnosed by Julia Wilcox (an Emmy-worthy Felicity Huffman), KCAL's abrasive and condescending new financial analyst. That's a delicate balance, but Kelsey Grammer still manages it with the usual aplomb in Frasier's penultimate season. Grammer is at his best when his character is at his stubborn, high dudgeon worst, as in "Enemy at the Gate" when he causes a parking garage backup while protesting a $2 parking fee, trying to find a suitable new coffee shop after Café Nervosa hires a folk singer (Elvis Costello) in "Farewell, Nervosa," or, after scamming his way into becoming a silver level member at an exclusive health spa, "chasing the eternal carrot" of the gold level ("'Please remain in the relaxation grotto.' Have crueler words ever been spoken?") in "Door Jam." But he wins us over anew as he does the hard-hearted Julia with his insistence on doing the right thing and faith in the good in people.
Frasier's tenth season takes a dramatic turn early on with a three-episode arc in which Niles (David Hyde Pierce) undergoes heart surgery, but, much like Niles, the show rebounds quickly with more characteristic episodes such as the Emmy-nominated farce "Daphne Does Dinner," in which another Crane party hurtles toward disaster. In addition to Huffman, other memorable star turns this season include Millicent Martin as Daphne's impossible mother, Jeanne Tripplehorn as a coach whose berating of her students causes Frasier to conjure up hallucinations of his own former gym teacher, portrayed by Bob Hoskins. Bebe Neuwirth returns as Lilith, as does the magnificent Harriet Sansom Harris as Bebe Glazer, who shows up as Dr. Phil's agent (or is it just another Bebe scheme?) in "The Devil and Dr. Phil." There are throughout this season some wonderful play-it-again moments, such as the unwitting Frasier speaking Klingon at his son's bar mitzvah and invoking Sam Malone's classic, "Are you as turned on as I am" to bring a shouting match with Julia to an hilarious anti-climax ("No!" she screams disgustedly). A showdown between Roz (Peri Gilpin) and Julia doesn't make for the most compelling season finale, but because season 11 was previously released on DVD to coincide with the broadcast of the series finale, at least we don't have to wait to see how that turns out. --Donald Liebenson
Season Eleven - The Final Season
Midway through Frasier's redemptive final season (which earned Emmys for Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce), Martin Crane (John Mahoney) reassures his son, "Just when you think that you're in a rut and nothing exciting will ever happen again, pow, that's when it does." The same could have been said of Frasier's redemptive final season. Not that the multi-Emmy-honored series had ever really jumped the couch, but by its 11th season, it had lost some of its sparkle. And then, POW! Veteran Frasier writers Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan return to the fold. POW! Wendie Malick joins the seamless ensemble as brash lounge singer Ronee Lawrence, who becomes a love interest for Martin. POW! Daphne (Jane Leeves), underutilized since her marriage to Niles, becomes pregnant. POW! Frasier opens his own private practice. POW! Laura Linney guest stars as Charlotte, who becomes the hapless Frasier's own Miss Right. The series also benefited greatly from a stellar roster of character actors, who rose to the occasion of this gold standard series' final year. Penny Johnson (24), Sarah Silverman (School of Rock), and Dan "Homer Simpson" Castellaneta christen Frasier's couch in the episode, "The Return of Maris." Jennifer Tilly is at her ditzy, delectable best as a pick-up in "Miss Right Now." Laurie Metcalf replaces Emma Thompson as Frasier's first wife, children's entertainer Nanny G, in "Caught in the Act." Always welcome are Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith ("Guns 'N Neuroses") and Harriet Sansom Harris as Frasier's unscrupulous agent Bebe (the series finale, "Goodnight, Seattle").
But Frasier was never about stunt casting. It's the writing, stupid, which, actually, was anything but. Episodes such as "Boo," "The Doctor Is Out," "Coots and Ladders," and "Caught in the Act" recapture Frasier's unique blend of wit and farce. The series finale, in which relationships take a significant turn and Frasier finally breaks out of that rut to follow his heart, is as satisfying as fans could wish. --Donald Liebenson