Frasier got a heavy dose on this list, and all three episodes (edit: Now 4!) work for very different reasons. Up front: It’s because I loved this show in the hospital, because it usually was just stimulating enough to make me think, but funny enough to make me laugh and get more oxygen to reduce pain. It was basically part of my rehab. But, for the three episodes, I’ll stand by them as being different enough to all make it: The first, “Rooms with a View,” is a thoroughly dramatic episode that accurately portrays some of the most difficult times a family can have. The second, “Three Valentines,” contains one of the most amazing solo performances on film. This one, though, is what happens when an ensemble comedy comes together perfectly. It does everything from puns to comic misunderstandings to over-the-top slapstick, and it does it well.
Part of the premise of Frasier is that Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), are both very uptight and snooty while their father, Martin (John Mahoney), is an unpretentious everyman ex-cop. They often try to dream far beyond their own abilities, because they assume they are amazing at everything. It’s the hubris that makes for such entertaining falls. And this episode features one of the most common cases of hubris: Believing that you can start your own business with family. I’m not saying it always fails, but when it does, it’s a train wreck of epic proportions.
The episode starts with one of Frasier’s and Niles’s favorite restaurants closing. As they go for a last meal, they manage to convince themselves that they not only can, but should, take over the restaurant and run it themselves, despite their father pointing out that they have no experience in the restaurant field, and, in fact, no desire to put in the work of running a restaurant, saying “You don’t think about the hard work or the long hours. No, to you, owning a restaurant is just wearing fancy clothes, hobnobbing with your friends and turning your enemies away at the door.” They summarily ignore this, and decide that they will open the restaurant as “Le Freres Heureux” – The Happy Brothers.
At first, everything goes well. The brothers find out that the head chef at another restaurant wants a change, so they secure him. They manage to get a fresh shipment of the chef’s specialty, anguille, a type of eel. And they even manage to find a place for the aging former head waiter of the restaurant as the new valet. People are packed in, and everything is going great on the opening night of the restaurant, and the brothers are bragging about how wrong their father was to doubt them. In sitcom terms, they just gave Zeus the finger.
Right on cue, everything starts to go wrong. Frasier and Niles each give the head chef contradictory orders, and proceed to get angrier and snippier about him failing to, somehow, obey both of them, until the chef quits. Then, upon finding out the immigration bureau is dining in the building, the entire kitchen staff runs out the door. At which time they decide that Niles can be the head chef, right until Niles finds out that not only is everyone ordering the chef’s specialty, but that the chef preferred to kill his eels personally, so all the eels in the restaurant are currently alive. From there, it just keeps escalating. Fires, floods, explosions, electrocutions, sexual harassment, until, finally, they decide to literally drive a car through the wall and demolish most of the restaurant. And all with a ridiculous amount of clever, fast-paced, joke-filled dialogue.
The episode ends with the brothers asking their father if he’s ready to say “I told you so.” He remarks that he’s taking the high road, because he knows that they’re just going to punish themselves more than enough… and then proceeds to say “I told you so,” because he’s a father of adult children and that’s what they do.
The beauty of this episode is that it dedicates itself to just showing you the same disaster that you’ve watched on TV a thousand times before, but instead of merely inviting the audience to view the destruction, the focus is usually on the amount of effort that Frasier and Niles have to put forth to try to avoid it, making it all the more tragic and humorous when it ends up failing entirely. It’s a classic comedy formula done to the utmost.
Update: John Mahoney has sadly passed away before this article was posted. He was a huge part of all of these episodes, and he will be missed.
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