Greatest TV Characters - Niles Crane from Frasier
Our latest Greatest TV Characters feature, looks the neurotic, loveable brother of Frasier Crane; David Hyde Pierce's Niles Crane from Frasier.
Perhaps David Hyde Pierce, the actor who brought him to life, said it best when he described Niles as "what Frasier would be if he had never gone to Boston and never been exposed to the people at Cheers."
Joining a show opposite a character and actor in Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier who had become iconic in American households over the past decade was always going to be a gargantuan task but it’s testament to the strength of Niles that he managed to stand out. They were both accomplished men, both psychiatrists, both interested in the finer things in life (“Sherry, Niles?”) but with key differences: ironically for a man in his profession, Niles was a neurotic mess, particularly when it came to cleanliness, frequently wiping his hands after touching another person; he was more sensitive than his older brother and, somehow, more pretentious.
With his first wife Maris, Niles was obsessed with climbing Seattle’s social ladder and seemingly attended a theatre or party function every night of the week. Unsurprisingly, much comedy was derived from his childish competition with Frasier over everything they did; two Mensa esteemed middle-aged men with extraordinary IQ’s reverting back to the playground.
Ross and Rachel of Friends undoubtedly dominate discussion of the best sitcom relationship of the 1990’s but Niles eventual love with Daphne has its merits. Indeed, the character was defined throughout the show’s run by his intimate relationships. Starting off with the unseen but domineering presence Maris, Niles attended to her every need, despite being treated pretty terribly. He received no affection or respect from her but continued in the relationship for far too long.
After finally successfully divorcing Maris, the haughty Mel followed. They fall in love prematurely, elope, before Niles finally admits his love for Daphne the night before her wedding to Donny. The manipulative Mel then forces poor Niles to remain in their marriage to keep up appearances before he explodes one night at a party, ending the sham. From the first moment Niles laid eyes on her, his infatuation with Daphne was obvious. Niles had to suffer the torture of seeing her date numerous men, clearly unfit for her, as he remained stuck with incompatible women.
When they get together finally in the seventh season, it was both a huge source of satisfaction for the characters and fans of the show. They were polar opposites in personality - he’s reserved and intellectual, she’s temperamental and down-to-earth - but as a couple it works. By the show’s finale, Niles has found the love of his life and is married with a son, David. It’s a rewarding transformation for the meek and ineffectual character that we first meet all those seasons ago.
Why He Is Such A Great Character
Frasier Crane may have been the reason for the spin-off from Cheers but soon Niles became arguably the centre of the show. It was his relationship with Daphne that we were all rooting for and his long-term pursuit of her was the underlying storyline of it all. Niles evolved more than his brother, moving from Maris to Daphne, depression to elation, as discussed, but he also developed an emotional bond with his father Martin when he begun the show not even wanting his father to stay at his house.
Niles was incredibly quick-witted, leading to some of the show’s most memorable lines over his regular coffee meetings with his brother at Cafe Nervosa but his slight build and wimpiness often led him into comical physical situations. Niles, together with Frasier, was so good that when Pierce and Grammer essentially played the same duo in The Simpsons as Cecil and Sideshow Bob, the humour was still hilarious. Pierce also won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor four times, a testament to his performance in creating an icon of sitcom history. Niles, we’ll visit your therapist office anytime.
"Oh yes, I just haven’t done a lot of basketballing."
"I had my “fear of abandonment” workshop today and I’ve already been a no-show twice."
"Maris never held hands. She had a slight webbing - made her self-conscious."
"Oh, shut up, Frasier! The only thing more hollow than your protest of innocence is your big fat head!"