Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone? -James Thurber
Question #89566 posted on 04/30/2017 1:24 a.m.
Q:

Dear Humble Master and other Frasier Fans,

OK, I feel like no one I know knows Frasier, and I just realized how many fans there are among the Board alumni writership. So let's do some favorites:

1) Top 5 favorite episodes?
2) Favorite character?
3) Favorite segments/clips/running gags/etc.?
4) Anything else you want to say?

Hoping to get some good activity on this one,

Inquisitive Idiot

A:

Dear Inquisitive Idiot,

I really love Frasier. Unfortunately I don't have the time before alumni week ends tonight to go through all the possible Frasier episodes to find my favorites, but I will tell you that my favorite character is Niles, hands down, and my favorite clip is the opening to "Three Valentines" when Niles is ironing and, having fainted, almost burns the place down. The whole scene is played all without saying a word and it's magic. I have probably seen it 20 times and I still laugh like a maniac every time.

Something and something and something and buttons and bowwwwwwws,

The Black Sheep

A:

Dear Inquisitive Idiot,

This is the single greatest question in the history of the Board. And I don't mean as far as I'm concerned. I meant that statement as objective fact.

So, when Humble Sister and I were working Frasier: A Culture History we had to include a plot summary and a star-ranking of every single episode of the series. You'd think that would make it easy to rattle off the top 5 episodes, but no, there were a lot of 4-star episodes in our 4-star rankings. This is not to say that every episode of the series is great, every season had at least one dud episode, but it hit the peak of quality a lot across eleven seasons.

1) So here are the five episodes that popped into my head first when you asked the question:

  1. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" (S6E10)
  2. "The Matchmaker" (S2E3)
  3. "The Ski Lodge" (S5E14)
  4. "The Seal Who Came to Dinner" (S6E8)
  5. "The Two Mrs. Cranes" (S4E1)

And a whole bunch of episodes I also thought of immediately after those five:

  • "The Innkeepers" (S2E23)
  • "Halloween" (S5E3)
  • "Ham Radio" (S4E18)
  • "High Holidays" (S11E11)
  • "The Doctor is Out" (S11E3)
  • "Moon Dance" (S3E21))
  • "Voyage of the Damned" (S5E6)
  • "Where There's Smoke, There's Fired" (S3E21)
  • "Mixed Doubles" (S4E6)
  • "Frasier's Imaginary Friend" (S5E1)
  • "Three Valentines" (S6E14)
  • "A Tsar is Born" (S7E7)
  • "Out with Dad" (S7E15)

Now most of those are farces, and I love a good Frasier farce more than almost any other episode of television. But it's worth noting some other brilliant episodes that have nothing to do with farce. "Dinner at Eight" (S1E3) is the third episode of the series and brilliantly sets up the class divide that will be a primary source of humor for the next eleven seasons (and is not afraid to allow some real emotion, too). 

2) Niles (obviously). David Hyde Pierce was nominated for eleven straight Emmy awards, and yet his comic genius is still underappreciated. 

3) The two long story arcs of Niles/Daphne's romantic relationship and Frasier/Martin's filial relationship are worth investing in all eleven seasons. Compare where they are at the beginning of the series to where they are at the end, and it's amazing the journey they've been through.

Also, Maris. What a great no-see character.

Also, it is amazing how they can build a farce in 22 minutes. They build the situation, allow each character to have just the right amount of information (but not all the information), keep it simple for the audience to follow, and build to a manic finale in such a small amount of time. And they do it so successfully. It's a master class of writing, acting, and directing when it's clicking on all cylinders.

4) I unreservedly praise David Hyde Pierce, but I also think Jane Leeves' ability to deliver an absurd monologue is one of the funniest parts of the show. I have no idea how she got out the stories about her family that she did. 

Some random trivia I learned: John Mahoney (who played blue-collar Martin Crane) is from Manchester, England and calls himself a "culture vulture." He was an editor of a medical journal before he decided he wanted to be an actor at age 37. Thank goodness he got bored.

Humble Sister is in Spain on vacation, but I shot her an email with your questions and she had a moment to respond to a few of the questions:

1)

  • "The Ski Lodge"
  • "The Innkeepers" 
  • "The Two Mrs. Cranes" 
  • "An Affair to Forget"
  • "The Seal Who Came to Dinner"

2) Hands down Niles. He is pure magic. I feel like future actors should study that role - for line delivery, physical acting, and the ability to be fascinating even when you're just the background in a scene. Niles drives the show for me. He's incredibly endearing and likable even when being a terrible snob.  

3. It is amazing how long they keep the Niles loves Daphne bit going without it being obnoxious or creepy. It is funny the entire time. Even when they're together finally, its still funny.

-Humble Master

P.S. It's all on Netflix, people. It's all on Netflix.

 

A:

Dear inquisitive,

I am so into this question it's not even funny. Prepare to be stomped like a late harvest Gewürztraminer!

1) Top 5 favorite episodes?

"Ski Lodge" - The best ensemble-misunderstanding farce in a show that excelled at them.
"Merry Christmas, Mrs Moskowitz" - I love how game everyone is to pretend to be Jewish. And Frasier bellowing out "JESUS" at the sight of Niles in costume for his Christmas play is inspired.
"The Doctor Is Out" - After a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, Frasier inadvertently makes everyone think he's gay, and Patrick Stewart hilariously guest-stars as an opera director who starts courting him.
"Ham Radio" - The radio play episode, where Frasier becomes a control freak of a director and infuriates his cast. Gil doggedly trying to get out his monologue is amazing.
"High Holidays" - Niles, realizing he's never rebelled before, tries to get "high on reefer." He ends up acting like a fool while completely sober.

And 5 more because c'mon, when else am I going to get to geek out about this show?

"A Tsar Is Born" - I love Frasier, Niles, and Martin all suddenly discovering they love Antiques Roadshow together.
"Halloween" - Tons of literary references, misunderstandings, and double entendres.
"The Show Must Go Off" - The legendary actor Derek Jacobi plays a hilariously bad version of himself (what a great sport, seriously). Shakespeare nerds in particular will appreciate this one.
"The Seal Who Came To Dinner" - Another great disastrous dinner party episode.
"The Innkeepers" - One of the classic episodes, when Frasier and Niles buy a fancy gourmet restaurant and opening night is a catastrophe. Favorite line: "Get a grip! You're not being asked to do anything that none of us hasn't done before in our own kitchens in our own homes!  Now quick, Niles, kill five eels!"

And maybe 5 more after that.

"Star Mitzvah" - Frasier's son's Bar Mitzvah, where due to a misunderstanding and revenge he reads a blessing to his son in Klingon instead.
"Rooms With a View" - One of the serious, dramatic episodes, where Niles is having surgery. It's the second in a 3-part series and it's directed more like a play than a TV episode. Great insight into how different people experience and process trauma.
"The Matchmaker" - More gay mistaken identity jokes, all hilarious.
"War of the Words" - The spelling bee episode. Silly, but everyone has great lines. "Dad! I want to spell."
"Something Borrowed, Someone Blue" - The Niles and Daphne episode at the end of the 7th season. What a payoff for fans following their romantic arc for years. It's easy to screw this up in a sitcom, but this episode is incredibly satisfying.

2) Favorite character?

Niles, no contest. Line for line, scene for scene, character arc for character arc, he's the star of the show.

3) Favorite segments/clips/running gags/etc.?

Particularly great scenes that didn't make the top episodes:

The beginning of "Daphne Does Dinner." There are several episodes throughout the series where a dinner party goes horribly wrong. (And one where just the planning goes wrong!) The opening of this episode twists that device and shows just the hilarious fallout, leaving us to imagine what the setup must have been. (Woman: "I bet you don't even have Tourette's Syndrome!" Frasier: "Poop! Hell, damn!" Martin, dressed as European royalty: "Buon Giourno!")

The brilliant supporting cast. Harriet Harris as Bebe Glazer was incredible in every scene she was given. Watch this clip from "The Devil and Dr. Phil"—how carefully and subtly the joke is set up: the reference to Faust, the talking about their previous relationship, the red light and chorus practicing outside, steaming the wrinkles out of her dress... and then bam, 1, 2, 3, everything comes together for a payoff in the last 30 seconds. And then the 666 room number as the final touch. Genius.

Niles' doppleganger from "Mixed Doubles" in Season 4. How he doesn't realize at first, and then it dawns on him. The absurdity is amazing. "Spare me, you ludicrous poppenjay!"

Edward Hibbert as the hilariously closeted Gil Chesterton. I love every one of his lines.

"Why'd ya do it!" - When you get into your 5th or 6th rewatch, you'll notice this phrase repeated by several characters in different situations. I don't know how it originated, but it has the feel of a running joke among the writers or actors, because everyone delivers it with the exact same cadence and the more you hear it, the funnier it gets.

The increasingly implausible jokes about Maris.

4) Anything else you want to say?

I could talk about this show endlessly, but Alumni Week is almost over. So I'll just recommend the Frasier subreddit and http://www.kacl780.net for more excellent fandom. And for fans, I highly recommend the Simpsons episode "Brother From Another Series", where Sideshow Bob's brother (voiced by David Hyde Pierce) shows up. (Bob: "You wanted to be Krusty's sidekick since you were five. What about the buffoon lessons, the four years at clown college!" Cecil: "I'll thank you not to refer to Princeton that way!")

-Cognoscente, who loves macaroni!

A:

Hooray Frasier!

1) Favorite Episodes (favorite quote from the episode)

  • "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" ("I don't think that kind of language is appropriate.")
  • "Ham Radio" ("Could the McCallister sisters stand back to back, I'm running out of bullets. Thank YOU!")
  • "Frasier's Imaginary Friend" ("I am dating a supermodel zooligist who is traveling to the Gallapagos islands to artificially inseminate iguanas. Is that so hard to believe?")
  • "Look Before You Leap" ("Hey, let's go to a taco show!")
  • "War of the Words" ("I said NOT the Asian kid. Would somebody please tell me the rules?")

2) Favorite Character

Niles. David Hyde Pierce could not have done a better job (eleven nominations (one for every season) for Best Supporting Actor with four wins). But he's not just a comic foil. Though scarce, some of the best Niles moments are when he gets serious. He's a brilliant character who stole the entire show.

3) Favorite segments/clips/running gags

  • Early Niles jokes about the groups he has to run ("I'm running a group for multiple-personality disorder and it takes me forever to fill out the name cards," etc.) I'm sure it was harder and harder to come up with them, but I'm sad they phased out the gag.
  • Failed Crane parties. Especially the one in "Daphne Does Dinner" when we just see the tail end of it and all the lies have blown up in their faces.
  • Daphne stories ("Question!" "No, dad, we're not stopping.")
  • Eddie. Seriously that was one brilliant dog.
  • The entire scene with the parents of the father of Roz's baby who both have enormous noses ("I just love dogs, we have two giant schnauzers.") where none of the actors were able to keep a straight face.
  • "Yes, but if less is more, imagine how much more more would be!"
  • Every single scene with Kirby. ("Can't? I seem to recall a young pupil named Kirby. He said "I can't" nary but months ago. But a certain man named Dr. Frasier Crane taught that pupil that he can do whatever he sets his mind to. And the name of that man was YOU!")

4) Other things to say

One of the best things they do on this show is weave complex nets of misunderstanding. They'll take a piece of information, break it up into four or five pieces and write in a way for each character to get just one of the pieces and interpret it incorrectly. I'm sure there's some technical term for this kind of comedy, but I have no idea what is it. I just like it.

Also, I can think of no other show with such real relationships between each character. Take the top five characters: Frasier, Niles, Martin, Daphne, and Roz. Each of them has a distinct and definable relationship with the each other character, which means that they can write a scene with any combination of characters and have it feel totally natural. The consistency with which they were able to do this is the reason the show went 11 seasons without slowing down.

Ok, at some point, I'm just going to quote the entire show from beginning to end, so I'll just leave this here. Thanks for letting me nerd out like this. And if you're reading this and haven't watched every episode of this show, you're wasting your life. Get on it.

-The Man with a Mustache