As a rule, I really don't care for television comedies. Most of them are too dumb, too snarky, too loud, or I find that I simply can't identify with their premises or characters. But every once in a blue moon, a sit-com emerges that has charm and wit enough to draw my interest. One of those rare gems has just ended its long run, and I'm not talking about Friends. (Full disclosure: I never understood the fuss over Friends. I know that show has its fans -- one of whom is my own Anne -- but I just never could get over the fact that these supposedly-struggling twentysomethings lived in apartments as large as my parents' house, in Manhattan no less. And I just never thought it was that funny. No accounting for taste, I guess.)
A spin-off from one of the most popular shows of the '80s, Frasier succeeded by not trying to copy its parent show. While Cheers followed the same basic paradigm of most other American sit-coms -- every plot point is a set-up for a punchline and most of the jokes are based around conflict or an insult -- Frasier was almost British in its sensibilities. Its humor was gentle and character-driven, revolving around the class differences that separated elitist Frasier and his equally-prissy brother Niles from their exasperated, blue-collar father. The show had a wit and class that Cheers never did; even when it did resort to slapstick, it was never mean-spirited or unintelligent. It also had a streak of sentimentality that would've seemed saccharine in most sit-coms. I've read one critique that called the show a love affair between two brothers. That's a valid description, but it leaves out the wonderful interplay between the brothers and their dad, Martin. It was this three-way relationship between men who don't appear to have much in common but who love each other fiercely that grabbed my attention. It reminded me of my relationship with my own father -- always tentative, apparently superficial, but tempered with genuine affection and occasionally transcending the usual awkwardness. Of course, it didn't hurt that Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) and David Hyde-Pierce (Niles) are one of the all-time classic comedy pairings. The chemistry between them is sublime, and it usually left me in stitches.
As much as I liked the show, however, I have to admit that I had lost interest in recent years. Once Niles got together with his object of admiration, Martin's therapist Daphne, Frasier's focus shifted away from the three men in favor of the burgeoning romance. Simultaneously, the scripts began to seem repetitive and the farcical elements started to dominate a little too much for my liking. I don't think I've watched a regular primetime episode of the show in a couple of years. Even so, I had to tune in last night for the big send-off. (Apparently, I'm not the only one who can tell that story; I read today that the finale scored the show's highest ratings since the year 2000, which I believe is about the time when Niles finally confessed his love to Daphne.)
Most long-running series that end with an official finale (as opposed to an open-ended cancellation) try to please their long-time fans by finding some way to reference beloved characters, running gags and plotlines from years past. Frasier was no different. That meant appearances from Frasier's ruthless agent Phoebe (or was it Bibi? I've never quite been able to make it out...), Daphne's loutish brothers, and some of Frasier's co-workers (notably missing was the obnoxious chauvenist Bulldog, who I would've liked to see again). There was also a reference to Lilith, Frasier's ex-wife from his old Cheers days, a gag involving Martin's dog Eddie, and a couple of jokes about Martin's dilapidated old Barc-o-lounger (you needed to remember the show's first episode to really get these). And of course there were the time-honored sit-com devices of a chaotic wedding and a woman going into labor at the most inconvenient time imaginable.
It was a full episode -- maybe a little too full. Or maybe the show was simply a little too far past its prime. I'm sorry to say that I didn't laugh much, and the wedding/childbirth plots bored me. Still, the final scenes between Frasier and his family, when he tells them he's leaving his home in Seattle for a fresh opportunity, were simply beautiful. When Martin got teary-eyed and thanked Frasier for "everything" -- another reference to the first episode, specifically to Frasier's agreeing to let his dad live with him -- and Niles told his brother that he would miss meeting him every morning for coffee, my own eyes welled up. Damn few movies or TV shows move me enough to draw tears, and I was happy to find that I still cared that much about this show.
I'm going to miss Frasier, I think, or rather I will miss what it presented to me: urbane, sophisticated humor, truly funny physical comedy, and characters that I truly liked as human beings. There are rumors buzzing that Frasier the character may continue in a new show -- the final scene of this final episode was open-ended -- but personally I hope they don't do that. Lightning rarely strikes twice, let alone three times, and I wouldn't want to see Frasier again unless Nile and Martin were at his side.Posted by jason at May 14, 2004 08:43 PM