( I had some pieces I’ve written over the years clogging up my desktop. They were all pieces that got accepted by websites but for one reason or another didn’t end up running. I figured I might as well put them up somewhere.)
Spinoffs, at least sitcom spinoffs, are much less common these days. Perhaps failures such as Joey, which couldn’t sustain itself despite being spun off from one of the most popular sitcoms of all-time, helped put the kibosh on any future endeavors of a similar variety. However, not all spinoffs are a failure, and Frasier is the most sterling example of this. Spun off from Cheers, one of the most beloved sitcoms ever, Frasier managed to build a whole new world for Dr. Frasier Crane to live in. Moved away from Boston out to Seattle, so that the show could distance itself from Cheers, and keep Frasier from having to play dad all the time, Frasier found himself surrounded by a whole new collections of great characters, most notably has brother Niles, portrayed by David Hyde Pierce.
Frasier found both critical and commercial success. It ran for 264 episodes and won more Emmys than you can shake a stick at. Frankly, in the end, Frasier turned out to be a better show than Cheers. It’s a brilliant farce, and one of the best written, and best performed, sitcoms ever. With so many episodes, and so many particularly great episodes, choosing a top 20 is difficult. How tough is it? So tough that this was originally a top 10 list, but paring it down that far felt unfair to a show this good. These are the moments in which heroes are forged. Here are the top 20 episodes of Frasier.
20. Frasier’s Imaginary Friend
Frasier’s love life, and his frustrations with said love life, was a major source of comedy for the show. After all, it is a sitcom about a single person. Bad dates are pretty much the de rigeur plot for such a show. Fortunately, Frasier is better than most shows, and, in this episode, Frasier finally scores a real catch. The comedy comes from the fact that nobody believes him. He meets a supermodel/zoology student on a plane, and they hit it off, but the only problem is nobody else has met her, so Frasier’s friends and family begin to think that, at best, he’s making her up, and, at worst, he’s losing his mind. When they do finally meet her, she’s telling Frasier off for being so odious, but at least Frasier has proof that he wasn’t lying.
19. A Mid-Winter Night’s Dream
This is the earliest episode on this list, from late in the first season. The will they-won’t they between Niles and Daphne drove a lot of the humor before they got together, and this is one of the first, perhaps the first, big “Niles and Daphne” episode. Niles and Maris are having marriage issues, and Daphne’s boyfriend breaks up with her. They end up alone in Niles and Maris’ mansion on a dark and stormy night, passions running high. Passions Frasier does not want them to consummate. It’s Frasier’s intensity about the whole thing that really keeps the energy up, and makes it feel almost plausible that Niles and Daphne will end up succumbing to their carnal desires, even if that was never going to happen so early in the show’s run.
18. Hot Pursuit
Eventually, Frasier and Roz did end up sleeping together, which, you know, whatever. It’s “Hot Pursuit,” though, when Frasier and Roz end up having to share a hotel room and almost sleep together, that really makes for a crackling episode of television. The two characters have great chemistry here, and it would have felt completely reasonable for them to get together at this moment. Plus, they don’t forget about the humor along the way, and Niles and Martin’s stakeout story is fun as well.
17. The Life of the Party
Parties were always a source of farcical chaos for Frasier and Niles, and “The Life of the Party” is perhaps the funniest party they’ve ever thrown. All sorts of crazy stuff goes on, including Martin and his dyed hair, but, most importantly, Roz gives birth to her daughter Alice, giving a little bit of an emotional beat to end the fun on.
16. Chess Pains
Frasier is an intellectual fancy pants, whereas his dad Martin is a blue collar “regular” guy. As such, when Frasier gets an ornate chess set, challenges his father, and loses, it really does not sit well with him. It’s a delightful episode about Frasier and Martin’s relationship, and a great episode for flustered Frasier. Of course, “flustered” was something Kelsey Grammer played amazingly well, which is why they went to that well so often.
15. Crock Tales
“Crock Tales” is the most ambitious episode in the show’s run. The penultimate episode, “Crock Tales” is a trip down memory lane for the show, all told around a crock pot. We see all sorts of memories, although they are new scenes, not clips. This means characters having to wear (sometimes distracting) wigs and a bunch of callbacks. It’s a great trip down memory lane, but not through the ease of a clip show. It’s very engaging, very funny, and a reminder that Frasier was his funniest when his hair was long.
14. Roe to Perdition
This is a supremely goofy episode. Frasier and Niles get into black market caviar. Caviar basically stands in for cocaine, because the Crane boys are nothing if not erudite. When the U.S. Customs agents get close, they shovel caviar down their gullets, and it is one of the funniest sight gags in all of the show’s run. It’s just silly stuff, but it’s hilarious in its silliness.
13. High Holidays
OK, we’ve got back-to-back goofy episodes, but this one is even funnier. Sure, it’s a bunch of jokes about characters getting high, but it’s great. Niles thinks he’s high but isn’t. Martin is actually high, accidentally. They are both so funny in this episode. Also, Frederick is goth now. Any episode with “fridge pants” deserves a spot in the top 20.
12. Author, Author
Frasier and Niles saw their relationship cool a bit as the show went on, but in the first season, such as in the episode “Author, Author,” they still have something of a frosty sibling rivalry going on. They end up agreeing to write a book together, but, of course, it goes terribly, which is, of course, hilarious. When they lock themselves in a hotel room to get the book done before their deadline, it is a comedic tour-de-force with the brothers at one another’s throats. Frasier and Niles are one of the best duos in TV history for a reason, and it was clear early on.
11. The Show Where Diane Comes Back
On a few occasions, characters from Cheers would appear on Frasier, and it was usually pretty alright. The one time it really worked great, though, was when Diane, played wonderfully by Shelley Long as always, made an appearance. The relationship between Diane and Frasier was much different than, say, Frasier and Woody, so there was more heft to her appearance. Additionally, her big play, which is about how everybody is in love with her basically, is fantastic. What could have been a cheap gimmick ended up being one of the best episodes in Frasier history.
10. Moon Dance
“Moon Dance” is one of the more iconic Frasier episodes. It’s much more about Niles and Daphne than the titular Frasier, but by the third season, they could sustain a story by themselves, and it is a great story. It’s the best Niles and Daphne episode, and they weren’t even close to getting together yet. We got a glimpse of what that would be like, though, thanks to their intricate, romantic dance. It’s not the funniest episode, though it is funny, but it’s just so wonderful anyway.
9. A Lilith Thanksgiving
Lilith is the best. This may be the first Lilith episode on this list, but it isn’t the last, because Frasier and Lilith were so wonderful together, and Bebe Neuwirth was great as Frasier’s ex-wife. In this episode, though, they get to work together, as opposed to sniping at one another, although there is some of that too. Frasier and the gang head to Boston for Thanksgiving so that Lilith and Frasier can try and get Frederick into a prestigious school, but their overzealousness becomes a problem. It’s great, and funny, to see Frasier and Lilith work as a team, and it helps make for a great episode.
8. Ham Radio
Frasier, despite being a psychiatrist, always saw himself as a bit of a performer, and also as a connoisseur of high culture. As such, it made perfect sense for him to try and direct an old radio drama, and for his perfectionist tendencies to ruin everything. This episode also gives basically all the key characters a chance to appear and get a couple laughs, which is nice. It’s an unusual episode, structure wise, but it’s still excellent.
7. Room Service
Here we have another Lilith episode, and a great episode when it comes to farce. Lilith is in town, vulnerable from the dissolution of her marriage, and Frasier is worried that they will end up sleeping together. The twist comes when Niles and Lilith end up spending the night together in her hotel room, and they have to try and keep Frasier from finding out. The machinations of that are, of course, hilarious, and it just gets better when their plan fails.
6. Dinner Party
“Dinner Party” is almost Seinfeldian in the fact that it’s more about things not happening, and the minutiae of life, than anything big happening. It’s not about a dinner party, but about the planning of a dinner party. Frasier and Niles spend the episode going through the hassles of trying to set up a dinner party, and even though it’s mostly just the two of them talking, it’s a great, hilarious episode, and it provides an insight into Frasier and Niles’ relationship as well.
5. Goodnight, Seattle
Series finales often end up on lists such as this, and “Goodnight, Seattle” is no different. It’s a tremendous episode that is a tribute to the show, its characters, and its actors, and it sends the show off magnificently. The choice to end the episode on a note of ambiguity was a smart one, as it made the world of Frasier feel like it was continuing, even though it wasn’t. They packed a lot into an hour, but it didn’t feel overstuffed. It was a great end to one of the greatest sitcoms ever.
4. My Coffee with Niles
This is the first season finale, and it really showed how good Frasier had the potential to be, not that the first season wasn’t quite good up to this point. Based on the title, you may guess that this is sort of a riff on My Dinner with Andre. It’s an essentially real time episode based around a simple question Niles poses to Frasier, “Are you happy?” It’s a very funny episode, but it’s also retrospective and existential, and it was an example about how Frasier could be more than just clever farce.
3. Guns N’ Neuroses
One more Lilith episode for the road, and the final Lilith episode. There is some solid hijinks involving Daphne and Niles, but it’s all really about Frasier and Lilith. They are both set up on a blind date, but what they don’t know is that they are their respective dates. They never find this out, even though they end up spending the evening together. It’s the best Lilith and Frasier have ever been together on this show, which is saying something.
2. Look Before You Leap
This is another of the traditionally most-beloved Frasier episodes. It’s Leap Day, so Frasier encourages people to “make a leap” and try something ambitious. This works out poorly for everybody, including Frasier himself. On a pledge drive, Frasier plans to sing a tricky aria, but backs out at the last second to sing “Buttons and Bows” as he usually does. He then completely botches it, getting his cosmic comeuppance. This episode deserves to be considered one of the most iconic Frasier outings. It’s utterly fantastic.
1. The Innkeepers
Frasier, at its heart, is a farce, and no episode is more farcical, or funnier, than “The Innkeepers.” The brothers Crane decide to open up a restaurant, and the opening night is such an amazing comedy of errors. You think it can’t get funnier, but it just keeps escalating and escalating until it reaches its climax, which includes some of the funniest moments in the show’s history. No episode of Frasier is better crafted, and no episode is funnier. That’s why “The Innkeepers” tops this list.