(In continuing with our series on the millennial change in television, we begin by exploring the inaugural episode of ‘Frasier.’
Frasier‘s pilot episode starts off strong, with Frasier at the microphone of his radio show giving out psychiatric advice to callers. It takes just one minute to call back to Frasier’s terrifying wife Lilith (and ‘Cheers in general) as an in-joke that the audience will identify with. The show recognizes very early on that it has to pander – or at least be aware – that it only exists because of Cheers, but thankfully this is only exposition that lasts thirty seconds long, because the show knew equally as well that spending to much time spent focusing on Cheers would result in a dull show.
Frasier, (as any good multi-camera show should) begins with a cold open of sorts, in this case establishing not only Frasier’s (Kelsey Grammar) character but also introducing Frasier’s producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin). Roz’s initial introduction is simultaneously weak and strong. While not providing the character with much depth, they make it clear that while she works for Frasier she’s not someone that likes him very much and thinks what he does is a waste of time. Strong personality, but not much to glean from the interaction.
One of the most unique thing about the show was the use of inter-title cards. Between almost every scene a word or a phrase is put on screen in white letters with a simple black background. Sometimes as commentary, sometimes as nonsense, and occasionally to set something up for what was to come. Personally, I’d say the title card used before the second scene of the pilot is the most important one of the entire series: The Brother. Almost every personality quirk of Frasier’s brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) is established within the first two minute’s that he’s on the show and it’s done in a way that very few other shows can achieve without making it seem forced. We quickly learn that he is: witty, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, intelligent, a clean freak, somewhat unaware of his quirks, a mildly caring brother, and a son who looks after for his father – sometimes.
The next act is prompted with title card: The Father, and provides the introduction to the second best character of the show – the armchair that belongs to his father; which also happens to be Frasier’s greatest enemy over the course of the series. Ok, so the chair isn’t the second best character on the show, although it along with Martin’s dog Eddie are Frasier’s nemeses. I think the second best character on the show is Martin. Now don’t get me wrong, Kelsey Grammar is fantastic as the shows titular character, but for me, David Hyde Pierce and John Mahoney are what make this show shine. Martin provides not only the much needed father figure for the emotionally stunted Crane brothers but also provides the occasional down to earth clarion voice that is needed amongst the “prattling-on” to which Niles and Frasier are both prone.
Martin provides the inciting incident for the show. As a Seattle cop prior to the show, Martin was shot in the leg while on duty and is now unable to live on his own and so it has been determined that he must live with Frasier. This is predictably irksome to Frasier who was hoping to start a fancy new life in Seattle, but now must care for his father. Niles eventually informs Frasier that there are people he can hire to take care of his father.
That brings us to the final character introduced in the episode: Daphne. A charming and odd woman from Manchester, England who is hired as a live-in house-keeper and physical therapist for Martin. Initially portrayed as somewhat out of it, believing herself to be psychic. Daphne, as a character, will perhaps change more than her surrounding cast while on the show.
Overall, Frasier has one of the strongest pilots of any show (sitcom or not) that I can think of, and does a fantastic job introducing all of the characters without needing a few episodes to watch them develop, except perhaps Daphne who I think is a very shallow character for a few seasons.
A few takeaways:
- Frasier does a good job of establishing itself as it’s own show separate from Cheers and not just by having more than one primary set.
- Frasier, while a great character, is not the best or perhaps even second best character on the show, and is outshone (In my humble opinion) by Niles,
- Many of the running jokes for the series, including the oddity that is Niles’ wife, are established in the first episode.
- Remarkably, this is a show that premiered before and ended after Friends. Don’t get me wrong, I like Friends, but this show doesn’t seem to get the respect and love that it deserves. By the end of the pilot, it’s clear that it is the funnier and significantly more brilliant show.
Next up, I’ll be watching and writing about the pilot of Scrubs and then comparing how the two shows began and move forward from there. I will not be going over every episode, but picking a few choice ones per season of each show.