It’s Frasier Week at IndieWire. Grab some tossed salad and scrambled eggs, settle into your coziest easy chair, and join us. We’re listening.
Hey baby, do you hear the blues a-calling? We do! It’s been 30 years, but we still can’t get enough of “Frasier.” Luckily for us, there’s more “Frasier” on the horizon! Not many could have predicted that a “Cheers” spinoff about a lovably pompous psychiatrist unable to take his own advice would have been such a success, but it works, and more than that, it’s magic.
Part of the sitcom’s charm is that Frasier, as played by Kelsey Grammer, is routinely fallible. He’s pretentious, nitpicky, and status-obsessed, so we love to see him fall on his face. What’s unique about Frasier is that it’s never because of the fact he’s smart that he gets tripped up. It’s his pretention, his vaingloriousness, sure. But at a time when dumb characters were all the rage in TV (“Married with Children,” “The Simpsons”), Frasier’s intelligence is always celebrated. And that allowed the extraordinary intelligence of its writers to shine through undimmed — “Frasier” is a series that never aims for the lowest common denominator, even if some of its references may require a trip to Google (which wasn’t even available for the first half of its run).
The character was made even more endearing by his proximity to a deeply charismatic cast of co-stars. John Mahoney as his down-to-earth father, Martin, is universally beloved, and David Hyde Pierce charmed the world as Frasier’s even more fastidious and haughty brother, Niles. Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin both have unparalleled comic timing as Daphne, Martin’s home health care worker, and Roz, Frasier’s radio producer, regularly delivering punchy laugh lines that eclipse Frasier’s corny puns. And don’t forget Eddie, the Jack Russell Terrier played by Moose, whose star power irked Grammer enough that he devoted a section of his memoir to complaining about how dogs simply cannot be called “actors.”
Even more impressive is how the “Frasier” universe keeps expanding throughout its run with ever more memorable guest stars and recurring characters: Frasier’s ex-wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) carried over from “Cheers” to be the perfect foil for her one-time husband — they’re so similar that there’s no way they could ever make their relationship work. Then there’s Trevor Einhorn as their son Frederick, who played the character from age eight until he was 16 (and who made such an impression that he went on to appear in a recurring role in “Mad Men,” as well as “The Magicians,” and for whom the new series’ Frederick, Jack Cutmore-Scott, has massive shoes to fill). And one would be remiss to forget Harriet Sansom Harris as Frasier’s agent Bebe Glazer, one of the most delightfully amoral characters in TV history (and who Harris essentially played a version of as another agent character in “Licorice Pizza.”)
As a ’90s show, there are some lecherous and homophobic jokes and premises that we could do without, but on the whole, “Frasier” has aged well. It has one of the best bits in TV history — constantly referring to Niles’ high-society waif of a wife, Maris, but never actually showing her — and as a sitcom, it’s got a warmth to it that’s rare in our current world of 10-episode streamers. To top it off, “Frasier” is also an extremely thoughtful series, incorporating a welcome layer of gravitas to even the zaniest scripted hijinx. So whether you’re new to the show or you’ve been singing about your tossed salad and scrambled eggs since 1993, here are the best episodes from the 11-season run of “Frasier.”
With additional contributions from Christian Blauvelt.
18. “Morning Becomes Entertainment” (Season 7, Episode 19)
How to choose the best Bebe Glazer episode? Choosing your favorite child is easier. Each one could easily appear on this list, especially “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fired,” where Harriet Sansom Harris’s unscrupulous agent practically sells the main cast on the appeal of smoking. But “Morning Becomes Entertainment” most perfectly unleashes Bebe’s unhinged anarchy: By putting her and Frasier in the position of becoming TV morning show co-hosts. “Frasier! Bebe!” the crowd chants, before the two take their seats to drink coffee and exchange amiable bon mots on a sunnily-lit set. Does it matter that Bebe never had TV experience before this? No. Bebe is a force of nature able to thrive in whatever situation she finds herself in. But this (more than a little ridiculous) set up presents the perfect version of a recurring Faustian bargain Bebe offers Frasier: To leave serious psychiatry behind in the pursuit of celebrity, to help his listeners with their problems or become a guy “who helps you start your morning right.” Nothing could trigger an existential crisis more than finding yourself cooking omelets on TV next to a toque-wearing chimpanzee chef.—CB
17. “A Lilith Thanksgiving” (Season 4, Episode 7)
Trevor Einhorn’s debut as Frederick (after other actors had played Frasier’s son on “Cheers” and in “Frasier” Season 3) is an all-time classic: Frasier travels to Boston to team up with Bebe Neuwirth’s Lilith in an attempt to get their only child into the prestigious, and eminently stuffy, Marbury Academy. While the two scheming parents try to work over the unmoveable headmaster — using the gambit of saying Lilith lost an earring given to her by Golda Meir somewhere in the educator’s home, as a way to keep talking to him and making Freddy’s case on his behalf – Martin and Niles prove horrendous babysitters for the eight-year-old. “I taste blood,” Freddy says after being hit in the face with a refrigerator door. That’s the thing, “Frasier,” for all its intellect, could have incredible physical comedy too. And Einhorn is somehow completely on the show’s wavelength from the start, holding his own with a Tony-winning Broadway legend in Neuwirth and six-time Emmy winner Grammer himself. By the time Frasier and Lilith appear on the headmaster’s doorstep yet again (“no doubt to retrieve the cufflinks given to you by Haile Selassie), Einhorn’s Frederick is fully a part of the family.—CB
16. “The Two Mrs. Cranes” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Many consider this the best episode of “Frasier,” but it’s kinda like “The Godfather Part II” — a masterpiece, but unable to stand on its own without having already spent hours with these characters to fully understand them. It’s the first truly great farce episode of “Frasier” and written by the series’ greatest master of the form, Joe Keenan. Daphne’s ex-fiance, Clive, journeys from Manchester to declare his “undying love” for her after a five-year absence agreed upon by both sides. In a panic, Daphne puts on a charade that Niles is her husband, hoping that will shoo Clive away. But Niles, wanting to keep playacting as Daphne’s husband, invites Clive to dinner, prolonging everyone’s misery, until the whole cast is lying about who they really are: Frasier is married to Maris, in this conception, and “Maris” is played by Roz, who can barely keep her hands off Clive. And Martin is an astronaut keen to live his glory days. Obviously, none of these things are true; our characters have decided to try on other identities for size like what happens in “Twelfth Night” of “Some Like It Hot.” For the humor of this to fully land, you have to know these characters, very, very well. And the fun comes from the contorted ways in which Niles tries to keep this going: acting like it’s his apartment, not Frasier’s, he has to explain away the “FC” appearing on the powder room’s linens: “We call that one ‘Frasier’s bathroom.’ That’s why we’ve monogrammed all the towels with his initials.”—CB
15. “The Ski Lodge” (Season 5, Episode 14)
No list of the best “Frasier” episodes would be complete without “The Ski Lodge,” a sex farce of the highest order. Frasier, Niles, Daphne, and Daphne’s hot friend all head up to a remote ski cabin for the night with Martin in tow. As the first act ends, they each set their sights on another guest to spend the night with: Frasier with Daphne’s friend, who is actually flirting with Niles, who is secretly in love with Daphne, who is currently smitten with the ski instructor, who himself has his eye on Niles. And with a high-brow reference to Georges Feydeau, the 19th-century French playwright famous for his bedroom farces, the shenanigans begin.
“The Ski Lodge” is an iconic, wacky romp that would likely not be made today (Frasier’s coarse flirting with Daphne’s friend especially feels out of step), but it’s a fantastic — and perhaps the most famous — example of the air-tight farces that “Frasier” continually pulled off throughout the series.
14. “Roe to Perdition” (Season 10, Episode 18)
“Roe to Perdition” is an absolutely ludicrous “Frasier” episode in which Frasier and Niles become de-facto drug dealers, except instead of drugs, they peddle smuggled Russian beluga caviar. The snobbiest pushers you’ve ever met quickly rack up a ravenous set of clients whose needs must be met, until their supply runs dry and they go to great lengths to replenish the goods. It’s a ridiculous episode that feels different from the standard “Frasier” fare in that it’s somewhat a parody of crime movies, the highlight being Roz as a caviar addict, desperate to find her next fix. A delightful B-plot featuring Martin and Daphne navigating the bureaucratic red tape of a local bank makes “Roe to Perdition” an all-around top-grade watch.
13. “The Seal Who Came to Dinner” (Season 6, Episode 8)
By Season 6, you may be convinced that Frasier couldn’t possibly heighten on the dinner party disaster episode they’ve plumbed so eagerly in seasons past — but you would be wrong. Everything starts as it always does: Niles and Frasier plan their next soirée with willfully ignorant exuberance. Niles offers up Maris’ beach house, and Frasier clinches the hot caterer du jour. But, of course, disaster looms. When the pair arrives at the seaside, the stench of a rotting seal corpse on the beach threatens to ruin the evening. They’ll have to dispose of it before their guests arrive, but the task proves more complicated than they first imagined. It’s a preposterous premise that works largely because of the years of hijinx and goofy escalations we’ve already seen the two Dr. Cranes squabble themselves into.
12. “Rooms With a View” (Season 10, Episode 8)
No list of the best “Frasier” episodes would be complete without a nod to the sitcom’s ability to navigate serious topics, none so movingly as the three-episode arc in Season 10 about Niles’ heart. Years of rich pâtés and béchamel sauces have finally caught up with the gourmand, and he urgently needs bypass surgery. While in the hospital anxiously waiting for an update, each member of the Crane family reminisces on past hospital visits, watching the key moments of their lives unfold as they stroll through the halls. It’s a beautiful, poignant episode of television, completely self-assured despite its departure from form, and the comedic cast handles their dramatic turns with aplomb. In short, it’s a triumph.
11. “Look Before You Leap” (Season 3, Episode 16)
Any true “Frasier” aficionado’s eyes will light up when you mention “Buttons and Bows,” and the reason is Season 3’s “Look Before You Leap.” In honor of the Leap Year, Frasier encourages his loved ones to do something unexpected, to leave their comfort zones and pursue a challenge. Their bravery inspires him to change his routine as well: for an upcoming PBS pledge drive, Frasier will forgo his usual singing performance of “Buttons and Bows” and instead take on a difficult aria from one of his favorite operas. Immediately after announcing this daring venture, Frasier witnesses Roz, Martin, and Daphne’s leaps of faith come back to bite them all in the face, and his courage falters. It’s a classic for a reason, each scene funnier than the one before, and a desperate and horny Pierce screaming, “Niles gotta have it!” should be in the sitcom Hall of Fame.
10. “Halloween” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Another party gone horribly awry? You bet, baby! And this time, they’re all in wacky costumes. At Niles’ Halloween ball, where everyone is dressed as a literary character, Roz worries that she might be pregnant. In true farce fashion, her attempts to keep this info under wraps lead to an avalanche of misunderstandings, culminating in Niles believing Daphne is pregnant with Frasier’s baby. The double entendre work here is top-notch, and where else on TV are you going to get deep-cut Geoffrey Chaucer references?!
9. “Big Crane on Campus” (Season 7, Episode 14)
Long before her career renaissance in the 2020s, Jean Smart won an Emmy for her guest performance in “Big Crane on Campus” as Frasier’s old high school crush, Lorna Lindley. When Frasier runs into Lorna at Café Nervosa, the two hit it off, and Frasier can hardly hide his disbelief that he’s now dating the former prom queen. In the sober light of day, however, Frasier discovers that his long unrequited love is now kind of a terrible person. He knows he must break it off immediately, except… wouldn’t it be nice to rewrite his nerdy teenage past by showing up to an event at his former high school with the queen bee on his arm?
Like so many great “Frasier” episodes, “Big Crane on Campus” puts an ethical conundrum front and center, pushing Dr. Crane to the brink of his moral boundaries. It’s a funny, sweet, and surprising watch that’s one for the yearbook — and worth it alone to watch Niles devolve into a lovestruck 14-year-old whenever he’s in Smart’s presence.
8. “They’re Playing Our Song” (Season 7, Episode 13)
If there’s one thing Dr. Frasier Crane can’t do, it’s keep things simple. When station manager Kenny asks all the radio personalities to write new theme songs for their shows, Frasier’s little diddy quickly balloons into a massive, indulgent orchestral arrangement featuring a choir and dramatic monologue from Niles. There are no zany mistaken identities here: “They’re Playing Our Song” is all about the insane second-act performance of Frasier’s bloated, pompous composition. It’s simply perfect.
Season 4’s “Ham Radio” is another excellent example of Frasier inevitably destroying a creative pursuit with his own ego, but its ’90s jokes didn’t age as well as those in “They’re Playing Our Song.”
7. “Room Service” (Season 5, Episode 15)
Any episode that features the return of Frasier’s ex-wife, Dr. Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth), is a great watch, but none is as iconic as “Room Service,” an episode with consequences referenced multiple times in later seasons. When Lilith’s husband leaves her, she rushes to Seattle for comfort, hoping a night with Frasier will make her feel better. But when Frasier vows to resist her seduction, she ends up in someone else’s bed entirely. This is a mini sex farce, with characters hiding in bathrooms and a room service waiter finding a new couple each time he arrives at the door. It’s joyful, silly fun that still manages to find solid ground through the divorced psychiatrists’ analysis of the events; a must-watch for anyone trying to hit all the major points in the “Frasier” canon.
As a side note for all Lilith fans out there, Neuwirth’s last episode, Season 11’s “Guns N’ Neuroses,” is a lovely farewell to an amazing character.
6. “Author, Author” (Season 1, Episode 22)
Niles and Frasier, as psychiatrists and brothers, decide to team up to write a book together about sibling relationships… and fail spectacularly. “Author, Author” lays the groundwork for the next 11 seasons of Niles and Frasier attempting to do, well, honestly anything together and then inevitably hoisting themselves by their own petards. They are too competitive to ever successfully be partners but too vainglorious ever to think there’s something they can’t do — despite years of evidence to the contrary. Therein lies the magic, people.
There are dozens of top-notch episodes where Niles and Frasier clink their sherry glasses and merrily join forces only to end up ripping each other to shreds, but “Author, Author” is the original clash, the one that sets the dynamic for all the doomed dinner parties to come.
5. “Death and the Dog” (Season 4, Episode 12)
Frasier’s secret sauce was its ability to seamlessly weave complex concepts about the human condition with moments of complete absurdity. In “Death and the Dog,” a dog psychiatrist (Zeljko Ivanek) is brought in to examine a listless Eddie. Frasier and Niles have a field day mocking the animal physician but ultimately end up seriously investigating their own depression, as do Daphne, Marty, and Roz. A fluffy side plot about Roz dating a gynecologist helps to break up the serious discussion, but this episode never feels bleak — in fact, it leaves you feeling lighter than before.
“Death and the Dog” also features a reprisal of one of the best gags in the series: Niles’ dog. During his separation from his snobby wife Maris, Niles was so lonely he got a pet (Season 3’s “Chess Pains”) — a frail, standoffish whippet that everyone but him can see is the canine Maris.
4. “Travels With Martin” (Season 1, Episode 21)
“Travels with Martin” was supposedly John Mahoney’s favorite “Frasier” episode, and he’s not alone. In the hopes of some father-son bonding, Frasier offers to take Martin on a luxurious vacation, and to his chagrin, Martin’s idea of a vacation is a road trip in a Winnebago. Daphne tags along, so Niles tags along, and soon the “whooping Cranes” hit the open road. But when they accidentally cross into Canada, their fun family trip becomes an immigration nightmare: Daphne doesn’t have her U.K. passport. Now the crew has to dupe border security, even though Niles and Frasier are terrible in high-pressure situations, and the only thing Daphne can say in an American accent is, “Sure.” A flawless early episode showcase of the hilarious character conflicts that kept this show running for 11 seasons.
3. “Dinner Party” (Season 6, Episode 17)
One of only two episodes to take place in real-time (the second being the first season’s “My Coffee with Niles”), “Dinner Party” is an impressive accomplishment. No time passes off camera as Frasier and Niles begin to plan another dinner party. As they select their caterer and quibble over the guest list, the planning derails, and they end up analyzing their own relationship. Only the main cast is featured in this pared-down episode that feels more like a play than a sitcom — and it’s all the better for it. A smart, funny nod to audiences commenting that Niles and Frasier spent too much time together, “Dinner Party” is a masterclass in multicam comedy writing.
2. “Moon Dance” (Season 3, Episode 13)
Though Frasier’s radio show and dating life gave the series structure, Niles’ adoration of Daphne was the raw, beating heart of the beloved sitcom. By Season 3, Niles is separated from Maris and in “Moon Dance,” he decides to dip his toes back into the dating pool. For a boost of confidence before an upcoming society ball, Daphne gives Niles ballroom dancing lessons, but when his escort cancels at the last minute, she offers to pretend to be his date instead.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Pierce in this episode, wearing his heart on his sleeve and waltzing us confidently through the silly and vulnerable moments with equal skill. Sweet, funny, and finishing with an iconic dance number, “Moon Dance” won the 1996 Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.
1. “The Innkeepers” (Season 2, Episode 23)
Frasier’s most iconic episodes were all farces and failed dinner parties, and none heightens the form more than Season 2’s exuberant and ridiculous “The Innkeepers.” When a classic Seattle restaurant closes, Niles and Frasier launch their own gourmet eatery with no relevant experience except a lifetime of snobbery. Opening night of Les Frères Heureux (The Happy Brothers) seems to be off to a smashing start until a series of small decisions made by our pompous pair escalates into a full-scale meltdown. “The Innkeepers” has everything: angry French chefs, exploding desserts, and a truly unforgettable scene of Daphne dashing an eel’s head against the counter. And just when you think this episode can’t take the absurd catastrophe any farther — it does spectacularly.
Unlike some of the other entries on this list, there’s no psychological introspection, no larger statement to this episode. It’s a romp in its purest form, with pieces meticulously placed in the first few scenes that quietly build to a fantastic, unforgettable payoff. It’s classic “Frasier,” and it’s a whole lot of fun.
“Frasier” is currently streaming on Peacock.