You probably don’t need a reason to tune in to frasier (NBC, Tuesdays, 9-9:30 p.m.)-it’s been superlative for much of the season. But I will nonetheless entice you with an image from this week’s episode (May 2): David Hyde Pierce’s Niles, after shouting a lusty ”En garde!,” waggles a sword almost as thin as his wrist and fences deftly, aggressively, with a big, handsome Bavarian fellow whom Niles believes is trying to steal away his wife, Maris. (”She’s my life!” screams an agonized Niles.) Did I mention that Niles’ opponent speaks only German, that his responses are translated by Niles’ Guatemalan housekeeper into her native Spanish, which Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) then translates into English for Niles, and that, because of some misunderstanding along the way, the Bavarian thinks Niles has accused him of stealing his shoes? This is merely the climax to a particularly intricate Frasier adventure, one that does everything a sitcom should and more. It supplies many laughs, but it also supplies details, details of the lives of these vivid characters we’ve come to know so semi-well. For instance, did we even imagine that Niles and Maris had a 78-year-old Guatemalan housekeeper? As played by Irene Olga Lopez, Marta is a smart, stolid, implacable worker all too used to Niles’ flibbertigibbet behavior. And, on a deeper level, did we realize that Niles loves the always-unseen Maris so much that he would be willing to die by the sword for her? So much Frasier humor revolves around Niles’ horny crush on Daphne (Jane Leeves) that Niles’ marriage sometimes seems little more than, if you’ll excuse the expression, a joke. So it’s very satisfying to see Frasier establish that Niles still has feelings for the prickly Maris. This roots the comedy in a sweet poignance and makes Niles’ infatuation with Daphne more complicated and ambivalent. If I’m dwelling on Niles, it’s only because Pierce has turned him into such a complicated, endlessly fascinating character. When an entire episode is written around Niles, as this one is, Pierce really gives us a chance to see what he can do-not just in the uniquely prim spin he gives his lines but also in the precise slapstick stunts he executes with what he calls here ”my swimmer’s build.” It’s not, however, as if Kelsey Grammer were taking a nap during this show. His reactions to Niles’ plight are brilliant little flashes of comic exasperation and panic. One of the best things about the second season of Frasier is the way the series has come to mix its high and low humor. This is the only sitcom that can get a real laugh out of an obvious play on words involving the term frigate (it’s all in the way John Mahoney’s Martin times it), as well as deploy the punchline ”You sweet-talking succubus!” while assuming that viewers will know what that means. One of the other best things about Frasier is Joe Keenan. This novelist- turned-TV writer has created some of the strongest episodes this season, and he adds to his glory next week. Keenan’s script brings back Frasier’s venal agent, Bebe Glaser (Harriet Harris), whose introduction last year was a Frasier high point. At that time, Harris was an unfamiliar TV face and her ferocious performance a pleasant shock. This season, she could be seen every week on The Five Mrs. Buchanans, a show that, after a promising pilot, quickly settled into depressing mediocrity. Harris, trained as a stage actress, responds to Keenan’s knotty lines with great, malicious skill. When she gets poor, tired Frasier zonked on Scotch and champagne and then seduces him well, no way you won’t be watching, right? A
Genre: Comedy; Lead Performer: Peri Gilpin, Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves, John Mahoney, David Hyde Pierce; Performers: Dan Butler; Guest Performer: Jennifer Beals, Jason Biggs, Bill Gates, Derek Jacobi, Anthony LaPaglia, Laura Linney, Isaac Mizrahi, Bebe Neuwirth, Jean Smart; Run Dates: 09/16/1993-05/13/2004; Broadcaster: NBC; Status: In Season
Posted January 17 2015 — 3:29 AM EST
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