When it comes to the multi-cam sitcom, I can’t imagine a more efficient, effective pilot than “Frasier”’s The Good Son. David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee’s script is perfectly constructed, showcasing the cast while maintaining the focus on lead Kelsey Grammer. Since it’s a spin-off of a long-running sitcom, Grammer is the audience’s linchpin. The episode gets his setup out of the way immediately. It opens with a chapter title card, establishing that series standard, then we’ve got Grammer on the radio, Frasier Crane’ing it up with Peri Gilpin watching from the booth (and, thanks to director James Burrows and Gilpin, establishing the show’s narrative distance). Grammer monologues about the changes in his life in the last six months and what he’s been up to since “Cheers” ended.
And then it’s done. We’re all on the same page as Grammer now, so when we meet Niles (David Hyde Pierce) the next scene, the show’s stopped being a spin-off of “Cheers” and instead a spin-off for Grammer. One where he’s going to have some amazing costars; Gilpin’s fun in her first scene, especially reviewing Grammer’s performance, but nothing can compare to Hyde Pierce. When he starts cleaning his chair in the coffee shop, with Grammer looking on in awe (establishing the pecking order as far as eccentricities go), it’s immediate magic. The Good Son is the pilot exemplar because everything works just right. You want to see more of Hyde Pierce, you can’t wait to see more of Hyde Pierce. When you hear about wife Maris, you can’t wait to meet her.
The Niles and Frasier scene is to move dad Martin (John Mahoney) in with Frasier. It’s the setup for the series itself. “Cheers” stuff not directly related to Frasier is done; there’s at least one great Lilith joke—“We Crane boys sure know how to marry,” which also gives the audience some insight into Maris because very smart scripting.
The Mahoney moving in scene delivers some more great Hyde Pierce, gleeful as he’s able to shove irate working class pop Mahoney off on Grammer. The chair arrival—Mahoney’s eye-sore of a lounge chair ruining Grammer’s pristinely pretentious decoration—is perfect sequence. And then Eddie. It’s concerning how good Grammer is at hating an adorable dog.
But getting Mahoney into Frasier’s apartment and the promise of the pretentious fop vs. regular Joe dad isn’t all for the episode because it’s not all for the show. There’s a great monologue for Gilpin—recounting the Hollywood Babylon version of Lupe Vélez’s suicide—where the show establishes the kind of laughs it’s going for, ones you have to listen for, wait for, and even then the laughs aren’t at the initial “punchlines” but in the cast reactions. And there’s some more with Hyde Pierce, another Maris joke or two. But most importantly there’s also Jane Leeves.
Leeves is applying to be Mahoney’s home healthcare worker. Her not taking Grammer’s shit is just what Mahoney wants and her introduction, with the hot and cold physic readings and the “hand in the biscuit tin” attitude… you can’t wait to see more of Leeves with the Crane boys.
Because Mahoney and Grammer are incredibly unpleasant together. The episode has a nice resolution and setup for their initial conflict but… they’re going to need a tempering influence.
And the end credits sequence, set to Grammer singing the show out, perfectly establishes it.
Celebrity callers this episode are Linda Hamilton and Griffin Dunne, neither of whom I recognized, but they get credited so you’re staying through the end and seeing them is a nice detail. (And Gina Ravera, who was very familiar looking on “The Closer” a decade plus later, plays one of the baristas who has to deal with the Cranes).
So, summed up—it’s not just an exceptionally good pilot for a sitcom, it’s an exceptionally good episode of a sitcom.