Frasier: The Complete First Season Review
Dr. Frasier Crane first graced American TV screens back in 1984 when the popular sitcom Cheers! moved into its third year. After nine seasons where the eminent psychiatrist portrayed by Kelsey Grammer appeared as a secondary character to the likes of Sam and Diane, Cheers! came to an end but for every door that closes they say one is opened. In this case Kelsey Grammer and several of the minds behind Cheers! had been prepping a sitcom that would become known simply as Frasier, a show that would develop this character into the central role of a series so far removed from Cheers! that any connection made would only come through passing references to Frasier’s history.
To set up this new direction Frasier would undergo a divorce from his wife Lilith, leave his son Frederick to be raised by her while he returned to his home town of Seattle to start fresh. In doing so he also left behind his practice to become the host on a radio talk show, "The Frasier Crane Show" where he doles out psychiatric advice to local callers while earning a handsome salary and a newfound celebrity status in the process. Of course we the viewers do not see any of this initial transition, and nor do you need to be an advocate of his previous outing on Cheers! to understand the good doctors plight. This background story is instead relayed to you throughout this entire first series, while his new life that sees him surrounded by family and friends is played out in the forefront providing us with a great deal of laughs and entertainment in the process.
This fact (not needing to be familiar with Cheers!) is actually a very good thing, as I'm not. Yes I have seen numerous episodes from the eleven seasons of that show and am familiar with the various characters but were you to ask me to describe the Frasier character from Cheers! then I would be more than a little stumped as I remember very little of his endeavours due to the secondary nature of his role. The Frasier Crane we see in this, his very own series, is a meticulous man, well educated, successful and used to living a life of relative luxury. He is not a snob per se, and this is what makes him such an endearing character for we can appreciate the fact he enjoys the finer things in life all the more easier when we see him struggling to do so while he attempts to cater for his newly appointed housemate.
I am referring of course to his father, Martin Crane (John Mahoney), an ex-cop who suffers from a hip injury and requires care. The fly in the ointment however would be that Frasier and his father have never really seen eye-to-eye, for Martin is an all-American guy who enjoys the simple things in life including a hideous reclining chair that simply does not go with Frasier's chosen decor. Both are very set in their ways however and neither will budge, though Frasier is usually on the losing end of most arguments and must succumb to this new piece of furniture and even worse, Eddie, the cute Jack Russell that is Martin's best friend and Frasier's worst enemy.
Further introductions include Dr. Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce), Frasier's younger brother who is also a psychiatrist and though very much like Frasier in terms of lifestyle he could be referred to as a snob due to his eccentricities. Mannerisms such as cleaning off surfaces in a public place before sitting exemplify this, while his ability to accept more traditional ways of life are virtually nil, that is until he meets Daphne (Jane Leeves), Martin's new physical therapist whose job requires her to become a member of the Frasier Crane household. Daphne is a beautiful young English rose from the very heart of Manchester who along with Martin provides the grounding both Frasier and Niles require to function, though she too has her eccentricities including a psychic ability that is played more for laughs than anything, but also facilitates the writers when in need of moving the story along swiftly. Back to Niles though, from the moment he lays eyes on Daphne he is fixated by her beauty and soul and will go places and experience things he would never have dreamed of before if it means being in her presence. Her free spirited nature has captured his heart and you can certainly understand why, especially as he is married to Maris, a wife whose social tendencies and generally bizarre nature strikes fear into the hearts of both Frasier and Martin. Amazingly enough we never lay eyes on Maris, a stroke of genius on the creators part at it makes her something of a myth, one that grows through the tales told round a campfire!
Only one main character remains and that is Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin), the producer on Frasier’s radio show who is always looking for love but never has much luck in her pursuit. When not dating the wrong man she is Frasier's equal in the world outside of his own, and alongside Martin and Daphne is frequently the spark that makes him see the error of his ways when not dealing with those inhabiting the world he and Niles do.
These characters are brought to life through a fine cast lead by Kelsey Grammer, an actor who by the time Frasier started had already been playing the same roll on and off for nine years. Familiarity can result in complacency but through the stark change in setting and the characters surrounding Frasier his performance here is versatile and commanding, making him the star on his own merit, and not just because the show is named after his character. One great performance however is not enough to keep a show afloat for the eleven years Frasier has now been on the air, and the casting of Jane Leeves, John Mahoney and Peri Gilpin is simply put, spot on and only in some strange bastardized universe could I imagine anyone else in those roles.
But David Hyde Pierce, I have not forgotten him for he deserves a paragraph of his own. His portrayal of Niles is often masterful with incredible comedy timing and audience awareness that is only matched on set by Kelsey Grammer. The two make up for the lions share of each episodes running time and believing they are brothers on screen is often key to the shows success. Merely suggesting they make it work is an understatement, the way they bounce off each other, reminisce about old times and display quite genuine signs of sibling rivalry is a joy to watch. Furthermore Niles’ reactions around Daphne are downright hilarious, from breathing in her "heavenly aroma" to drifting off into a fantasy world following any hint of sexuality from her results in his contribution to the show never once being doubted.
Of course the actors rely on a script and the writing in this first season is very strong with sharp, witty dialogue that makes Opera and high class restaurants somehow funny. The plotting for a sitcom is also a cut above the rest with problems we see in everyday life elevated to the high class lifestyle status of Frasier and Niles and then brought straight back down to the basic principals we all reside by through Martin, Daphne and Roz. However, no show is perfect and this first season does suffer from signs of laziness with Daphne's hackneyed psychic abilities often used to further the plot several stages in just a few short seconds, while secondary characters are usually heavily stereotyped with repetitive 'trademark' gags for us to remember them by.
Stand out episodes in this first season can all be found in the second half where the cast and crew had really hit their stride. Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), Frasier's ex-wife returns in the imaginatively titled The Show Where Lilith Comes Back and after a superb entrance where she delivers a riveting recourse condemning Frasier's advice to a caller goes on to chastise Niles with frequently amusing comments. A Midwinter Night's Dream sees Niles overcome with jealousy as Daphne starts dating someone only to later find himself trapped alone with the woman of his dreams on a dark and thunderous night with only the candlelight casting a glow on the white nightdress she somehow ends up in. Frasier Crane's Day Off is another Niles heavy episode which sees Frasier struck down with a terrible fever and unable to work. Fearing for his timeslot he begs Niles take over his show and by using a little reverse psychology persuades him, only to find himself upstaged as Niles goes against all the odds and makes for a riveting host, much to Frasier's chagrin.
The final episode, My Coffee With Niles, is also worthy of mention. The events portrayed throughout Frasier predominantly take place in one of three locations, Frasier's sky rise apartment, the KACL radio station where he records his show or a Coffee House where the characters meet in-between their daily routines. For this episode however a bold step was taken and the entire show takes place in the coffee house, with both Frasier and Niles the centre of attention throughout while the other main characters all make an appearance at some stage. What the episode does with surprising ease given its relatively static location is prove to be engaging at all times while also reflecting on the year that has passed over the course of the first seasons time span, which is the year since Frasier took a new road in life. This not only wraps up the season perfectly but in going with the decision to keep the events which unfold to a single location, shows a great deal of faith is present in both the writers and actors ability to maintain audience interest.
All 24 episodes that make up the complete first season are spread across four discs presented in simple but attractive gatefold packaging.
Picture and Sound
Presented in the original Full Screen aspect ratio the transfer here is essentially up to broadcast standards of the times. The source prints are free of dirt and though shadow detail is somewhat lacking all other aspects of the transfer are quite pleasing with no real compression issues on display. On the audio side we have a perfectly clear but otherwise basic stereo mix that does the job it sets out to do.
A number of foreign languages are catered for with both audio and subtitle options as noted in the side panel to your right.
Menus and Extra Features
The menus across the four discs are static affairs utilising promotional group shots from the first season. This makes navigation quick and simple with the only drawback being the lack of a 'Play All' function.
For the Pilot episode you will find an Audio Commentary with Executive Producers/Creators Peter Casey and David Lee who provide some interesting anecdotes about the series and cover various decisions made during the shows creation. Unfortunately most of what is said here is then covered in greater detail in the featurette found on disc four, and considering they struggle to fill an entire episode with commentary I can understand why this is the only episode they bothered with.
Behind the Couch - The Making of Frasier is a 20 minute featurette recorded quite recently on set, so all the actors look a little older though thanks to their character makeovers you would hardly guess some ten years have passed. Along with the creators they all have some interesting insights to the show including how most of the cast were pre-approved while also covering what decisions were made to separate the show from Cheers!. On the whole this is informative but strictly of the watch-once variety.
Frasier Crane's Apartment is a menu-driven extra that takes you through still pictures of the apartment set. Here you can select 13 different objects which then take you to a brief video clip featuring Roy Christopher, the production designer who details where the object was sourced from and how it reflects on the characters. Despite being short I found these segments rather dull and the lack of a 'Play All' function (once again!) makes them a chore to select.
Celebrity Voices - Like many television series Frasier features guest stars, or in this case, guest voices for the call in show Frasier hosts. This bonus feature, present on each of the four discs compiles together the guest voice appearances from each of the episodes on the disc in question, into a single featurette with a name card appearing to let us know just who provides the voice.
Subtitle options for the bonus material are the same as the main feature, with the exception of the audio commentary which only offers subtitles in English, French and Spanish languages.
With an incredibly strong opening season Frasier is one of those shows I can literally watch repeatedly for hours on end as it frequently delights with its strong casting and always humorous dialogue. Even if you happen to find the show only half as entertaining as I do this still comes recommended, and at the time of writing the discounts available mean you can pick it up at ridiculously low prices making it a must buy for anyone with even the slightest interest.
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