Here’s how I’ll pick the 3 episodes: the episode rated most highly on IMDB, an episode I felt was outstanding for a specific reason, and finally my personal favourite.
Frasier is my favourite sitcom. It was spun off from Cheers, another iconic sitcom, but went on to achieve great success on its own, including 5 straight Emmy wins for Best Comedy (a record only recently equalled by Modern Family).
The show excelled in a few areas: crackling dialogue, exploiting farce and error as comedy, and great writing/acting all around. But let’s not waste any time – here’s my 3 special episodes of Frasier.
Top-rated episode on IMDB: “The Ski Lodge”, season 5 episode 14
Synopsis: Frasier brings his family to a ski lodge for the weekend, with lessons from a champion skier, and Daphne brings her model friend along. An evening of flirting and misunderstandings among everybody but a deaf Martin leads to a night of furtive, amourous and ultimately erroneous advances.
For such a highly-rated show, “The Ski Lodge” is a masterpiece. It lays down the foundations for the love pentagon in the first few minutes, and in its second half it does the TV equivalent of furiously shaking a snow globe and watching the flakes fall.
It’s an episode that is written so very skilfully. Doors opening, people entering different rooms, doors closing, people exiting; the episode almost becomes a game of Cluedo. Yet, who goes where for whom does not matter towards the end, as the episode builds up to an explosive (and hysterical) conclusion between everybody involved. This is Frasier at its frantic best.
Outstanding episode: “Ham Radio”, season 4 episode 18
Synopsis: To commemorate KACL FM’s 50th anniversary, Frasier is thrilled to be given a 30-minute slot to direct a radio play called “Nightmare Inn”. In order to play the various characters, he enlists his colleagues. However, as Niles predicts, his overbearing directions end up alienating his cast members, forcing Frasier to improvise as the play is performed live.
In a show split between Frasier Crane’s family life and workplace life, “Ham Radio” is perhaps the best episode to showcase the latter.
This episode features just one plot-line – the “Nightmare Inn” radio play – and just four scenes: the setup in Cafe Nervosa where Frasier announces he is directing the play, the second at Frasier’s radio booth where he enlists his colleagues to be cast members, the third at Frasier’s home where he and his colleagues rehearse, and the final scene at the live performance. In an episode that ran just over 22 minutes, this meant that every scene had to be written perfectly. And they were, as not one line was wasted and each scene had its own ebb and flow.
The second act of the episode and the final scene will be what people remember about this episode.The live performance’s slow descent into chaos starts with Roz’s inability to speak properly, to Gil’s petulance at not being allowed to say his juicy monologue, to Bulldog’s sudden performance fright, and finally when Niles is so fed up with Frasier directing him that he shoots every last character in the play.
Throughout all this, Martin and Daphne listen to the live performance at home and react to the increasingly strange events in the play. Their bewilderment is decidedly opposite to what any person watching this episode will feel; this being Frasier, we know that “Nightmare Inn” was always going to be a train wreck, and the only question was how it would happen. Well, it was glorious.
Favourite episode: “The Two Mrs. Cranes”, season 4 episode 1
Synopsis: When Daphne’s ex-fiance Clive comes to visit and to profess his love for her, she tries to reject him gently and pretends Niles is her husband. Frasier protests at this charade, but he is powerless to stop it snowballing as he becomes Maris’s husband, Roz becomes Maris and Martin becomes an astronaut.
If “Ham Radio” is the perfect showcase for Frasier’s workplace life, “The Two Mrs. Cranes” features the Crane household perfectly. If you would believe it, every main character plays an equally vital role in this episode, and the farcical comedy just grows and grows until the final beat of the act.
Creating a great episode of comedy is more than just showing funny things. It is about making us see why exactly the characters choose to make these funny things happen. We see examples of this throughout this episode, when Niles asks Clive to stay for dinner so he can continue pretending to be her husband. Also, Roz’s instant attraction to Clive almost derails the entire charade when she flirts with him despite supposedly being Frasier’s wife. Martin, in a cheeky mood and feeling a little disrespected by his sons, stays for dinner and spins a yarn about being a former astronaut just to watch everybody squirm.
All this means that “The Two Mrs. Cranes” is character-driven comedy done right. This episode can be broken down into its funny moments, its character-specific moments, and so on, but to truly appreciate this episode, you have to watch it in full, then laugh. Then watch it again, and laugh some more. It is more than the sum of its parts, and it is my favourite episode of Frasier.