Josh Wolk
January 09, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

We gave it an A-

CHEERS: The Complete Second Season Ted Danson, Shelley Long 9 hrs., 4 discs, 1983-1984 (Paramount)

FRASIER: The Complete Second Season Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce 9 hrs., 4 discs, 1994-1995 (Paramount)

The second season is that precious time when a great sitcom jells: Characters solidify, tone sharpens, get-rich-quick schemes are at their most ill-fated. And so it was with the sublime Cheers and its spin-off Frasier: They may not have revolutionized the form, but their second seasons are templates on how to build TV comedies to last.

The combustible pairing of Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long) inspired multiple will-they-or-won’t-they romantic centerpieces on other sitcoms. But in season 2, Cheers was one of the few to commit to ”They will!” without imploding, by relying on punchy, scathing bickering (”I hate you with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns!”) instead of nauseating, conflict-deflating cooing. The mismatch of dim lothario and pontificating buzzkill seemed blatantly doomed; the fun was watching the couple realize that themselves.

There was no such season-long story line in Frasier’s second year — just the delirious glory of an ensemble (led by Kelsey Grammer, who didn’t join Cheers until its third year, so there’s no opportunity to compare Frasier’s blowhardiness over the years) discovering its talent for farce. This occurred under the influence of new writer Joe Keenan, who provides commentary for one scant episode (the other extra clip reels are unenlightening piffle, as with the similarly underadorned Cheers). When the prestige-hungry brothers Crane open a restaurant, only to see it devolve into a frenzied ballet of flying veal piccata, waiters being knocked unconscious, and exploding cherries jubilee, the meticulously constructed chaos is worthy of Wodehouse. With their crackling dialogue and brilliantly balanced casts, it’s clear why both shows went nine seasons more. Cheers: A- Frasier: A-

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