An Ode to Frasier: Must-See Episodes

by thethreepennyguignol

So it’s come to this: an passionate soliloquy to my favourite show of all time. I watched Frasier over the summer of last year in a heat haze of hard work, sporadic depression, alcohol, cigarettes, and one very posh flat. I don’t hesitate in saying that this show changed my life. Underneath all that fabulously pretentious and sly humour lies a brilliantly clever, humane heart that delivers beautiful, sometimes painful truths wrapped up in twenty minutes of comic television. It’s utterly timeless, as close to flawless as makes no difference, and an absolute must-see for anyone, anywhere. Below, I’ve hunted out my favourite episodes from every season (and believe me, it was a battle of wills choosing the best), with links so you can enjoy them too. Please read, watch, and enjoy as much as I do. Forever and ever. Amen.

Season 1- My Coffee With Niles

A brilliant bottle episode that hinges around Frasier and his neurotic brother Niles talking about Frasier’s life since he moved from Boston (read: Cheers) to Seattle, My Coffee with Niles is as much a farcical, supporting-character peppered comedy of errors as it is a meditation on happiness. Co-opting on the amazing chemistry between Niles and Frasier, it’s centred, smart, and was the perfect way to end the stellar first season. A little melancholic without getting bogged down in schmaltz, this is a centrepiece for what the show is really about.

Season 2- The Innkeepers

I think Frasier gets written off as a show for uppity people, because it spends some much time lingering on the prententiousness of it’s lead characters. But it also spends a delicious amount of time undercutting and undermining everything they do. In this positively Shakesperean farce, Frasier and Niles buy a restaurant and everything goes predictably tits up in a barrage of quotable lines (“I’m not asking you to do anything that you wouldn’t do in your own home; now, Niles, kill five eels!”) and brilliant physical comedy. One of the most outrightly humourous episodes of the series’ run, this is an episode I show to anyone I want to like the show and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Season 3-Moon Dance

A long-running thread in the show is Nile’s obsession with his father’s physical therapist Daphne and in this episode, the first Kelsey Grammar (who plays Frasier) ever directed, things come to a quiet, understated head (not that I’d know anything about quiet, understated head, but still). It’s lusciously shot, terribly romantic, and gives David Hyde Pierce as Niles and Janes Leeves as Daphne a chance to really get their teeth into that taunting chemistry.

Season 4-The Unnatural

Well, I couldn’t write a list of this nature and not include a great episode for Bulldog, the mysoginstic, creepy, innapropriate, arrogant, and utterly brilliant sports newscaster from Frasier’s radio station. Played by Dan Butler (who-and let me finish- is a Shakespearean actor by profession), this isn’t just a great episode for him, but an interesting meditation on fatherhood as Frasier faces letting his son down for the first time. With lots of great bits for John Mahoney’s curmudgeonly Martin (HOW DID HE NOT GET AN EMMY? FUCKING HOW?), it’s a sweet, carefully pitched episode (excuse the pun) that’s not short on the blisteringly quick humour you’ll be used to at this point.

Season 5- The Gift Horse

This is one of my solid favourite episodes, purely because it does that fantastic ermotional bait-and-switch that Frasier has just got down better than any other sitcom ever has. What starts out as a quick-fire, throwaway episode about the rivalry between Frasier and Niles for their father’s affection ends in a poignant gut-punch that’s sold by one of John Mahoney’s most affecting performances. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll change your life.

Season 6- Three Valentines

The Valentine’s Day episodes on Frasier are traditionally a high point, but this remains one of their most ambitious and effective. Split into three parts- each one following the Valentine’s day of the main characters- it kicks off with a hilarious, almost-silent physicla comedy sequence that’s worth watching in and of itself thanks to David Hyde Pierce’s amazing blundering. What follows- Frasier’s panicky misinterpretation of what could or could not be a date and Martin and Daphne having what’s meant to be a nice dinner- is just as funny, proving that the show understood it’s performers and knew how to get the very best out of them, comedically speaking.

Season 7- RDWRER

A Christmas/New Year’s episode this time around, with Frasier, Niles and Martin ending up stuck in a Winnebago on a cross-country tour as the bells chime. The exploration of the father/sons relationship is one of the consistently strongest point on Frasier, and RDWRER is one of their finest episodes in that vein. Blisteringly sharp, with a warm but not soft emotional core, this is how you do family comedy on television. Take note, literally everyone ever.

Season 8- And The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon, Parts 1 and 2

Am I cheating by putting a two-parter in this list? Get used to it. In the aftermath of a Very Important Event which I won’t ruin for those who haven’t seen the series and have somehow avoided spoilers for more than twenty years, the Crane family and friends attempt to collect themselves and deal with the painful, sad, but ultimately hopeful aftermath. Can we just all give Jane Leeves a collective hug for her performance here? Frasier and Martin take a backseat in the best possible way as Niles and Daphne take centre stage, to great effect.

Season 9- Don Juan in Hell, parts 1 and 2

See, I told you you’d have to get used to it. This, the climax to a season-long arc that had Frasier questioning himself, is basically a self-indulgent excuse to climb inside the head of one of the most engaging lead characters on TV. Frasier locks himself up in a cabin, and has a chat with all the significant women from his past (including the amazing Lilith) in what has to be one of the most meta episodes ever created before meta was even a thing.
Season 10-rooms with a View
When one of the Crane clan has to face a life-changing operation, the rest of the family flocks down to support them, and find themselves relieving their significant hospital-related memories. Does that sound ridiculous? Good, then at least this is going to outdo your expectations. By turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, it’s an episode that refuses to wallow in it’s tragedy and fights through to a sweet and well-earned climax. John Mahoney kills it when he’s not even facing the camera in what has to be one of the saddest moments of the series run.
Season 11- Goodnight, Seattle parts 1 and 2
What else could be here except the finale? It’s one of the finer TV finales to ever grace the small screen; I touched on it in my How I Met Your Mother rant, but that doesn’t do it justice. It offers no real answers, but promises that whatever these characters will do once the cameras switch off for the last time they will be happy. And that’s all you want from them at this point.