7 Things: My Favorite Episodes #2 – Frasier

When Frasier ended, two of the show’s writer-producers went on to make a short-lived sitcom called Out of Practice. Had Out of Practice remained on the air for more than half a season, I do believe it would have become my favorite sitcom of all time. As it stands, though, Frasier holds that position. Over Designing Women. Which, for me, is really saying something. Because I am a firm believer that there is no life situation that cannot be summed up with a Designing Women analogy.

To be fair, I can’t say for certain that Out of Practice would have overtaken Frasier in excellence, because the single season worth of episodes that exist of Out of Practice relied heavily on those things that made Frasier’s greatest episodes – fall-out-of-your-seat-laughing ensemble work and comedies of errors. In fact, the two best episodes of Out of Practice used similar devices to some of Frasier’s finest episodes. If it had lasted more than a season, it may well have run out of tricks. Unlike Frasier.

Counting down my favorite episodes from Frasier. Some of the best writing. Some of the best moments. The best overall. Per me.

Of course, there will be a few spoilers.

7 – Back Talk 7.10

Confusion surrounding true (you know, fictionally true, not reality true) events – misattributed characteristics and mistaken identities – is a Frasier hallmark. And they do it better than any show in the history of ever. One of the least brilliant instances of this on Frasier still comes in as one of the show’s finest episodes.

Frasier’s brother Niles is head-over-heels for Daphne. That’s not a spoiler. It starts in the pilot. And, for seven years, Daphne manages not to know. To the writers’ credit, this comes across as totally believable.

After six and a half seasons, through a series of events and miscommunications, Daphne comes to believe that Frasier is the Crane brother in love with her. She gets awkward around Frasier, Frasier gets drugged out on pain medication, and it all leads back to the truth.

Everything the audience ultimately wants. Entirely convoluted. Classic sitcom.

6 – Halloween 5.3

Like Back Talk, Halloween is largely a comedy of errors. Roz, Frasier’s producer and close friend, thinks she’s pregnant. She wants to keep things under wraps, but a series of misunderstandings lead to some people knowing that she may be pregnant and others – namely Niles – believing that Daphne is pregnant. With Frasier’s child.

Of course, also as in Back Talk, the truth comes out eventually. In the most public possible way.

When it comes down to it, Halloween has the same things going for it as Back Talk, but incorporates costumes for our viewing pleasure.

5 – Something Borrowed, Someone Blue 7.23 & 7.24

Seven seasons is a whole lot of episodes to keep a destined TV couple apart. The Frasier writing staff did a brilliant job of introducing obstacles to the Niles and Daphne relationship that seemed both realistic and absurd at the same time.

And it all comes down to this.

Niles has just gotten married. Daphne is supposed to be getting married. It’s all about to go by way of ‘what could have been’. Then, Frasier meddles and convinces Niles to tell Daphne how he feels. A lot of minutes tick by before he gets the chance, and an anxious watcher might very well be taking every-few-second glances at the clock. Then, it’s all nervous and cute and a damn good TV kiss.

What makes this episode so brilliant is that it knows when to take itself seriously. It’s been seven seasons and, for a few minutes, all really does seem lost. In the last bit, the writers drop the comedy level and play it as straight as a sitcom allows.

And it’s excellent.

4 – Star Mitzvah 10.6

Though, to some extent, Frasier was past its prime in its final seasons, as so many shows tend to be, the writers did manage to squeeze a few brilliant episodes from those last couple of years. Of those rare gems, this episode from the penultimate season tops the list.

Frasier wants to give a blessing in Hebrew at his son’s bar mitzvah. His colleague, Noel, knows the language and agrees to teach Frasier the blessing if Frasier will get him an autograph at a Sci-Fi convention. Frasier doesn’t come through, but Noel does. In his own special way. He also speaks Klingon, and Frasier ends up giving a blessing that no bar mitzvah attendee will ever forget.

As far as flat-out funny goes, this episode comes in high. It’s the reactions of Frasier’s son, though, that carries it home.

3 – An Affair to Forget 2.21

The number of times that I have watched episodes three through one on this list is simply pathetic. And I still laugh every single time. If I need a pick-me-up, any one of these episodes is like a mood elixir. They are that fucking funny.

In this outing, Niles believes that his wife, the never-seen, but oft-described Maris, is having an affair with her fencing instructor. There’s a frigate joke that we all should have come up with, but didn’t, and a fencing joke that couldn’t have possibly been better delivered. Just when you think the episode can’t get funnier, though, there is a three-language bit (or is it four?) that takes your breath for laughing.

If you watch the clip below from 2:30 to 4:15, and start again at 5:50, you’ll get the best of it and skip the backing music.

2 – The Two Mrs. Cranes 4.1

Frasier is always at its finest when it uses its entire ensemble. And a brilliant ensemble it managed to put together.

The Two Mrs. Cranes takes the core cast and throws them into the greatest set-up of all eleven seasons. In the episode, nothing gets mistaken by accident. Instead, the main players intentionally deceive Daphne’s visiting good-for-nothing ex-fiance, who has returned to declare his undying love for her. They invent a story that becomes a bigger and bigger web of lies, growing more intricate when Frasier and Niles’ father Martin decides to have some fun with his new anything-goes identity and pulls an unsuspecting Roz into the fold.

It’s when they all discover that Daphne’s ex-fiance is no longer a good-for-nothing, though, and she and Roz realize he’s quite a catch that the sparks – and the jokes – really start to fly.

Aside from the absolutely hysterical plot and writing, this episode has the benefit of some exceptional comedic acting. Kelsey Grammer’s reaction shots are some of the funniest moments of the episode.

1 – Ham Radio 4.18

Just as The Two Mrs. Cranes brought the main cast together, Ham Radio brought the entire Frasier ensemble – and then some – together in an episode that was damn near perfection. Frasier is directing a radio drama for the radio station’s anniversary, and he needs most of the extended cast to take a part. They do, and one of the funniest ten minutes of script ever put to paper goes down in TV history.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ham Radio is that, with the exception of a few hysterical cutaways to Daphne and Martin listening to the drama on the radio, the entire second half of the episode is spent in the recording studio, with the majority of the time dedicated to the radio drama itself. And if you think you can imagine how funny a few good comedy writers could make such a premise, but you haven’t seen Ham Radio, I can almost assure you that you haven’t thought up every trick in the book. But the Frasier writers  did, and, aided by some seriously spot-on acting, the genius of their writing sparkles on that little screen.

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