James Burrows

Frasier (1993) s02e11 – Seat of Power

Steven Levitan wrote this episode. Levitan’s one of the few sitcom people whose names I recognize. I didn’t realize he’d done “Frasier.” Turns out this is his first of four episodes. Recognizing the writer (though not remembering he hadn’t contributed a script to credit level before Seat), I paid the writing a lot of attention. Even when there are distractions like trying to identify the celebrity caller (it’s Macaulay Culkin, it’d be concerning if anyone could recognize him in 1994 when it aired) and then a somewhat funny Roz (Peri Gilpin) scene. It’s Gilpin’s only scene in the episode; it’s memorable enough, I guess.

And it does bury the proverbial lede. It’s going to be a Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce episode and it’s going to involve Hyde Pierce confronting his childhood bully. I’m not sure if the Crane boys going to public school was always canon (it almost seems like it wouldn’t be), but it’s definitely what the episode goes with. The episode’s theme—Levitan gives it a theme—is about the Crane boys trying to feel more manly even if they are snobs with European cars. After John Mahoney heckles Grammer for not being able to fix his own toilet, Grammer and Hyde Pierce give it the Crane Brothers go.

So we get this hilarious scene of Grammer and Hyde Pierce trying to do home repairs—including the first look at the apartment’s gigantic master bathroom (because they need pacing room)—but it’s just a bit on the way to the main event. The plumber turns out to be John C. McGinley, who bullied Hyde Pierce in elementary school.

Hyde Pierce goes through a very physical, very funny meltdown while Grammer tries to contain him. Hijinks and complications and hilarity ensue. It’s a great episode. Nice developments for Grammer, Mahoney, and Jane Leeves throughout. Hyde Pierce gets a bunch of spotlight moments, which the rest of the cast shares. They’re really good together (it’s an apartment-based episode so everyone’s around).

James Burrows’s direction is good. It’s always good. Sometimes you can just tell it’s one of his episodes though, based on the pacing of the actors.

It’s another good exemplar episode.

Frasier (1993) s02e07 – The Candidate

I missed the writing credit on this episode and I’m glad I did. Seeing it’s Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett-Giordano is icing. Candidate’s the team’s first script this season (they did a bunch last season) and it’s great. It’s also a bit risqué for a network sitcom as far as politics goes, especially since—I’m not sure it was widely known at the time—star Kelsey Grammer’s a conservative and Frasier Crane is very much not. Yes, Grammer and brother David Hyde Pierce are liberal, intellectual smooth talkers but the show’s very careful to show they’re not on the wrong side of the issues.

Grammer just ends up endorsing the wrong guy, because the guy—guest star Boyd Gaines, who’s so perfectly straight-faced for it—believes he was abducted by aliens, which Grammer finds out while recording a television commercial supporting him.

The only reason Grammer wants to throw his celebrity weight into the ring is because dad John Mahoney does a TV spot for the Republican candidate. The additional joke of the conservative being played by Sydney Pollack (albeit telephonically) reminds what a thin rope shows had to walk just to do this kind of episode at all.

Of course, even with Grammer’s confounded television spot, nothing can compare to Mahoney’s, which has him showing off the scar on the back of his thigh, trousers down; it becomes a great running joke.

Luck Hari is back as the coffee shop barista who suffers through some of Grammer’s White liberal guilt (as it relates to appropriate places to support coffee grounds from); she hasn’t been around since last season finale, when she was the protagonist. It’s a good scene.

Some great Dan Butler, some great Peri Gilpin—including her telling Grammer to knock off the slut-shaming—it’s just a really good episode.

About halfway through I started sustained laughing and didn’t stop until the end. Nice James Burrows direction too.

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) 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.

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) 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) s01e18 – And the Whimper Is…

“Frasier,” the show, has made a few references to the popularity of “The Frasier Crane Show,” the in-show radio program Kelsey Grammer hosts. At one point it seemed to be on the ropes, with Grammer and producer Peri Gilpin worrying they’d get cancelled, then it was getting better ratings than the sports show… but its popularity has never been explicitly described. But it’s got to be doing well because this episode has it one of four nominees for prestigious category at the SeaBee Awards (fictional radio awards).

It’s Grammer’s first year with a show. It’s Gilpin’s tenth year in the business without even a nomination. They’re hungry to win. The episode—written by Sy Dukane and Denise Moss—tracks them from pre-nomination, when Grammer’s pretending he doesn’t care and Gilpin’s driven to distraction waiting for the nominations to release, to preparation, when they’re planning how to bribe the nominating committee while John Mahoney watches in disgust, to the awards show, where they discover they may have been too successful in their bribing, about to take the award away from retiring Seattle radio mainstay John McMartin.

The episode finally gives Gilpin some time around the regular cast—she and Mahoney joyfully greet each other when she arrives at the apartment, even though they’ve only had one other scene together—and Gilpin gets to pal around with Jane Leeves. Harriet Sansom Harris guest stars as Frasier’s agent, Bebe, who invites herself along to the awards show (though doesn’t do much there except have some great reaction shots when Gilpin eventually melts down under stress) and Patrick Kerr’s back as annoying station co-worker Noel, who’s Gilpin’s date for the evening. Kerr does all right considering he’s just a punchline.

David Hyde Pierce has this great running joke about always getting someone a beverage, out of his element with the show business types, not able to find anyone interested in his hilariously withering remarks at Grammer’s expense.

It’s a very busy episode with a lot of people around most of the time and director James Burrows makes sure they’re interesting even when they’re not talking (you can perfectly track how things are going from Mahoney’s expressions in the background), with Gilpin and Grammer being the centers of attention.

It’s very good. Though the self-aware Maris joke may be too self-aware.

Frasier (1993) s01e16 – The Show Where Lilith Comes Back

Bebe Neuwirth’s visit to the new show, coming in the back nine of the first season, is everything it could and should be. Writers Ken Levine and Davis Isaacs craft this perfect plot, which showcases Neuwirth and gives her a relationship—active or not—with all the regulars, then still manages to keep it an episode for Kelsey Grammer, but one where the narrative distance is so focused there’s extra room for Neuwirth.

Even when Neuwirth’s not onscreen, once she arrives, she’s very present. She calls into Grammer’s radio show in the opening (Merry Prankster Timothy Leary is the guest caller, which seems random) and cuts him down to size on air as far as his professional diagnoses, giving Peri Gilpin as many laughs as it gives the viewer. Gilpin’s reaction to finally hearing Lilith—though, Grammer assures Neuwirth, his listeners have heard all about her—has a great punchline too, foreshadowing how well Levine and Isaacs are going to do getting them in after the main action.

Because even though no one’s ever seen Lilith interact with Frasier’s family, she’s obviously got history with both Martin (John Mahoney) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce). Mahoney’s pretty funny—especially when Neuwirth’s grilling him over repressed sexual urges when he was beating people with his nightstick—but Hyde Pierce is the cake. He’s still mad about Lilith mocking Maris’s wedding vows—great line about Lilith being weird versus Maris being a little strange (Levine and Isaacs’s barbs are particularly sharp, as the show immediately establishes Neuwirth can take them and doesn’t care if anyone else can).

Meanwhile, Jane Leeves has sensed a disturbance in the Force and has a constant headache… until she actually shakes Neuwirth’s hand, at which time she loses all sensation in the arm.

The family scene isn’t the point of the episode, however; there’s some unfinished business for Neuwirth and Grammer, which catches Grammer off guard. The rest of the episode is pretty damn good for a nineties sitcom episode dealing with recent divorcees. The balance of laughs and drama work out and it gives Grammer a nice range. Neuwirth doesn’t get a huge range because she’s Lilith, but still… very nice guest appearance.

I’m sure James Burrows directing didn’t hurt either.

Frasier (1993) s01e12 – Miracle on Third or Fourth Street

It’s a Christmas episode and a good one. Just the right amount of humor and heartwarming, with Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) ending up alone on Christmas and in need of some good fellowship as it turns out.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly for Grammer’s first Christmas with Mahoney in Seattle, with his son coming in to visit him. They’re going to the Crane family Christmas at the cabin, where Maris will shoot at bears with her shotgun, which gets David Hyde Pierce a good laugh. Only the son cancels—no cameo from Bebe Neuwirth when she calls, unfortunately—leading Grammer to lash out at Mahoney, which dampens the holiday spirit.

So instead of family time, Grammer works the radio, unknowingly dragging Peri Gilpin in, away from her visiting mother. Grammer’s already gotten Gilpin a crappy Christmas gift, so when she gets too upset listening to the miserable Christmas callers, he sends her home. The image of Grammer alone in the sound booth, the voice of lonely Christmas, is rather affecting. James Burrows does an excellent job directing Grammer this episode.

Because it’s basically an all-Grammer “Frasier.” Once the family stuff is out of the way—including a great Hyde Pierce’s Daphne moment (sadly, Hyde Pierce’s adorable perving is usually separate from Leeves’s performance) and a major cringe transphobic joke—it’s just Grammer and the callers.

There are bunch of celebrity guests—Mel Brooks, Rosemary Clooney, Dominick Dunne, Ben Stiller, and Eric Stoltz—each with one story more devastating than the last. Writer Christopher Lloyd finds a great mix of humor and misery in the calls. They’re tragic but also funny in how tragic.

And then there’s the layered “Frasier” pay-off when Grammer goes out to dinner at the only place he can find open (where he doesn’t need a reservation), a greasy spoon run by Christine Estabrook. Grammer sits next to sleeping John Finn, who turns out to have been the subject of one of Grammer’s Christmas calls.

Great performance from Finn.

Then cool bit part from Hawthorne James.

See, Finn and James are experiencing homelessness but when it turns out snob on the sly Grammer might be in need of goodwill toward men… well, there’s a nice wholesome Christmas miracle.

And then a great punchline.

Exactly what a Christmas episode should be.

Minus the transphobic joke.

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