Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Was ever a sitcom so funny for so long as Frasier?

I found a cache of complete episodes of Frasier on You Tube. Once I start I can't stop. One's too many and a hundred aren't enough. It gives new pleasure every time. A load of new things struck me this time around.

  • In every respect but their sexual orientation and the fact they're brothers, Frasier and Niles are a gay couple.
  • For all its fine talk British comedy has never come up with anything half as sophisticated as Frasier.
  • I think it was Andrew Collins who told me that in situation comedy character serves plot whereas in literature plot serves character. That's true. Once you've bought the idea of Daphne acting as the saucy maid you're prepared to overlook the fact that she's introduced as "Dad's physical therapist". 
  • The depiction of radio is ludicrous but you forgive it.
  • The set was said to be the most expensive in television. It was worth it.
  • Of course the script's good but what makes it brilliant is the acting. It's the energy and the precision of the business - a great deal of which, particularly in Niles's case, is physical - that makes it sing. The cast is even secure enough to let occasional guest turns like Bebe Neuwirth as Frasier's ex Lillith and Harriet Sansom Harris as his satanic agent Bebe Glazer (above) steal the show. ("Don't look her in the eyes, Roz!")

They did 11 seasons. That's a total of 264 episodes. It wasn't as funny at the end as it was in its purple patch but it was still funnier than most. Amazing.


  1. I have this theory Frasier is the best 'British' sitcom ever made. Everything supposed to be good about British comedy is there in spades: the obsession with class, irony, sarcasm, pretension, repression of true feelings, and a good dose of smutty innuendo.

    And a primetime US hit when the best the UK could manage in a similar timeslot was My Family. Which, if I remember correctly, was produced as an attempt to bring US-style show-running to the UK...

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  3. You're right legal_man -- Joe Keenan wrote a lot of Frasier, and when he started he couldn't believe that Niles wasn't really gay. One of his episodes involves a friend of Frasier's from London assuming he is.

    Keenan got the job on the show, I think after being approached on the strength of a couple of novels he'd written -- Wodehousian romps set in wealthy gay New York. They're pretty good too.

  4. Part of the genius of Frasier is the characterisation of Niles; and, of course, the playing of Niles by David Hyde Pierce. A British sitcom would have given Frasier a slovenly brother and waited for the look-they're-opposites! jokes to pile up. But allowing Martin to fulfil that function, and pairing Frasier with someone who can outflank him on the prissiness and pretensions, is what really makes the show fly.

    The show has occasional fun with hinting that both Frasier and Niles might be gay. One of the creators, and at least one of the show's most significant writers, are gay, so I don't think it was accidental.

  5. Interestingly we've just finished watching all 11 seasons of Cheers; from # 8 onwards it's blindingly obvious that Frasier had a spin-off in him. If they'd run with Ted Danson/Sam it would have hit the skids before the second episode. And, unlike Cheers, Frasier never once jumped the shark. Even after Niles hooked up with Daphne.

  6. "In every respect but their sexual orientation and the fact they're brothers, Frasier and Niles are a gay couple."

    I don't know that we have to specify gay here really - they're a just a couple. They remind me of Hattie and Eric in Sykes (again, siblings). Its a joy to see these permanent and complicated relationships at the centre of a sitcom.

  7. It really took a dive after Niles and Daphne got together though. That's the death of most US sitcoms, they turn into soap operas.

  8. Agreed, the ensemble acting is superb and often the nearest thing we have to contemporary farce. I have every episode on file and watch one or two every week or two. In a year or so I'll have got to the end at which point I'll start watching them again; I'm old enough now to forget some of the storylines.

    It probably went on a season too long and I wish that they'd feature more of the radio station's characters (crowded out by star salaries?)

    favourite episodes: 2/3 The Matchmaker and 3/11 The Friend but really just take your pick.

  9. I particularly enjoyed your observation that Frasier and Niles are a gay couple in every respect other than being gay, or a couple.

    I hadn't seen Frasier for years until a recent stay at a hotel at the behest of my employer saw me tuning into Channel 4 in the morning while waiting for a taxi. I think I only saw the first five or six series (I eschew the term 'season') back in the day, but it was a joy for a while.

    Surprised to read that it outdid M*A*S*H for longevity (same number of series, but a few more episodes).

  10. I may not be British or even American (Indian in fact) but I love love love this show! Just yesterday I saw the one where they do a radio horror play and i was literally rolling in the floor with laughter. (I am watching the series second time around and have nothing but praises to sing). Amazing acting. amazing script and perfect delivery! So glad that I came across this series! Kudos to everyone associated with this wonderful sitcom!