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:
- 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.
Niles: “I thought you liked my Maris.”
Frasier: “I do. I like her from a distance. You know, the way you like the sun.”
- 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.
Niles: “Either you’re happy or you’re not.”
Frasier: “Are you happy?”
Niles: “No, but we’re not talking about me.”
- 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).
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.”
- 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.
I’m just going to cheat a bit here and say “the lyrics of She’s Such a Groovy Lady.”
- 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.”
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?”
- 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.
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.’”
- 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.
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!
- 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.
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?”
- 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.
Lilith: “I’m nearly done defrosting. ”
Niles: “And the turkey?”
Lilith: “Might I suggest you stuff it?”
- 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
- 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.
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.”’
- 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.
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.
Lilith: “Niles, sorry to hear your marriage ended in a shambles.”
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.
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?”
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.
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!
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.”
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.
Frasier: “Erd… Whirr-Er”?
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).
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.
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’m 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.
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 relate 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.
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.”
- 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.
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!”
- 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.”
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.”