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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

One of the Best Decisions Friends Made

        Friends has consistently been one of my favorite sitcoms for well over a decade. Even if I go a few weeks without watching it (which has happened at least once or twice, I think), I still know each episode by heart and reference scenes on a daily basis.

But if you’ve read this blog before, you already know I’m a Friends fan. You also know that I have some relatively unpopular opinions about the series, including the fact that I’m not a fan of Ross and Rachel as a couple (but love the similar on again/off again Sam and Diane on Cheers) and consider Monica my favorite female character.

This post is about an aspect of the show that, while probably not as unpopular as the others, is nonetheless one that is often debated by fans: Should Joey and Phoebe have gotten together (however briefly) or were the creators right to keep them as just friends?

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Sitcom Study: The Friends creators were not only right to keep Joey and Phoebe just friends, but this was also one of their best and most important decisions.

For those of you who are fans of the Joey/Phoebe pairing, I can imagine at least a couple counterarguments you’re probably thinking right now:

  1. But Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow had such amazing chemistry!!

I agree. I’d also argue that one of the reasons Friends was successful in the first place is because ALL main cast members had amazing chemistry and so ANY combinations among the six worked well.

  1. Joey and Phoebe always had such sweet moments.

True. Still, I stand by the fact that all six characters had sweet moments with the others. Plus, if Joey fell for Phoebe, you’d have all six partnered off with each other (and no Paul Rudd). This would have been too unrealistic, even for a show with infamously unrealistic apartments.

Joey and Phoebe undoubtedly love each other, but this does not mean that this is a romantic love. I strongly believe in the notion that there are different types of love and that one is not necessarily more important than another. Many still believe that even if two people insist they are “just friends”, they will eventually fall for each other (or will harbor feelings until the “time is right” like The Office’s Jim and Pam).

This line of thinking is deeply problematic. Namely, it implies that a friendship’s only value is to serve as a stepping-stone for a romantic relationship. It also suggests that, if you do have romantic feelings for a friend, the best thing to do is keep this to yourself and wait for the stars to align. Let me get on my soapbox for just a second: do not ever wait for the stars to align. I believe everything happens for a reason and people can come into your life at the most unexpected times. Still, if someone truly wants to be with you, excuses such as “too busy” or “maybe it’s the wrong time” won’t matter in at least trying to make a relationship work.

The Joey/Phoebe relationship is perfect just the way it is; it serves as a reminder that the love between friends is beautiful in and of itself and should not be seen as merely the means to an end. Actually, in a way, I guess Friends did partner off all the main characters: the on-again/off-again couple (Ross and Rachel), the friends who do fall in love and get married (Monica and Chandler), and the pair who loves each other deeply as friends and share a special bond (Joey and Phoebe).

Female Sitcom Characters Who Changed My Life

In honor of Women’s History Month (and because a new post is definitely overdue), I’ve comprised a carefully considered list of the female sitcom characters I have cared about most over the years. Listed in no particular order, these characters have resonated with me more than others; I’ve come to personally identify with some, while others inspire me, and others still are just hilarious and well-written (or all of the above). My main rules in deciding the list: I could not choose more than one female character from the same series and I had to limit the list to three or four key characters. Now, onto the list!

  1. Monica Geller (Courteney Cox on Friends)

Memorable Lines: “Fine! Judge all you want to but, married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, livin’ in a box!!! and, of course, “SEVEN!”

As far as the Friends universe is concerned, I’m definitely a Monica-type. In addition to having this listed on pretty much all of my social media accounts (plus the About Me page of this very blog), Monica is my go-to “Starbucks name” (mainly because I know from experience that they won’t spell my real first name correctly anyway). While I’m not a “neat freak” to the level that Monica is (but I’m not sure if anyone really could be), I consider myself very ambitious, competitive, and organized; I’ve also been called either “the planner” or the “mom friend” by myself and others too many times to count.

For these personal reasons, Monica clearly holds a special place in my heart, but that’s not the only reason she matters to me. She’s also incredibly inspiring, arguably the most inspiring of the six Friends. Sure, it’s admirable how Rachel evolves from the stereotypical “spoiled rich girl” and Phoebe is undeniably a strong woman who has overcome a great deal, but let’s not ignore the amazing journey Monica undergoes.

The product of an emotionally abusive household where she struggled with her weight and had a mother who constantly criticized her, Monica nonetheless overcomes this to become a strong, confident woman who goes after what she wants and never settles. In Season Two, she memorably dates the older and sophisticated Dr. Richard Burke. Even though she comes to love him deeply and, at the time, sees him as the probable love of her life, she musters the strength to let him go when she realizes a key difference between them: unlike her, he doesn’t want children (well, in his case, he doesn’t want children again).

Her personality was also never confined by any gender stereotypes. She excelled at football and was repeatedly proven to be one of the physically strongest Friends, but also relished in planning her wedding and took pride in cleaning. She was the glue that held the Friends group together and made them feel more like a family (and was probably the funniest drunk out of the six).

  1. Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched)

A Couple Memorable Lines: “I am a witch. A real broom riding, house haunting, cauldron stirring witch!” and “Oh my stars!”

In an earlier blog post, I credited Bewitched as the first sitcom I ever cared about enough to watch religiously (not to mention it was the first one I enjoyed analyzing closely). Even in my college thesis (which dealt with sitcom relationships), Sam and Darrin were the first couple I chose to analyze. Basically, there was never any doubt in my mind of whether or not Sam would make this list.

As I briefly mentioned in my aforementioned post, I’ve always stood firm in my belief that Bewitched is, indeed, a feminist show. Samantha, expected to live a supernatural life of wonder among the clouds, defies her family by marrying a mortal man and choosing to live (mostly) without witchcraft. Sure, Sam’s choice may seem a bit bizarre, but what matters is that it is her choice and it is one she proudly defends, whether she’s going up against the Queen of the Witches or her own mother. Played by the incredibly talented Elizabeth Montgomery, Sam was intelligent, unwaveringly kind, strong, and funny. She could have anything she wanted with a twitch of her nose, but instead used her powers for good and only as a last resort, always choosing to solve any problem first and foremost with her mind and heart.

  1. Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin on Frasier)

Memorable Lines: “I’m smarter than he is, more confident, more articulate, but the stupid little wusses think I’m a hothead!”and “When I die, I want it to be on my hundredth birthday, in my beach house on Maui. And I want my husband to be so upset he has to drop out of college.”

            On countless sitcoms, female characters are generally depicted as “incomplete” until they find “the one”, settle down, and marry. And then there’s Roz Doyle: snarky, career-driven, and unapologetically sexual. She takes pride in her work as a producer and, despite many a verbal jab from Niles and Frasier, she enjoys living an active single life (and can out sass the Crane brothers any day of the week).

Roz’s tough exterior masks a warm, sensitive heart; the times she allows herself to be vulnerable are few but beautiful to watch. She’s been let down and had her heart broken more times than she’d like to admit, but she never gives up on herself. Despite her initial fears when faced with the reality of becoming a single mother, she overcomes these hesitations and successfully balances her career with the demands of motherhood.

More than being unapologetically sexual, Roz was always unapologetically herself. She’s proof that a woman’s happiness does not have to be anchored by one person, but instead can come from within as a result of self-confidence, inner strength, and determination. Frankly, TV is still very much in need of more female characters like her.

  1. Diane Chambers (Shelley Long on Cheers)

Memorable Lines: (in response to Sam noting she’s drunk) “Wow, you’re stupid. I’ll be sober in the morning!” and “Diane has the bar.”

I’m aware that Diane gets a lot of flak for being pretentious and loquacious, but I absolutely love her. One half of my favorite will they/won’t they TV couple of all time, Diane elevates every scene she’s in on Cheers (and later as a guest on Frasier) to new heights (and Sam Malone’s character suffers deeply when she’s no longer around to simultaneously challenge and ground him).

If Roz Doyle guards her vulnerabilities with a mask of snark, Diane Chambers guards hers with one made of steel. Diane is bookish, quick-witted, moralistic, and not so secretly believes she deserves only the finest things in life. For all her book smarts, she often struggles to fit in with the “average Joe’s” at Cheers and, in her most vulnerable moments, it’s evident that she longs to be accepted. Diane is frequently mocked by the other characters who don’t take her seriously, while she in turn often takes herself far too seriously. She can become giddy over simple things (such as when she’s given brief control of the bar) and has a treasured stuffed animal collection—proving she’s not as haughty as she’d like to appear. Beneath her pseudo intellectualism, Diane is very much simply a woman in search of her place in life—and she should absolutely be taken seriously (even if Shelley’s performance leaves you in stitches).

Remembering Mary Tyler Moore

January 25th started out as a pretty standard day, great even. Then, I overheard the following at work: “Mary Tyler Moore just died.” I froze. Nooooo. I had known of Mary’s health problems, but I struggled with accepting the fact that the woman I had always viewed as a strong, resilient fighter was really gone.

The real life Mary was always an excellent role model—she was a lifelong animal rights activist and worked intimately with the JDRF to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes (a condition Mary herself had). Still, like countless others, it was through her two most iconic television roles that I came to “know” her: Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. 

In addition to the fact that each sitcom features iconic performances from Mary, both are essential viewing for anyone even slightly interested in comedy writing and strong female sitcom characters. Laura was charming, intelligent, quick-witted, just as funny as Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie, and one heck of a dancer. Also, thanks to Mary’s influence, Laura revolutionized the way women dressed on television by donning her now iconic capris pants.

What is also worth noting about The Dick Van Dyke Show is how loving and mutually respectful the marriage between Rob and Laura was. Unlike many later sitcoms, where one half of the couple is “in charge” while the other half is often portrayed as a submissive buffoon, thus resulting in a somewhat repetitive cycle of “good cop vs bad cop”, Rob and Laura were true equals. They joked together, danced together, and when they argued neither of them ever came off as controlling or condescending. From episode to episode, the two alternated who was the “straight-man”, giving Van Dyke and Moore equal chance to play the fool.

A few years later (1970 to be exact) on her eponymous sitcom, Mary Tyler Moore continued to break ground as a woman whom was not a wife or mother—she was just Mary Richards. Career-driven, independent and funny, she was more than capable of helming her own story as the protagonist.

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In the pilot episode “Love Is All Around” (the same name as the series’ iconic theme song by Sonny Curtis), a newly single thirty-year-old Mary relocates her life to Minneapolis. She settles into a new apartment and quickly makes new friends (notably Valerie Harper’s quick-witted Rhoda Morgenstern). Then, in one of the most memorable scenes of the series, she interviews for a job at WJM-TV with Ed Asner’s gruff yet lovable news director Lou Grant:

Lou: “What religion are you?”

Mary: “Mr. Grant, I don’t quite know how to tell you this, but you’re not allowed to ask that when someone’s applying for a job. It’s against the law.”

It’s a quick exchange, not nearly as iconic as the line anyone probably thinks of when remembering this pilot (referring to, of course, Lou’s “You know what, you’ve got spunk…I hate spunk!”), but it establishes something even more important about Mary’s character. Yes, of course Mary’s spunky; despite Asner’s excellent comic timing and delivery, the audience hardly needs reminding of such an obvious fact—especially when the aforementioned exchange between Mary and Lou so perfectly highlights Mary’s willingness to speak her mind, no matter whom she’s addressing or what the issue at hand may be. As the scene continues, Mary confirms that she will indeed be what the television landscape (and real life) is always in need of: an outspoken, confident woman who is willing and ready to fight for what she wants and knows she deserves. As Lou hired Mary as his Associate Producer, so too did countless women watching choose Mary as someone they not only wished to emulate as countless still saw her in themselves.

Decades later, this legacy continues. Thank you, Mary; thank you for your smile, individuality, independence, and spunk.

Thank you for paving the way.

Bottling Frasier’s Success

In many ways, the success—both commercially and critically—of many iconic sitcoms has come down to one crucial element: familiarity. How relatable are a character’s trials and tribulations to the ones the audience watching has faced? How comforting is the world of a particular sitcom and, moreover, to what extent is it able to serve as an “escape” from reality?

Timeless sitcoms Cheers and Friends are two such shows that exemplify this aura of intimacy between series and viewer. Cheers’ iconic theme song famously boasts the following line: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name”––indeed, for eleven seasons millions of viewers came to feel as if they would fit right in among the titular bar’s quirky customers. Similarly, people to this day comment (whether jokingly or not depends on the person) that Friends’ Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross feel akin to true friends—maybe even family.

This is precisely why sitcom bottle episodes (aka an entire episode mostly, if not entirely, confined to the main cast in one primary location) come off as so endearing. Seinfeld’s “The Chinese Restaurant” and Friends’ “The One Where No One’s Ready” are memorable examples of this formula and, while I love and have repeatedly watched both episodes, it is the two expertly crafted bottle episodes from my other favorite (and often the most criminally underrated nowadays, out of the three) sitcom, Frasier, that will be highlighted here.

Sitcom Study: Frasier’s “My Coffee With Niles” (1×24) and “Dinner Party” (6×17)

Like any good bottle episode, these Frasier episodes primarily take place in one setting; in the first, season one’s finale “My Coffee With Niles”, it is the characters’ go to hangout Café Nervosa and in the latter, season six’s “Dinner Party”, it is Frasier’s apartment. What puts these episodes into a league of their own—aside from the witty repartee that exists in every Frasier episode but is at peak form here—are two additional factors. First, each episode is not merely about the show’s core cast; it is primarily about its two leading characters: Frasier and Niles Crane, which arguably double as the show’s primary “relationship” in that a consistent, central theme of the entire show is their brotherly friendship and, more often than not, inevitable rivalry. This leads to the second factor: the two episodes focus on exploring, and attempting to answer, two primary questions that are imperative as much to the episode’s plot as to the show’s eleven-year arc.

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1) “My Coffee With Niles”

Relevant Episode Information: Frasier and Niles spend the entire episode chatting about their lives at their favorite coffee shop, Café Nervosa.

Primary Question: Is Frasier happy? Moreover, what does it mean to be happy?

While Martin, Roz and Daphne periodically and briefly speak to the brothers throughout the episode, the crux of the episode is Frasier’s response—and lack thereof—to Niles’ inquiry of whether or not he is happy. Note their initial exchange regarding this question:

Niles: “So, Frasier, now that chapter two of your life is in full swing, do you mind if I ask you something?”

Frasier: “No, go right ahead.”

Niles: “Are you happy?”

[Frasier is silent]

Niles: “Did you hear the question?”

Frasier: “Yes, I’m thinking. It’s a seemingly complex question.”

Niles: “No, it’s not.”

Frasier: “Yes, it is.”

Niles: “No, it’s not. Either you’re happy or you’re not.”

Frasier: “Are you happy?”

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

With the show’s first season coming to a close, there could not be a more apt time for Niles to ask Frasier this. By this point, viewers (many undoubtedly initial Frasier Crane fans from his Cheers days) have watched twenty-four episodes in which Frasier has worked to adjust to returning to his home city, tackling a new job, reestablishing relationships with his family and being a country away from his only son. So, is Frasier happy with this life-changing decision? This is not the last time such a question will be asked of him, though it often will take more specific forms, typically regarding his level of satisfaction with his job or love life.

One aspect of the aforementioned exchange that intrigues me so much is the fact that Niles and Frasier differ on the complexity of saying whether or not one is happy. In theory, I agree with Niles; I tend to think and speak of happiness as something akin to love in that it is instinctual—if you feel either, you know, otherwise you do not. In practice, however, I have found myself more on Frasier’s side of this discussion in that I usually take a few moments to reflect on recent events before offering a response.

Furthermore, of course, it is simply not in Frasier’s character to simply say “yes” or “no” to this or really any question without thoroughly weighing the pros and cons. Later in season four, Frasier will spend an entire episode agonizing over whether or not he believes Niles and his first wife, Maris, truly belong together. Even further along in the series, he will also struggle to choose between two women, asking literally anyone and everyone he encounters for input.

In the case of “My Coffee With Niles”, Frasier continues to evade the question until, finally, it is presented to him again, this time by a waitress growing tired of adjusting his order to meet his specificities:

Waitress: “Zimbabwe decaf, non-fat milk, no cinnamon in sight. Now—are you happy?”

Frasier: [really answering Niles’ initial question] “You know, in the greater scheme…yes, I’d say I am.”

Arguably, perhaps it is up to the viewers to decide how true this will prove to be for him as the seasons continue.

2) “Dinner Party”

Relevant Episode Information: Niles and Frasier decide to co-host a dinner party, but struggle to agree on the people they should and should not invite.

Primary Question: Are Niles and Frasier too reliant on one another? Are they odd?

Almost any episode that deals primarily with the brothers Crane rivalry is among the most re-watchable for me. In “Author, Author” and “The Innkeepers”, their egos humorously and inevitably clash as they try to co-write a book and co-manage a restaurant, respectively. In “IQ”, Frasier’s personal ego takes a major hit as he learns that Niles is the brother with the higher IQ—and that it’s more than just a mere couple of points in difference. Many of the show’s best one-liners are also directly relevant to their tendency to one up the other, for instance:

Frasier: “Niles, I would shave my head for you.”

Niles: “A gesture which becomes less significant with each passing year.”

 

Niles: [filling in for Frasier’s radio show] “Although I feel perfectly qualified to fill Frasier’s radio shoes, I should warn you that while Frasier is a Freudian, I am a Jungian. So there’ll be no blaming mother today.”

 

Indeed, “Dinner Party” is not without its bickering moments between the two. Nonetheless, aside from the joy of watching these two play off no one but each other for most of the episode, what makes this episode so memorable to me is that it poignantly touches on the fact that Niles and Frasier do, ultimately, have a loving and very close relationship despite everything. Still, a running joke throughout the series questions if they in fact spend too much time together; other characters repeatedly tease them for bringing the other as a “date” to one function or another.

Here, the brothers accidentally hear someone they are planning on inviting to their party refer to them as “that one” and “the other one”; it is unclear which is which but the underlying suggestion that the two are almost interchangeable to some is clear. Niles and Frasier proceed to over-analyze and debate its meaning:

Frasier: “Perhaps she has a point. Ever since your divorce you have become more and more attached to me. Maybe that’s why she said what she said.”

Niles: “What?”

Frasier: “You get Frasier, you get that Niles!”

Niles: “She didn’t say that. She said, “you get the one, you get that other one.” What makes you think that you’re the one and I’m that other one?”

Frasier: “I am the one giving the party, and you are that other one!”

Niles: “I’m the one that invited her, so that makes you that other one!”

And, in one of my favorite exchanges of the episode:

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”!”

This episode’s key question is not given a clear answer. Niles and Frasier bicker (whilst becoming increasingly disenchanted with the idea of throwing this party at all), Martin maintains that they are not odd (“just special”), and the episode ends with the brothers resolving to not care what others think and enjoy each other’s company at dinner—before quickly changing their minds.

Well then, are Frasier and Niles too dependent on one another? I am an only child and so cannot personally identify with a sibling relationship. At the same time, I—as, I believe, can most people—understand how rare and wonderful it is to find even one person with whom you can talk endlessly and share similar interests or ways of thinking and that there is nothing wrong with valuing such a friendship. To paraphrase Frasier’s final response in “My Coffee With Niles”, perhaps in the grand scheme of things it is one of the keys to lasting happiness.