25 Essential Episodes of Frasier for its 25th Anniversary

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Today, September 16, 2018 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Frasier: one of the most successful spin-offs of all time, recipient of the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series (five times), and (in my experience) somehow still drastically underrated. I’ve found that I always encounter people who haven’t even seen a single episode. It’s happened so often that I can no longer say I’m surprised but, as Frasier himself would say, “I am wounded.

Amongst the show’s core five characters, there’s not a single weak link: Frasier (Cheers’ snobbish yet lovable psychiatrist), Niles (his fussy younger brother), Martin (his brash yet humble retied-cop father, with whom he lives), Daphne (Martin’s “just a bit psychic” physical therapist), and Roz (quite simply one of the best, wittiest female characters on any series).

I’ll never discourage anyone from a rewatch of Seinfeld, The Office, or Friends, but if you’ve yet to watch any or much of Frasier’s eleven-year run, the series’ 25th anniversary is the perfect excuse. And if eleven years sounds a bit too daunting, consider the 25 classics below the perfect way to start:

  1. The Good Son

Sitcoms don’t always get off to the best start, but Frasier had more to prove than whether or not it could deliver a compelling premise with intriguing characters. It also had to stand as a worthy successor to Cheers and demonstrate that Frasier Crane was a character who could carry his own show. Unlike spin-offs that rely too heavily on the original (to varying results), Frasier’s pilot episode dared to establish itself as independent of its parent series as possible.

“The Good Son” shows Frasier leaving Boston for Seattle: trading a bar for a coffee shop, an unraveling marriage for bachelorhood, and a private practice for radio psychiatry. The pilot also does not hold back in diving right into themes of insecurities and how we as humans struggle to confront the complexities of our relationships with others and, ultimately, the innermost workings of one’s own self-doubt and emotions.

Right out the gate, Frasier succeeds in making one thing perfectly clear; this is a sitcom that will very much talk to its audience, not down at them.

Frasierisms:

Niles: “I thought you liked my Maris.”

Frasier: “I do. I like her from a distance. You know, the way you like the sun.”

 

  1. My Coffee with Niles

Season one concludes just as strongly as it began (if not more so), as Niles asks Frasier to contemplate the ultimate question: happiness. Taking place entirely at Café Nervosa, “My Coffee with Niles” succeeds—like any good sitcom bottle episode—because of the main cast’s impressive chemistry.

The question of happiness, and what it may even mean to be truly happy, weaves in and out of every episode of Frasier. Throughout the series, the titular character alone will often wonder if a certain woman is “the one” and if he’s too self-defined by his job, but here Frasier is most carefully considering whether or not his life-changing move back home to Seattle has truly brought him joy.

On another point, this episode also marks Frasier finally asking Niles about his feelings for Daphne.

Frasierisms:

Niles: “Either you’re happy or you’re not.”

Frasier: “Are you happy?”

Niles: “No, but we’re not talking about me.”

 

  1. The Innkeepers

 On Cheers, Frasier becomes part of a group of friends who spend night after night together at a bar, but once he returns to Seattle most of his social life consists of time spent with his brother. Niles and Frasier are each other’s best friend and greatest rival, and many of the show’s strongest episodes tackle the issues that arise from the Crane brothers’ incessant need to one up the other—or, as is the case in “The Innkeepers”, their inability to admit when their egos blind them to their own limitations.

Despite warnings from Martin that they won’t be able to properly pull it off, Niles and Frasier band together to take over and restore one of their favorite restaurants, renaming it Les Freres Heureux (a heavily ironic title, considering what little happiness the restaurant will ultimately bring them).

Frasierisms:

Frasier: “We’ll make the place very, very exclusive! No sign on the outside, no advertisements and oh, an unlisted number!”

Martin: “Hey, well don’t stop there! Maybe you could post some guards on the roof who can shoot people as they try to get in.”

  1. Martin Does It His Way

Martin-centric episodes always have a special way of tugging at my heartstrings and; combining that with the fact that I’m also a huge Frank Sinatra fan makes this one a personal favorite episode. It’s also a particularly strong one, featuring wonderful interactions with all three Crane men as Niles and Frasier aim to help their father fulfill his lifelong dream of writing a song for Sinatra—the final results of which result in a must-watch scene.

Frasierisms:

I’m just going to cheat a bit here and say “the lyrics of She’s Such a Groovy Lady.”

  1. Moon Dance

For many, this is the quintessential Niles/Daphne episode. Frasier will still continue the question of will they/won’t they for several seasons beyond this season three episode, but it nonetheless marks a pivotal evolution in the Niles/Daphne relationship.

With Niles and Maris’ unhappy marriage crumbling (though that too will take a few more seasons to fully unravel), Niles is determined to still attend a country club dance to prove he’s not sulking over Maris. Daphne volunteers to give Niles dancing lessons and ultimately becomes his date.

At the event, the two perform a memorable tango, during which Niles impulsively confesses to Daphne that he adores her—but she thinks it’s just a part of the “act.”

Frasierisms:

Niles: “Just for tonight, could you call me Niles? ”

Daphne: “You know, when I was at school I knew a boy named Niles. I called him Niley. ”

Niles: “Just for tonight, could you call me Niles?”

 

  1. The Show Where Diane Comes Back

If you’ve read this blog before, you definitely know at least two things: that I’m a huge Frasier fan (and thus aren’t surprised to see this article) and I’m an ardent member of the Diane Chambers Fan Club (that is, should one ever exist). So, when considering a Frasier episode featuring an appearance from another Cheers character to include in this post, this was an obvious pick (don’t worry, Lilith episodes are coming).

This is an important episode for Frasier himself, as Diane’s brief reappearance in his life causes him to wrestle with confronting the woman who left him at the altar and broke his heart while struggling to not fall in love with her all over again. I would also argue that, especially with Ted Danson’s Sam Malone not around, Frasier and Diane have better chemistry in this episode than they ever had on Cheers—making it clearer to see why she left such a mark on him.

While it’s not necessary to watch Cheers to enjoy Frasier (though you definitely should for several reasons, including the pure joy of watching Sam/Diane banter), fans of Cheers will particularly enjoy this episode’s ending, as the play Diane is rehearsing bears a striking resemblance to a certain bar and its regulars.

Frasierisms:

Diane: “…But cruel fortune interceded when not twenty yards offshore I suddenly discovered myself entangled in an enormous bed of, of, um…”

Niles: “Sea kelp.”

Diane: “Exactly right, sea kelp!”

Martin: “That’s funny. I thought he said ‘seek help.’”

  1. Look Before You Leap

Even if you have never watched an entire episode of this series before, you may have still seen the clip of Frasier fumbling his way through singing “Buttons and Bows”; that scene comes from this episode and it alone is reason enough to give this one a watch.

Frasier embraces the idea of February 29th as a “bonus day” and a chance to do something different—but, as he encourages those around him to do the same, nothing works out according to plan.

Frasierisms:

Frasier: “It may be an unwise man who doesn’t learn from his own mistakes, but it’s an absolute idiot that doesn’t learn from other people’s!

  1. The Two Mrs. Cranes

I’ve heard and personally said the following about Frasier multiple times: watching it feels more like a stage play. The way Frasier is often staged, the types of scenarios, and the dialogue all speak to this (not to mention how much it excels with farce), with “The Two Mrs. Cranes” being one of the strongest examples.

Daphne panics when an old boyfriend comes to town to win her back. Rather than let him down honestly and gently (all while assuming he still hasn’t made much of himself), Daphne pretends to be married to Niles—eventually forcing all five of the show’s main characters to pretend to be someone else. The situation complicates even further once Daphne realizes Clive is successful after all, as both she and Roz vie for his attentions while still maintaining their false identities.

Frasierisms:

Martin: “What’s going on here?”

Frasier: “Clive is Daphne’s old boyfriend; she’s trying to let him down easily, by pretending to be married to Niles.”

Niles: “So, this is my place. Frasier is staying here temporarily, because he’s separated from Maris.”

Martin: [to Frasier] “You couldn’t stand her either, huh?”

  1. A Lilith Thanksgiving

 Let’s get something out of the way first and foremost. Bebe Neuwirth (who plays Frasier’s primary love interest, Lilith Sternin, on Cheers and is his ex-wife by the time of Frasier) is a national treasure.

Meanwhile, Lilith herself is a force of nature and if I had to choose three sitcom characters to be at my side to survive an apocalypse (or handle any problem, really), she would be my first choice. So, yes, I’m quite the Lilith fan.

This episode does not mark her first appearance on Frasier, but it’s certainly one of the best—and it’s a holiday episode, we all know how much sitcoms love those! Frasier, Niles, and Martin fly to Boston for Thanksgiving unexpectedly to accommodate an upcoming meeting Frasier and Lilith have with a school headmaster to try to guarantee their son Frederick’s acceptance.

Lilith and Frasier’s attempts to impress the headmaster are a joy to watch, proving that the two still make an excellent team.

Frasierisms:

Lilith: “I’m nearly done defrosting. ”

Niles: “And the turkey?”

Lilith: “Might I suggest you stuff it?”

  1. Ham Radio

 An excellent ensemble episode that highlights the strengths of Frasier and Roz’s eccentric KACL colleagues, Ham Radio is also a classic showcase of what happens when Frasier goes too far.

In this case, Frasier is thrilled to direct a live radio drama in honor of the station’s 50th anniversary, but (as Niles predicts) he can’t help himself from “over-directing.” There’s a great deal to enjoy here, but Gil Chesterson’s insistence on trying to deliver a monologue that Frasier wants to cut is certainly a highlight—and a reason why he’s one of my favorite reoccurring characters.

Frasierisms:

Martin: [predicting the plot of the radio drama Frasier’s directing] “Oh don’t tell me, I know: a bunch of people get caught in a storm, and everyone’s wondering who’s going to be the first one murdered.”

Frasier: “Exactly, and I’m going to direct.”

Niles: “So, we can stop wondering.”

 

  1. Halloween

 

Halloween is a classic Frasier episode for many reasons; the costumes at Niles’ Halloween costume party and Niles’ jealousy when he mistakenly thinks Daphne and Frasier have become romantically involved are standout plotlines. Still, this episode is ultimately anchored by Roz.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, Roz is a wonderful character and definitely the type of female character there still isn’t enough of on television: strong and feisty while still being loving, as well as proof that women can successfully balance a career with (single) motherhood. Since this is the episode in which she learns she’s pregnant, it’s undeniably a significant episode for her character’s development.

Frasierisms:

Bulldog: “I’m Waldo, from Where’s Waldo. You know, that guy you can’t find because he blends into the crowd? ”

Niles: “I don’t know, but I’d love a demonstration.”

  1. The 1000th Show

 The only episode to actually be filmed in Seattle, Frasier’s radio station KACL marks his 1000th show with a huge celebration in his honor. As Frasier basks in the attention, Niles can’t help but be jealous. Niles gets in plenty of jabs; for instance, he’s “surprised the trains are even running on Frasier Crane Day.”

On the day of the event, Frasier and Niles’ stroll over to the event is repeatedly delayed by disastrous events (including a mugging). Finally, Frasier is able to secure a ride from a chauffeur. As he begins to hear about the man’s familial problems, he makes a decision that proves his heart is always in the right place even if he sometimes has a misplaced ego; he ultimately decides to skip his own rally to advise the chauffeur.

Frasierisms:

Niles: “Sorry I’m late, I stopped half way to listen to a jolly band of Frasier Crane Day carolers! I tried to join in on ‘The Twelve Days Of Frasier’ but forgot the words around day seven. How does it go again?”

Frasier: “I believe it’s ‘seven snobs a sniping.”’

  1. The Ski Lodge

When a friend of mine has never seen Frasier, this is usually the first episode I suggest. It’s also arguably the series’ best use of farce and one of the episodes I’ve watched most often.

Frasier, Niles, Daphne, and Martin (plus Daphne’s friend Annie and a ski instructor named Guy) are all at a ski lodge; essentially, everyone except for Martin desires another who’s there but—in typical farce fashion—complications and confusions over who really wants whom arise.

While confusing a person’s true feelings for another might not seem like remarkably new territory or a sitcom, it’s how cleverly this premise is executed here that makes it one of the genre’s best.

Frasierisms:

Niles: “I grant you [Annie’s] comely, but don’t you find her a tad — what  would the polite euphemism be — stupid?”

Frasier: “Niles, she is just unschooled, like Liza Doolittle. Find her  the right Henry Higgins, she’ll be ready for a ball in no time!”

Niles: “Leave it to you to put the “pig” back in Pygmalion.”

14.  Room Service

 The second Lilith episode on this list (and the first to be written by one of my favorite sitcom writing teams, Ken Levine and David Isaacs), “Room Service” is a great example of what Frasier does best: delving deep into the psyches and insecurities of its characters (Frasier, Niles, and Lilith in this case) without sacrificing comedy.

Instead of spoiling this episode’s major twist, I will point out how one of my favorite aspects of this episode is it highlights just how similar the Crane brothers are: both wanting the same breakfast and questioning why anyone would want food in the bathroom (repeating the other’s action both times without the other’s knowledge).

Frasier and Niles’ similarities are obvious by this point in the series, but what really sells it here is the subtlety.

Frasierisms:

Lilith: “Niles, sorry to hear your marriage ended in a shambles.”

Niles: “Ditto.”

15. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz

 Frasier spends much of the series searching for love and proves himself time and again to be a hopeless romantic, but I will always insist that his best love interest to be introduced over the course of the eleven seasons was Faye Moskowitz.

Sophisticated, witty, and lovely, Faye shares a number of Frasier’s interests (it didn’t hurt that she was the pastry chef at his favorite restaurant either). She’s also funny, teasing Frasier in a way that brings him down a peg without being condescending and her own relationship with her mom mirrored similar issues that Frasier and Martin often face.

I could go on, but instead I’ll encourage you to watch this episode (Faye’s first appearance) and come up with your own verdict. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz” also ranks as my favorite Christmas episode of the series—with Niles dressed as Jesus for a play definitely contributing to that.

Frasierisms:

Frasier: “I guess someone wanted to rack up a few more  frequent Frasier miles.”

Niles: “You don’t ever actually say those things to the woman, do you?”

16.Three Valentines

The opening of this episode cements why David Hyde Pierce (Niles) is a true master of physical comedy. In one of the most iconic scenes of the series (and, I’d argue, the best opening scene to any sitcom), Niles accidentally causes a fire in Frasier’s apartment while ironing a suit—oh, and the scene has no dialogue.

No further analysis needed.

Frasier: “OK, just answer me this: How do you know if you’re on a date?”

Roz: “Are you alone?”

Frasier: “Yes. ”

Roz: “Then you’re not on a date.”

17. The Dinner Party

Both a bottle episode and a particularly strong Niles/Frasier-focused episode, an accidental voicemail from someone they intend to invite to a dinner party (“you get that one [Crane brother], you get that other one”) prompts the Crane brothers to wonder if they spend too much time together.

The episode does not provide a definitive answer to the question but, in true Frasier fashion, the true focus is on the discussion it inspires.

Frasierisms:

Niles: “Why is Joaquin on such a strict diet?”

Frasier: “Because the Joaquin they’re bringing to dinner is… their foster child, from a tiny village on the Pampas. He speaks no English and he gets nauseated when he eats American food.”

Niles: “So, he’s not the conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic?”

Frasier: “Oh, you are so ‘that other one!’”

18. A Tsar Is Born

 A common theme of Frasier is how little Martin appears to have in common with his sons (at least on the surface, as the show repeatedly demonstrates how they share the same sense of integrity), so it’s fun whenever they can bond over a common interest; in this episode, the three realize they all love watching “The Antique Roadshow.”

When the Crane men attend the show’s taping in Seattle, the origin of Martin’s clock inspires Fraiser and Niles to research whether or not they could be descendants of the Romanov family.

Of course, for my fellow Frasier fans, this episode has another significance perfectly summarized by one word: Veneer!

 Frasierisms:

Martin: Well, I guess you would have found out anyway after I died…We’re royalty. [Frasier and Niles look ecstatic] But I didn’t want you to grow up spoiled, so I abdicated      and took a job in Seattle on the police force. [the brothers realize it’s a joke] It was kinda hard giving up that royal way of life, but I think maybe it’s the swans that I miss most.”

19. RDWRER

 Another Crane men-focused episode, “RDWRER” (Martin’s license plate abbreviation for “Road Warrior”) is a memorable road trip episode as Frasier tells Roz about the New Year’s road trip he and Niles took with their father in his Winnebago.

Hilarity ensues (including Niles accidentally ending up in the wrong vehicle) while the episode still features plenty of plenty heartfelt moments.

Frasierisms:

Frasier: “Erd… Whirr-Er”?

Daphne: “Rid-Worr-Yer”?

Frasier: “Red Wearer”!

Martin: O”h, for God’s sake! ‘Road Warrior!”‘

Daphne: “Of course! For a retired man with a cane and a Winnebago, I don’t know why my mind didn’t go straight to it!”

20. Something Borrowed, Something Blue

 The season seven finale is the episode in which Niles and Daphne finally become a couple. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of how they get together (because I can’t help but feel horrible for Niles and Daphne’s respective significant others at the time) but I am happy that they do.

I will also say I enjoy the build up to this episode as well. Niles spends most of the series pining for Daphne, but the way in which Daphne finally learns about Niles’ feelings and slowly but surely realizes her own feelings is wonderful to watch (and more satisfying than comparable storylines in other shows such as, say, when Rachel “realizes” she has feelings for Ross).

Frasierisms:

Daphne: “It’s not easy. I don’t even know how to begin with [Niles]. ‘Would you like steak or salmon at my wedding? And by the way, I think I might be in love with you.”‘

21. Frasier’s Edge

 This episode is one of my absolute favorites and is a perfect example of why a blog like this can exist; sitcoms are fun and comforting to watch, yes, but the particularly strong ones (like Frasier) also delve into deep, relatable issues.

Many relate to the idea that it can be easy to give advice but very difficult to take it, making episodes like these (in which Frasier is attempting to self-analyze) particularly poignant. Upon receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, he overanalyzes the congratulatory note from his mentor, Dr. Tewksbury.

This prompts him to confront Tewksbury, who confesses it was his secretary who wrote the note. What follows is fascinating to watch, as Frasier attempts to treat himself as a caller on his show to analyze as he contends with the realization that he feels empty.

Frasierisms:

Frasier:  [referring to himself] “I don’t know what he wants!”

Tewksbury: “Then why do you keep trying to bury him in psychiatric exercises?”

Frasier: “Because that’s all I have!”

22. Daphne Returns

 I’ll aware this might be a controversial choice as an “essential” episode, but I’m more than happy to defend it. While most shows handle an actress’ real-life pregnancy by either giving her bulkier clothes to hide it or writing in a pregnancy for her character, Frasier made the bold choice to simply have Daphne visibly gain weight; this episode takes it a step further by having a therapist theorize that Daphne gained weight due to the insecurities she feels over the idea of trying to live up to Niles’ expectations of her as his “dream woman.”

Niles is angry and quick to dismiss this, until Frasier (whose psychological prowess is on full display here) helps his brother realize that the only way he can hope to have a genuine, lasting relationship with Daphne is if he allows himself to be in love with her for the woman she is and not love at her as some idealized “goddess.” The episode even features a memorable callback to “Moon Dance” as Frasier calls out Niles on his insistence that Daphne is perfect.

Many sitcoms depict romances in which one person idealizes the other, but it takes a show as intelligent as Frasier to confront this head on and unpack why this would be problematic for a long-term relationship. It’s a key episode for Niles as a character, Niles and Daphne as a character, and further proves how seriously Frasier’s writers treat its characters—and, ultimately, its audience.

Frasierisms:

Frasier: [advising Niles] “Maybe Daphne’s not the only one who’s afraid she won’t measure up. Maybe you’re afraid, too. After all, if it turns out she’s not perfect, then there’s a chance things won’t work out. Then not only will you lose Daphne, but you’ll have wasted the last seven years of your life chasing an illusion.”

23. Room Full of Heroes

 I’ve written about this episode before regarding how much I realize to Roz in this episode as I too recognize the merit in identifying with and admiring fictional characters. In addition to this, “Room Full of Heroes” is notable for how well it combines a fun premise with deeper, somewhat heartbreaking undertones.

In this episode, Frasier hosts a Halloween party where he encourages guests (which ultimately end up just being the main five) to dress up as their personal hero. The costumes are as follows: Frasier as Freud, Roz as Wonder Woman, Daphne as Elton John, Martin as Joe DiMaggio, and Niles as Martin.

While Niles’ costume inevitably sparks sibling rivalry between Niles and Frasier, it ultimately leads to him (drunkenly) confessing insecurities he has with his father—mainly that he seems to think he and Frasier are disappointments to Martin.

Frasierisms:

Frasier: “Niles, why don’t you just go talk to [Martin]?”

Niles: “I’m sure I am the last person he wants to see right now.”

Frasier: “Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. He’s not your hero for nothing.”

  1. High Holidays

 This episode never fails to make me laugh. Niles, upon realizing he never had a rebellious phase, decides to try a pot brownie. The brownie meant for him gets swapped, ultimately resulting in Martin actually being high while Niles only thinks he is (to equally hilarious results).

Oh, and Frasier’s son Frederick also visits and is having a goth phase, but this episode is really about Martin and Niles.

Frasierisms:

Niles: “I’m especially looking forward to something called the ‘munchies’ stage. It’s where one enjoys bizarre food combinations. I’m thinking of pairing this Chilean sea bass with an aggressive Zinfandel!”

  1. Goodnight, Seattle

 It would be hard to write an “essential” episodes of Frasier post without including the show’s series finale. As with most finales, each character prepares for his or her next chapter in life—and you may want to have a box of tissues on hand.

I’ll admit that I’m, in particular, a sucker for when Frasier recites a shortened version of Alfred Tennyson’s iconic “Ulysses” poem (the whole version of which, by the way, I actually had to recite back in high school)—and, of course, when Niles tells Frasier he will “miss the coffees.”

Frasierisms:

Frasier: “…For eleven years you have heard me say, “I’m listening.” Well, you were listening too. And for that I am eternally grateful. Goodnight, Seattle.”

 

 

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Why Everybody Loves Raymond Still Has the Best Vacation Episode of Any Sitcom

As the sun continues blazing outside during yet another humid summer in New York City, it seems like a great time to tackle another sitcom trope of sorts: the vacation episode. From tropical destinations to ABC sitcoms’ “rite of passage” Walt Disney World episodes, nearly every sitcom has at least one major episode (often divided into two parts) centered on a special getaway. As with any trope, the results vary. Some are cheesy and lighthearted and others revolve around dramatic cliffhangers. Then there are ones where, well, let’s just say it’s incredibly obvious when a vacation episode is not actually filmed at the destination in question.

So, what makes a vacation episode of a sitcom great? First of all, as is true for any stand out episode, it must stay true to the main characters’ personalities even if the setting and overall plot differ from the norm. Ideally, the episode should also make viewers feel like they’re along for the ride. Sitcoms are often comforting and escapist in nature, so these feelings shouldn’t diminish just because the characters are off on a trip; if anything, they should heighten. Specifically, if I’m watching some of my favorite characters visit a new place, I want to feel like I’m genuinely learning something about what makes that location particularly special and worth visiting.

With all this in mind, it quickly became obvious to me that there was a clear winner for my personal favorite vacation episode that’s all at once funny, heartwarming, memorable, and perfectly encapsulates the place where the episode takes place.

Sitcom Study: Everybody Loves Raymond’s “Italy” (5×01 and 5×02)

Relevant Episode Information: When Marie surprises the entire family with a trip to Italy, Ray is the only one not excited.

rays here
source: Wikipedia

I have previously written about my love and appreciation for Everybody Loves Raymond. As funny and quotable as it remains even in reruns, I’ve always felt that the series has never quite received the credit it deserves for how it expertly handles deeper themes such as struggling with parents divorcing while being an adult and pondering the meaning of life. In “Italy”, season five’s two-part season premiere (which, yes, was actually filmed there), the show tackles another important topic beautifully: how rewarding it is to immerse oneself in another culture.

The episode follows the Barones as they take a special two-week long vacation to Italy. Marie, Frank, Debra, and Robert are thrilled and quickly embrace the trip. Ray? Not so much. He comments to Debra how he’s “not really interested in other cultures” and spends a great deal of the trip finding the worst in anything and everything: air conditioning in a van, the size of their room, his sinuses, and even the quality of napkins.

In the midst of driving everyone (well, mainly Debra and himself) crazy with his cynicism, he agrees to take a walk with his mother Marie; during the stroll, he interacts more with locals, starts to really notice Italy’s natural beauty, and has what he describes as “the best pizza [he’s] ever had.” At last, everything becomes clear to him (metaphorically of course—but, as a nice symbolic nod, his sinuses also begin to clear up as he starts thinking with more clarity and positivity). As he finally comes to appreciate the wonders of Italy (and travel itself), he in turn becomes more romantic, thoughtful, and generous; it’s a beautiful parable about how enlightening it can be to fully immerse oneself in another way of life.

Toward the end of the episode, he says to Debra: “…there’s something about this place. Do you get that? There’s like a feeling here. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s more simple. The way the whole place shuts down in the middle of the day, so the people can just, you know, enjoy the day. It’s like they know how to live here.”

No matter how many times I’ve watched this episode, Ray’s words always strike me. I’ll even freely admit that I’ve quoted that last line more times than I can count when describing my own experience in Italy—because Ray is right. Italy is one of those special places where enjoying life (and each other) truly seems to take precedence; visiting there was nothing short of incredible, forever cementing the sense of pride I have in being half-Italian.

As mentioned earlier, most classic sitcoms feature at least one notable trip, but very few attempt to unpack why so many people throughout the world are captivated by wanderlust and truly come to fall in love with travel. Sure, somewhere like Italy (as well as countless other popular tourist destinations) has delicious food and famous architecture. But, as Everybody Loves Raymond astutely highlights, that’s ultimately not what is most important about travel. Instead, it’s the joy of the journey itself: the people, the customs, and the lessons learned.

And if a vacation you have been on has provided you with that same type of incredible to find yet nearly impossible to fully describe “aha” moment as it did for Ray (and me), then you already know what you can hope to expect from your next trip, and the one after that.

Until then, there’s always the virtual getaway to Italy with the Barones.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering John Mahoney: The Heart of Frasier

As sad as it is to have lost the great John Mahoney at all, there’s something particularly painful for it to have been on Super Bowl Sunday—a day undeniably significant to his sport-loving on-screen alter ego on Frasier, Martin Crane. As I’ve mentioned multiple times on this blog, Frasier is especially significant to me. As someone who blogs about sitcoms and truly, sincerely believes in them as an art form worthy of careful analysis, I’m always hesitant to label one sitcom as my absolute favorite. Still, if I’m being completely honest—and attempt to also consider “favorite” right alongside words like “quality”, “well-written”, and “rewatchable” then, yes, it probably is Frasier. And so it’s definitely jarring to watch the show, which is so often a source of comfort and laughter for me, knowing its twinkle-eyed patriarch has passed.

Martin

Martin has never been the character I identify with most (that would be Frasier or, sometimes, Roz and Daphne), but the fact that he was consistently the show’s beating heart is not lost on me. It’s impossible to imagine the show’s eleven-year run without his quiet strength, gentle humor, and unrivaled ability to bring his sometimes-haughty sons (Niles and Frasier) down a few pegs—all while still loving them unconditionally.

One of the series’ most central themes is the complicated relationship between Frasier and Martin, who continually grapple with their differing personalities and interests all while living under the same roof. Perhaps one of the greatest takeaways from the show, as exhibited by the Frasier/Martin relationship, is the lesson that someone you love doesn’t have to fully mirror your personality in order to still be a kindred spirit. While Frasier’s love of opera and sherry contrasts Marty’s preference for football and beer, the show made a point of demonstrating that the two men were in fact very similar in the ways that matter most—especially their good hearts and strong sense of morality.

Mahoney’s portrayal of Marty always felt real and relatable, enhancing an already touching or funny scene with his palpable sincerity or sly smile. Whether he was briefly fooling his sons into thinking that they were descended from Russian royalty, pranking Frasier about the “Fine Arts Forgery Department”, or working to fulfill his lifelong dream to write a song for Frank Sinatra, it’s impossible to not smile while he is onscreen.

Following Mahoney’s passing, Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) tweeted: “He was my father. I loved him.” Indeed, so too was Mahoney come to be an additional father figure to all who know and (re)watch the series. Here’s to you, John; I’ll be sure to drink a Ballantine in your honor.

Is The First Season of a Sitcom Ever Good?

I’ll be honest: I barely rewatch any sitcom’s first season by choice. Sure, I have watched many of my favorites shows more than once (i.e. Bewitched, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond—just to name a few), but I tend to cheat a bit; I usually start with the second or third season.
Why do I do this, particularly with shows I enjoy? Honestly, sometimes I just want to dive into a particular storyline (or skip an introductory one), while sometimes I want to avoid watching episodes centered on an earlier character I dislike, especially if he or she is going to disappear not long after (Chuck Cunningham, we hardly knew ye). Overall though, I think it’s simply because I have seen (most of) my favorite sitcoms so many times that I feel I have the luxury to just restart again and again at whichever point I want.
As I have written before, there’s something particularly comforting about watching sitcoms. Since I’ve watched many of the shows I choose to write about here since I was a young girl, many episodes inspire childhood memories. In my adult life, I often watch them when I’m stressed or in need of a good laugh. Many times, sitcoms have also served as the background for both pivotal and every day moments in my life. For instance, I not so jokingly refer to Everybody Loves Raymond as my “packing entertainment of choice”.

To me, a good sitcom is like an old friend: reliable, fun even if you already know what to expect, and easy to “pick up” from where you were from the previous “visit.” With this mentality in mind, do I then really need to watch Frasier Crane readjusting to life in Seattle in the show’s pilot if I’d rather go straight to Lilith’s first episode or even to the post-divorce Niles era? Probably not.

Of course, the fact that I often skip a sitcom’s first season does not necessarily make it “bad.” For me, a good first season has to answer a few questions with a resounding “yes”, such as:
1. If I were recommending show X to a friend who’s never seen it, would I feel that season one really showcases why it’s worth seeing in the first place? If I feel tempted to say “skip the first few” or even “skip it entirely”, the answer is probably a no.
2. Are the characters in the first season fully developed? Furthermore, are the relationships between the characters firmly established or it apparent that the writers are still figuring it out?

Before I delve into a few freshman seasons I do watch again and again, here are some of the ones I almost always choose to skip* (aka Least Favorite First Seasons):
1) The Office (U.S.)
While The Office’s first season only consists of six episodes (so not exactly a time-consuming rewatch), the fact that the series had still not figured out the Michael Scott (Steve Carell) character and how it wanted to distinguish itself from the original British version is so apparent that even one of the series’ writers has commented on it. By the second season, The Office firmly establishes its identity in large part by making Michael more sympathetic and likable than his British counterpart—and, in turn, making the first season skippable.
2) Friends
If you know me personally, I can almost hear you audibly gasping over seeing this show here, but now you know: one of my most guarded secrets as a sitcom fan is that I’m not a big fan of Friends’ first season. The characters are not fully fleshed out, some of the writing and jokes fall flat, a few of the storylines are bizarre (don’t even get me started on Ross and Marcel the monkey), and Monica is arguably the show’s lead for at least the first half.

As much as I love Monica, the element which most distinguishes Friends as such an iconic show is the fact that it’s an ensemble piece where all six have palpable chemistry with each other (including the less common “pairings” such as Chandler/Rachel and Ross/Phoebe) and are essentially on equal footing as leads. Without that, Friends would have been a completely different show—and wouldn’t have had quite the same magic.
3) Seinfeld
While Seinfeld is usually considered one of the best television shows of all time, its first season (albeit brief, much like The Office) is mostly forgettable and easy to skip; the tone is off, the pacing is often slow, and the banter is awkward in a way it won’t be as the series progresses. Still, it is during a season one episode that the audience meets George’s alter ego Art Vandelay (so I suppose it’s not all bad).
Now, on the flip side, here are a few of my Favorite First Seasons:
1) Cheers
Sam Malone (to Diane Chambers): “It’s simple, really. You can’t go back to the professor for work. I need a waitress – you need a job. You like the people here. You think that they like you. And the phrase “magnificent pagan beast” has never left your mind.”

I think the above quote (from Cheers’ pilot) pretty much says it all in establishing why Cheers’ first season is such a gem. It’s clever, witty, and immediately establishes the distinct personalities of its leads, Sam and Diane. Moreover, it establishes Cheers’ central theme (at least for the first five seasons) of the love/hate relationship between its leading pair. If you’ve read this blog before, you already know how much I love the Sam/Diane relationship, and the reasons why I do are clear even from this first episode (up to, and including, its iconic season one finale and beyond). Right from the start, it’s apparent that these two characters have undeniable chemistry, yet are often going to butt heads because they so completely get each other (flaws and all), and thus this is precisely why they can so expertly get to one another.
2) Bewitched
The sitcom that started my love and appreciation for the genre itself more than deserves a place on this list. Bewitched begins its series run strong thanks to excellent writing, fleshed out characters, a clearly defined conflict, and a stellar cast (i.e. Elizabeth “Most Charming Sitcom Lead Ever” Montgomery, Dick “The Only Darrin Who Matters” York, Agnes “Makes Everything Classy” Moorehead, David “Son of a Gun” White, and Alice “The Superior Gladys Kravitz” Pearce).
Bewitched’s straightforward premiere (a witch falls in love with and marries a mortal man) also encompasses its deeper themes. It’s about a young woman who defies her family’s expectations and follows her heart, carving out her own path. It’s about a couple from incredibly different backgrounds, whose love and acceptance of one another must consistently overcome one family’s prejudice that mortals are inferior to supernatural beings and thus that one is unworthy to marry a witch. This first season (and the series itself) is essential viewing.
3) The Good Place
Currently on its second season, The Good Place’s inclusion on this list might seem a bit premature, but that’s precisely why I am including it. As detailed above, a great deal of my television watching revolves around watching my favorite sitcoms again and again, so for me to pause a rewatch to check out a new sitcom it really has to be something special. Starring Ted Danson (definitely a key reason as to why I watched this in the first place) and Kristen Bell, The Good Place is inventive, funny, and something that is not usually expected of a sitcom: unpredictable. While this largely stems from the season one finale’s twist (which I would not dare spoil), just know that this comedy excels both at keeping the audience guessing what’s next as well as delivering metaphorical comfort food via its delightful cast of characters.
4) Frasier
Yes, I know what I wrote earlier, but this still needs to be on the list. While my most-watched seasons are probably Seasons 3, 5, or 6 (i.e. “Moon Dance”, “Ski Lodge”, “Dinner Party”, etc), the Season 1 finale titled “My Coffee with Niles”, which I’ve previously analyzed here, remains one of the best half hours of television.

Which sitcoms do you think have the best (and worst) first seasons? Let me know in the comments!

*= As a note, just because a show didn’t make it to either list, it doesn’t mean I necessarily dislike its first season (or like it). For the purpose of this article, I wanted to highlight just a few examples of each.

Defying Stereotypes, Inspiring Laughter: A Tribute to Rose Marie

Full disclosure: I am only twenty-three years old and the most exciting thing I have done in recent memory is attend a special screening of—and Q&A session for—the new Rose Marie documentary Wait for Your Laugh. I know some would find this more than a little surprising, and I completely understand why; I was, after all, the youngest person in the theater. Still, if you follow this blog or know me personally (perhaps noticing my Dick York desktop background or Sinatra posters), this really is not that surprising.

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Of course, this post is not really about my affinity for classic Hollywood stars; it’s about Rose Marie herself and, more specifically, why her career (spanning roughly 90+ years) is worth knowing. Though she is most famous for portraying sassy television writer Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rose Marie has been dancing, singing, and acting for stage and screen since the tender age of three.

I honestly knew very little of her fascinating childhood years prior to seeing the documentary, but I was definitely familiar with Sally. It’s no small exaggeration for me to say that, as a writer, I have consistently found Sally inspiring ever since I first watched Dick Van Dyke reruns as a young girl. A true equal next to her male counterparts, Rob (Van Dyke) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam), Sally worked hard, voiced her opinions confidently, and could more than hold her on against any joke with a clever wisecrack of her own.

In addition to inspiring me that women can and, in many ways, should tell their own stories through writing, the fact that Sally never quite fits into a pre-designated “box” as to how a woman “should behave” (especially by ‘60s standards) is equally inspiring. Whether in the ‘60s (when the series originally aired) or during the present day, she is a reminder that women should never feel confined by societal expectations and should instead live their lives as they themselves see fit: laugh, cry, embrace traditional feminine roles, reject those same roles, talk, listen—or, yes, maybe even write for a television show.

It’s only fitting then that, in real life, Rose Marie has also been someone who defies expectations and stereotypes. Of course, she will forever be associated with Sally Rogers, but—as Wait for Your Laugh proves—it would be unfair and limiting to let this completely define her, as it would downplay everything else she has accomplished as a true trailblazer in the industry. So, let’s not try to define her at all; let’s simply laugh with her.

Seinfeld: Making it Happen (Or, Well, The Opposite)

George Costanza has always been my favorite Seinfeld character. The George-centric episodes have consistently been my favorite, I recognize Festivus each year, and once had the infamous “Believe it or not, George isn’t at home…” tune as my ringtone (though it probably would’ve worked better as my outgoing message). In other words, it was inevitable that my first Seinfeld post would revolve heavily around him.

Still, I have to briefly touch upon Seinfeld itself first. There are a few key points that usually come up when discussing or analyzing the series. First, there’s the fact that the sitcom has found its way into the American lexicon in a way that, arguably, no other one has. Then, there’s the discussion of how Seinfeld has come to be nicknamed “the show about nothing” (though Jerry himself would say it’s more about “how a comedian gets his material”, while the idea of it being about “nothing” is just a joke). Of course, let’s also not forget the series’ infamous “no hugging, no learning” rule (aka no positive growth for the primary four characters).

Aside from this, I find it fascinating how, for all the show’s relatability in so much as it frequently tackles everyday occurrences, no one ever seems to want to admit to actually identifying with the characters themselves. With Friends, the conversation is very much people debating whether they are “a Phoebe” or “a Chandler”, but no one’s ever really claiming (or longing) to be “an Elaine” or “a Kramer.”

In many ways, this makes sense. After all, Seinfeld is a darker, more cynical sitcom than most others. The entire series finale was even focused on the simple fact that the years had done nothing but make Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer even more selfish than they originally were.

Sitcom Study: Seinfeld’s “The Opposite” (5×21)
Relevant Episode Information: George convinces himself that his bad luck will turn around if he does the exact opposite of his normal instincts; it works. Meanwhile, Jerry realizes that everything always balances out perfectly for him.

 

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I’m a big fan of “fate versus free will” debates and, in many ways, “The Opposite” is a good case study on how and when one can win out over the other. While certain events are ultimately out of anyone’s control, I do tend to believe in the importance of hard work and perseverance (especially in striving to achieve personal goals). I believe in “making it happen”, to the best of one’s abilities, and that there’s no such thing as being “too busy.” I frequently remind myself that if a hobby, goal, or friendship is really important, I will make time.

Similarly, if I find myself in a rut, I reflect on the choices I’ve recently made and consider what I can do differently to be more productive. While I’ve never worried that “every decision…in my entire life has been wrong”, as George does during the beginning of “The Opposite”, I can appreciate and agree with the basic philosophy behind his realization that he needs to do something different in order to move his life forward. George’s life was not going the way he had hoped, so he ultimately had two choices: deal with it or make a change.

By the episode’s conclusion, George has landed a date, moved out of his parents’ house, and started a new job with the New York Yankees. On the other hand, there’s Jerry. As previously mentioned, it’s during “The Opposite” that he finally realizes what’s obvious to anyone who watches Seinfeld; everything always seems to work out for him:

Jerry: “… like yesterday I lost a job, and then I got another one, and then I missed a TV show, and later on they re-ran it. And then today I missed a train, went outside and caught a bus. It never fails! I always even out!”

We all probably know a few people like Jerry, individuals who seem to have good fortune regardless of the amount of effort they put into something. This can inevitably be infuriating but, when all is said and done, it should never discourage anyone from achieving his or her own goals (something I must frequently remind myself). In George’s case, since this is still Seinfeld after all, his growth does not last beyond this episode.

Though, if anything, the fact that this is only temporary can serve as a warning against becoming complacent or eager for the easy way (as George tends to do in nearly every other episode). In other words, don’t be a George. Also, try not to be discouraged by someone who’s a Jerry.

3 of the Most Underrated Sitcoms

With so many sitcoms over the decades, it makes sense that some have received more attention than others. Star power, timing, hype, and legitimately well-written content are just a few of the many reasons why some sitcoms have repeatedly received high ratings and critical praise—and I’m definitely a fan of many such shows. It makes me happy that Frasier has retained its “sitcom with the most Emmy wins” crown, but lately I’ve found myself revisiting some sitcoms (old and current) which, for whatever reason, have never received such accolades but are nonetheless high in quality. Onto the list…

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1. Malcolm in the Middle

Over the last few weeks, I’ve rewatched this show (twice actually) and could kick myself for not remembering how great it was beforehand. I’ll admit that, with Bryan Cranston’s incredible performance as Walter White in Breaking Bad still fresh in my mind, I let myself forget he has equally incredible comedic chops (not to mention his stellar dance moves) as Hal. The criminally underrated Jane Kaczmarek shines as Lois (who’s also, arguably, the true protagonist of the series, despite the title). Despite the fear she inspires from her sons, Lois also has an unshakeable sense of justice, which stems from the fact that she tends to always be right (making it all the more entertaining the one time she’s wrong—well, more like the one time she’s made to believe she’s wrong).

Hal and Lois’ sons, including the show’s narrator Malcolm (played by Frankie Muniz, who was definitely my first celebrity crush) are undeniably troublemakers, but arguably only make trouble to cope with the fact that they are all outsiders in some way. The show also makes a point of giving each son a remarkable talent/gift all his own. For instance, Reese (Justin Berfield) is an amazing chef, while Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan) is a skilled pianist.
Malcolm in the Middle never glosses over important issues such as a family struggling to make ends meet or bulling. It even briefly touches on the dangers of alcohol and the importance of not taking advantage of someone. When an intoxicated girl asks Malcolm to have sex with her, he declines and makes sure any remaining alcohol is gone. He later worries about what kind of “man” he is for not going through with it but, in a pivotal moment, Francis (the oldest brother, played by Christopher Masterson) tells him how important it was that he did not take advantage of her.
When watches the show, it comes off as a cohesive whole, with no weak seasons and very few weak episodes (unlike even Frasier and Friends, which both definitely had some). The writers never fully allow the characters to catch a break but, when a character does grow, the progression is subtle and earned. Notably, Francis evolves from the biggest troublemaker in the family to the most responsible and grounded (not to mention he inherits Lois’ sense of justice—another subtle yet fitting touch).
2. The King of Queens

If “Adam Sandler movies” or Paul Blart: Mall Cop are what come to mind when you think of Kevin James, we need to talk. Actually, we can skip the talk. Just promise me you’ll turn on TV Land, TBS, or one of the other many networks to frequently air King of Queens reruns and enjoy Kevin James at his peak in terms of physical comedy and wit (though I’m intrigued to see what’s ahead for Kevin Can Wait, especially with Leah Remini on board as a series regular).

Though frequently (and unfairly) lumped in with other sitcoms to have the “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife” trope, King of Queens deserves better because it, in fact, is better. First of all, it deals with this trope in a unique way. On King of Queens, it is the husband (James’ Doug Heffernan) who is generally the “good guy”, calmer, better with kids, and the moral compass when the wife (Remini’s Carrie) goes astray. On many sitcoms, this is typically the opposite.

Doug, of course, is not without flaws and is not above pulling his own schemes, but the couple often schemes together; when they don’t, one can often bring the other to his or her side within the episode. Despite any perceived difference in looks, Doug and Carrie always make sense as a couple because they’re equals and comparable in several key ways: neither is particularly book smart or career-minded (generally maintaining a “work to live” philosophy, with living together as their priority), both can be selfish at times (though it’s nothing the other can’t balance out), and both know how to laugh and have fun with each other. Oh, and they even have their own song (aptly called “Doug and Carrie”).

Though James and Remini are the show’s anchors, King of Queens boasts an impressive supporting cast, notably Jerry Stiller as Carrie’s annoying, quirky father Arthur who moves into their basement, Patton Oswalt as lovable “nerd” Spence Olchin, and Victor Williams as Doug’s best friend Deacon Palmer.

Definitely do yourself a favor and give this underrated classic a (re)watch. Plus, if you’re a fan of crossovers, expect to see Everybody Loves Raymond characters pop up as guest stars throughout the show’s nine seasons.
3. The Middle

This current ABC comedy stable is helmed by Patricia Heaton (aka Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond) and Neil Flynn (aka the Janitor on Scrubs), delivers solid ratings, is heading into its ninth season this fall, and…has only been nominated for ONE Emmy thus far for its entire run?! That’s crazy!
As much as I love sitcoms (obviously), I’ll be honest: The Middle is the only current sitcom on broadcast that I consistently watch on a weekly basis. It’s consistent and well-rounded (unlike Modern Family, especially in recent years), relatable and touching (unlike The Big Bang Theory), and doesn’t rely on the same tired plot points and jokes (unlike The Goldbergs). Also, unlike many sitcoms, its child actors are in no way a weakness; they’re in fact a strength and each one consistently delivers great performances.

Heaton’s character, Heck family matriarch Frankie, is also perhaps the furthest thing from Debra. Well, actually, I like to think of Frankie as Debra if the latter finally gave up, moved far away from the other Barones, and decided to be lazier once removed from Marie’s constant visits.

 

Which sitcoms do you think are underrated? Please let me know in the comments!