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Frasier (1993) s02e04 – Flour Child

I missed the Christopher Lloyd credit during the opening titles—James Burrows directing is no surprise—so I got to watch the episode without any writerly expectations. It feels somewhat like a first season episode, back when the show was establishing its take on structure. Here, we get a big setup to the episode from Peri Gilpin (I was right, her being mad at him calling her a slut is forgotten) giving Kelsey Grammer his itinerary because he’s helpless. He’s got a card to sign for a sick guy, then out to dinner with dad John Mahoney and brother David Hyde Pierce.

It certainly seems like an awkward dinner out with Mahoney setup, but it turns out to be this hilarious scene with Grammer, Mahoney, and Hyde Pierce having to deliver cabbie Charlayne Woodard’s baby. Lots of great lines—and perfect performances from Woodard, Mahoney, and Hyde Pierce (Grammer staying out of the way because the actors on “Frasier” never try to upstage).

But the episode isn’t about the delivery, which apparently involves Hyde Pierce bravely running up the block to get hot water from a restaurant; it’s about Hyde Pierce wanting a baby of his own and carrying around a sack of flour to get the feel for it.

The episode does a beautiful job letting Hyde Pierce be bumblingly terrible with the “baby,” while also being entirely sympathetic. Mahoney thinks the whole thing’s stupid, which has some validity, but Hyde Pierce manages to so earnest. It’s still comedy though, with the teleplay the thing and Hyde Pierce’s almost touching performance just in service of the episode overall. There’s really good acting on “Frasier,” with a mix of styles, all working out.

Jane Leeves and Gilpin are support—Gilpin for a Grammer subplot involving the get well card and Leeves as additional laughs around the apartment. And Leeves gets them. She’s got a scene bantering with herself (voicing character Daphne arguing with her mother) and it’s absolutely fantastic.

It’s a rather good episode. Burrows keeps just the right pace.

Frasier (1993) s02e03 – The Matchmaker

Being cishet, it’s not my place to say whether The Matchmaker has aged well. It seems to have aged well. The episode, guest-starring Eric Lutes as Kesley Grammer’s new boss, who happens to be gay and thinks Grammer is into him (because Peri Gilpin lets him think it, as she’s mad Grammer viciously slut-shamed her earlier in the episode), goes over to the Crane apartment for dinner and it’s a hilarious sexual orientation confusion event.

Grammer doesn’t just have no idea—he thinks he’s setting Lutes up with lovesick Jane Leeves—but he’s going to actively weave more and more confusion. When Grammer eventually has to tell Lutes he’s straight, he also has to clarify John Mahoney is straight as well. And David Hyde Pierce, because Hyde Pierce shows up out of the blue because it’s a show trope and hangs out to sabotage Leeves’s setup with Lutes.

Joe Keenan’s script does an excellent job setting up the jokes throughout–not quite Eddie muffins but definitely deliberately paced ones; like when Mahoney recommends Lutes the bar to hang out with “young cops.”

It’s real funny.

It starts strong too, first a fire alarm and then Leeves’s heartache, the episode’s already in good shape when it gets time for Grammer to tell Gilpin about Leeves’s problems. And after Grammer’s a dick about Gilpin recommending a man to Daphne, which doesn’t get him any sympathy at all, quite the opposite, Keenan’s got the stage set for a perfect “revenge” moment for Gilpin.

Interestingly… the show leaves Gilpin and Grammer’s relationship in a very precarious place. I assume it’ll be back to normal next episode, of course. Weird how no matter how bad things get, seven days later they’re back to how they were before….

Gilpin also gets a great showdown with Hyde Pierce. Her writing’s much better this season.

Keenan’s a first time credited writer too—though he goes on to write a couple dozen total as well as executive produce for multiple seasons… so he’s clearly found his niche.

The one Maris joke doesn’t land well though, because low-key sexist jokes are still okay.

Also, bully for Lutes, who’s got a fairly bland part but he does deliver the killer one-liners when needed.

Frasier (1993) s02e02 – The Unkindest Cut of All

First yay, Lily Tomlin as caller cameo. Second yay, writer Dave Hackel (a seasoned sitcom vet who only will end up writing this one episode) knows how to give Peri Gilpin some great material. Very different from last season—she’s not desperate here, she’s just enthusiastically sexually active.

Third yay… the episode’s all about adorable dogs, whether it’s Jack Russell Terrier Eddie or all the Jack Russell Terrier puppies he unintentionally fathers… it’s wall-to-wall adorable dogs.

The accidental fathering, leading to Kelsey Grammer trying to get rid of a box of puppies, including hawking them on air, is just the setup for the main plot. Eddie runs away after Frasier (Grammer) takes him down to get the boys cut off; dad Martin (John Mahoney) follows Grammer down, they get in a fight, Eddie runs off.

What’s really nice about Hackel’s script is how much he sets up the eventual heart-to-heart between Grammer and Mahoney; from the first scene, he’s laying out Eddie muffins (what you call a Chekhov gun in “Frasier”). Just little things. Even Mahoney being exasperated with Grammer, just in Mahoney’s banter with Jane Leeves are Grammer’s sock ironing requirements.

There’s also time for a couple really nice David Hyde Pierce scenes, one with Leeves, another with Mahoney and Grammer while they look for Eddie. Hyde Pierce’s second scene involves him just doing voice work for the majority of his time there and he’s absolutely fantastic. Voice work, physical work, Hyde Pierce never walks away with “Frasier” and the show never spotlights him to the extent it’d ignore another actor but it can’t help being a showcase for him. He’s so good.

And Hackel does an excellent job with the heart-to-heart. Mahoney doesn’t go in for the psychiatry stuff, which causes some major resistance to Grammer wanting to make observations but once they get talking, things get worked out and quite nicely. There’s even a cute resolve with Eddie.

Before the subsequent funny end credits scene.

It’s a very good episode; Rick Beren’s direction is strong; I wish Hackel would’ve written another.

Frasier (1993) s02e01 – Slow Tango in South Seattle

“Frasier” went out on a high point and returns for its new season strong and assured—with a new writer to the series, Martin Weiss, and James Burrows’s ably directing as always. After a quick phone call to the show from James Spader, we get to the main plot. Or we get introduced to the main plot. It’s fall 1994 and Bridges of Madison County was selling like hot cakes and “Frasier” introduces an analogue, Slow Tango in South Seattle. Roz (Peri Gilpin) is so taken with the book she’s reading it during the show, which pisses off Kelsey Grammer.

Especially after he starts reading it—in that perfect Grammer voice—and mocks it. Only then he realizes he knows the author, played by a pre-J. Peterman John O'Hurley (how weird must it be to see O’Hurley during his soap career post-Seinfeld). O’Hurley was a drinking buddy at Cheers, though not on “Cheers” itself, and stole the story of Grammer losing his virginity (to his piano teacher at age seventeen) for the novel.

We don’t find out about the story stealing until a little bit later into the episode, after it’s established Jane Leeves is reading the book too. After everyone finds out–John Mahoney and David Hyde Pierce fight with each other to get at Leeves’s copy—Grammer’s able to confront O’Hurley, who’s at the station doing a reading for a book show, only to discover he’s not getting the closure he needs.

The only way to get that closure—according to Hyde Pierce, who’s truly phenomenal in this episode, going above and beyond with his material—is to apologize to the piano teacher. After all, seventeen year-old Frasier skipped out on her—which leads to Leeves smacking him occasionally for being a shitty man and it’s hilarious.

The episode’s beautifully paced—Weiss gets in time with the family, time with the radio station (great scene for Dan Butler too), and then the resolution at the piano teacher’s house, presumably somewhere in South Seattle.

The conclusion, involving guest stars Constance Towers and Myra Carter, is absolutely hilarious and I can’t spoil.

Great dialogue, particularly for Mahoney and Gilpin. Grammer’s really good mixing the funny with the heart. Hyde Pierce’s physical performance is so good.

Very strong start for season two; also, turns out Weiss never wrote another “Frasier,” which is a shame because Slow Tango could definitely use A Thousand Seattle Streets for Niles.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006) s01e01

I wish I were taking a rhetoric class so I could write a paper on whether “Studio 60” aged badly or poorly. I’ve never taken rhetoric and I’ve also never been great at first draft word choice so I’m not sure if that joke’s accurate but I will say it’s about as funny as anything on “Studio 60”’s first episode. I don’t have Amanda Peet or Steven Weber delivering it, so it’s more in the Matthew Perry arena.

But the point of “Studio 60” isn’t to be funny. It’s about the very serious business of being funny. And it doesn’t age well. It doesn’t not hold up—the pilot is just as good as its ever been in the places where it’s good and its got the problems just where it’s always had them—the second half is uneven, starting with the awkward introduction to the “Big Three” of the show-in-the-show’s Friday night sketch comedy program (Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley, and Nate Corddry). Then we get Matthew Perry playing the Aaron Sorkin wonder man and he’s not great at it.

But back to it not aging well for a second—one of the things Perry’s so upset about is the network putting the “flag over the network bug” but also the network bug in the first place.

Remember TV before the network bug in the bottom right? Barely, right? There’s a whole generation who doesn’t. Was Aaron Sorkin really mad about networking branding? And the Donald Trump joke isn’t even as bad as realizing Sorkin’s trying to both sides evangelical Christians with Paulson’s devout Christian but we have found out they really are just a couple sheets short of a Klan rally. Aaron Sorkin’s not a futurist or a political scientist, though… given 2016, it turns out neither of those disciplines are worth much.

Anyway.

What Sorkin does do well is his idealized version of the television industry, where upstart Peet can come in and convince Weber they can get rich off being classy. After sketch show producer Judd Hirsch—who can’t be based on Lorne Michaels because Lorne Michaels never made an actually good show—has his “mad as hell” moment on the air, new network president Peet brings back fired but now super successful Perry and Bradley Whitford (it’s a trip, no pun, seeing Whitford stumbling to find his co-lead cred in the show) to prove TV can still be relevant and good.

Just like it was when Edward R. Murrow used the “Jack Benny” show to take down McCarthy. Or when John Belushi’s Samurai Futaba brought the end to Vietnam.

Peet and Weber are great. Paulson’s interesting. Perry’s likable if you like Perry and Whitford’s likable if you like Whitford, though neither of them are particularly good here. And Perry’s hair is goofy.

Nice guest spots from Wendy Phillips, Donna Murphy, and Felicity Huffman.

Timothy Busfield is excellent as the director. He’s kind of the protagonist of the episode. Or at least the constant; he’s waiting to get fired for leaving Hirsch on the air.

Sorkin’s script is full of love of the craft of television making—I mean, control room director idolatry—and when it’s Hirsch, Peet, and Weber’s show it’s smooth sailing. Rockier when Perry takes the helm but it’s such an expensive… classy production it can’t not succeed as a pilot.

Though, disclaimer, I’ve liked Matthew Perry since the eighties so I’m biased. But it’s worth watching for Peet and Weber on their acting alone.

Frasier (1993) s01e24 – My Coffee with Niles

My Coffee with Niles is a concept episode victory lap for the first season, scripted by two of the three creators (David Angell and Peter Casey), with James Burrows directing, set entirely in the coffee shop where Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) regularly meet to have coffee together. The difference—besides the entire episode taking place at the shop and “Frasier” finally showing the patio seating—is they aren’t checking in on a plot, resolving a plot, or starting a plot, there is no plot.

Other than Hyde Pierce asking Grammer, a year after moving to Seattle, if he’s happy and the two trying to find a place to sit on a particularly busy afternoon.

The regular cast checks in—Peri Gilpin’s there to meet a date, which doesn’t go well and gives Grammer the chance to confide in Hyde Pierce he’s had the stray fantasy involving Gilpin but they work together and Grammer’s professional.

Wasn’t Diane his patient on “Cheers”?

Then dad John Mahoney and Jane Leeves stop by, which kicks up some dust as Mahoney’s in a bad mood and it’s pissing off Leeves and Grammer. It all blows up in the episode but it’s not even a subplot really. It’s just an update on the status of the relationship.

There’s a little bit of talk about Leeves as far as Hyde Pierce’s feels are concerned. Hyde Pierce is really good in that part. It’s Grammer’s episode overall and he does well, but Hyde Pierce’s performance is better. It’s a stagy episode and he does well with stagy.

The unsung hero of the episode is Luck Hari, as the unnamed waitress who spends the entire runtime trying to get Grammer a cup of coffee he won’t complain about.

“Frasier” has a great first season and Coffee is an outstanding conclusion of it. There’s nothing new, except the format—and Hyde Pierce remembering Gilpin exists—but it shows how much the show can stretch and still excel.

Finally, there is some cringe related to Hyde Pierce and Grammer joking about Hyde Pierce’s Niles being gay—and who’d get to tell Mahoney because he’d be so upset with it. At the time of the episode, Hyde Pierce was stuck in the closet; he’d never have gotten the part if he’d been out.

Hell, he probably wouldn’t get it today, would he?

But the episode itself is a big win.

Frasier (1993) s01e23 – Frasier Crane’s Day Off

The episode’s another superlative one—Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett-Giordano’s script is exceptional, with a bunch of great detail (everyone in the cast has something going on this episode, all of it somewhat related to Kelsey Grammer coming down with a man cold)—but it’s also got the distinction of having the weirdest set of celebrity callers.

There’s football quarterback Steve Young, there’s “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau, there’s Timmy Hilfiger, there’s Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, there’s Mary Tyler Moore—there’s Patty Hearst! None of the calls get much special emphasis, because it’s all about who’s taking those calls. Grammer gets to talk to Young in the opening, but pretty quick he’s on his way to getting too sick to work and then it’s all about who’s filling in on the show for him.

First up is food critic Gil Chesterton (Edward Hibbert), who’s trying to get Grammer and Peri Gilpin’s primo afternoon time slot and solving callers’ problems thanks to his keen restaurant sense. So Gilpin tries to get Grammer to come back to work, which almost works, but the man cold is too strong….

Leading to Grammer begging David Hyde Pierce to do it. Turns out Hyde Pierce isn’t just going to be a natural at it, he’s going to crowd please in a way Grammer doesn’t. The stuff with Hyde Pierce on the radio is phenomenal. The script’s great but Hyde Pierce takes it to a whole new level, baking in all the long-term jealousy over Grammer’s popularity and so on. Hyde Pierce manages to be even better at the successful Niles on the radio stuff than he does at the awkward Niles on the studio stuff and the awkward stuff is amazing.

No blaming mother today, he starts the episode, “I’m a Jungian not a Freudian.” So funny.

Meanwhile Grammer’s driving Jane Leeves nuts as she’s stuck taking care of him through the man cold. John Mahoney mostly hangs out to tell Grammer how he should call in but Grammer reminds him Mahoney raised the boys to never call in to work. If you can stand, you can work.

Mahoney’s since changed his tune but it’s baked into Grammer at this point.

So much going on and all of it so good. I won’t even get into the self-prescribed medicines, which cause hallucinations. As great as Hyde Pierce and Leeves get in the episode, it’s all about man cold suffering Grammer. It’s such a good performance.

Awesome sick makeup on him too.

Day Off is a spectacularly funny half hour of television.

Frasier (1993) s01e22 – Author, Author

It’s another great episode. As in, great example of what a multicam sitcom can do. What’s particularly interesting is Author, Author is the first episode credited to writers Don Seigel (not to be confused with Don Siegel, insert Dirty Harry reference here) and Jerry Perzigian. James Burrows directs, which is great, as the episode requires a great deal of sure-footed nimble moves. See, it’s the first Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) episode. They try to write a book together. It does not go well.

But it doesn’t go well in multiple stages, starting right off with Grammer not really wanting to do it but getting talked into it because Hyde Pierce is facing a deadline and publisher Mako (who has an absolutely fantastic time in the small part) doesn’t want to take no for an answer. Especially not after finding out Hyde Pierce’s brother is the Frasier Crane from the radio.

The brothers take a while to find the creative process—the book is going to be two eminent psychiatrists writing about the psychology of siblings—partially because they think they’re going to have a goldmine in anecdotes from dad John Mahoney, but then he ends up not being able to get past the little details. Lots of good one-liners in the scene with them. Jane Leeves is noticeably absent in that scene, though she shows up after the last commercial break for a good final punchline. Seigel and Perzigian also have a small scene for Peri Gilpin, who’s not happy to be part of Plan B, which involves Hyde Pierce sitting in on the radio show and taking notes as the brothers mine the callers for sibling anecdotes. The stuff with Hyde Pierce on the radio is great.

And nothing compared to Plan C, where the brothers lock themselves in a hotel room (a la the Gershwin Brothers) and try to work on the book.

Great dialogue, great performances from Hyde Pierce and Grammer (with Grammer getting into the physical comedy this time too).

It’s absolutely hilarious throughout, then a nice, wholesome but not too wholesome resolve. And another one of those great layered delay “Frasier” jokes. They’re not Chekhov’s guns, they’re Eddie’s muffins.

Frasier (1993) s01e21 – Travels with Martin

This episode is Linda Morris and Vic Rauseo’s first as the credited writers. Most of the show’s teams as men and women couples; I wonder if it’s intentional or coincidental. But I didn’t catch the writer credits again this time and was curious because Travels With Martin is a quintessential “Frasier”. As in, one to watch when you’re not marathoning. The Crane Boys plus Daphne (Jane Leeves) in a Winnebago trying to find America? It’s fantastic.

After Roz (Peri Gilpin) shames Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) about his selfish one week vacation to a spa while she takes her mom to Ireland or something, Grammer gets the idea he’ll take dad John Mahoney anywhere he wants to go. Turns out Mahoney wants to get in a Winnebago and see the sights, starting with Mount Rushmore. It was going to be Mahoney and the mom’s retirement trip, but she died, so Grammer feels like he has to get over his Winnebago apprehension and go. But he still wants brother David Hyde Pierce to come along and provide a buffer. At the same time, Mahoney’s trying to convince Leeves to go along.

Hyde Pierce is a no until Leeves is a yes, which becomes a constantly amusing subplot as he gets less and less able to control himself in an enclosed space with her. Big kudos to “Frasier” in not making Hyde Pierce ever seem the slightest bit dangerous, though it’s more like only Hyde Pierce could do this part and make it work. It’s his most character defining trait at this point; we do get a Maris story this episode, but it’s just about her pilgrimaging to the original Neiman Marcus in Dallas. It’s funny, especially since Hyde Pierce has thrown his back out carrying her luggage, but it’s not his bit. The Leeves crush is his bit and it pays off over and over this episode.

Actors, script, and James Burrows’s direction all add up to a great episode. It even gets in the heart at the end when Grammer and Mahoney finally get their chance to bond. Also they bring along Eddie the dog. It’s a magnificent twenty-four minutes.

Frasier (1993) s01e20 – Fortysomething

I immediately recognized Reba McEntire as the caller this episode, which is strange because I’m pretty sure I based it entirely on who they could be having as a guest in 1994 with an accent like McEntire’s. Though I suppose it’s possible Tremors is burnt deep into the grey matter.

McEntire’s call, which has a considerable punchline, sets up Kelsey Grammer for the “senior moment” of forgetting Peri Gilpin’s name. In the twenty-five years since the episode aired, we now know “senior moments” happen all throughout life and you just don’t ascribe particular meaning to them until you’re worried about getting old. So when Grammer freaks out—and Gilpin gets in some great jokes at his expense (very good Sy Dukane and Denise Moss script)—it kicks off an episode of mid-life crises for Grammer.

Mid-life, as David Hyde Pierce later points out, because he’s in his forties and is he really going much past eighty?

Grammer does get a little more sympathy from John Mahoney, who’s already been through the mid-life crisis and recovered. Or survived. But when a shop girl (Sara Melson) half his age flirts with him at the department store, Grammer starts buying a whole bunch of expensive pants for the attention. Mahoney dismisses it as Melson trying to make the commission but when Melson’s delivering Grammer’s pants to him at the station, she asks him out, setting him into internal turmoil.
Grammer’s turmoil has the added tension of knowing 1994 might not be far enough along for them not to just do Frasier and his teenage girlfriend, but the episode resolves perfectly. Melson’s fine but not distinct. Dan Butler’s got a good scene; he thinks Grammer needs to grab Melson and hold on. Though there is a gay joke about Butler, implying he’s projecting the macho. I think slash hope it’s a reference to Butler actually being gay….

It’s a more introverted episode and a good one. Dukane and Moss crack it and Grammer does well; he’s got to drag out the kvetching for long enough to get to the shop girl introduction. He makes it happen.

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