Box set club: Frasier

Like a fine wine, Frasier grows better with time. Although it's now a little dated, being older helps you appreciate it even more

I'm currently rewatching all 264 episodes of Frasier. It's the third time I've done this, which means I've spent roughly a week of my life watching the Crane clan's on-screen antics. I've dedicated 7.92 days to the life and times of a pre-eminent Seattle psychologist, his friends, his family and his canine nemesis. And I cannot recommend it highly enough.

For 11 staggeringly enjoyable seasons, Frasier follows former Cheers regular Dr Frasier Crane, a psychologist turned talk-radio star who returns to his hometown, Seattle, after the failure of his marriage in the Boston-based sitcom. His time is divided between dodging fights with his father – a retired policeman who now lives with Frasier after being shot in the line of duty – lurching from one failed romance to another, and trying (unsuccessfully) to clamber up the greasy pole to acceptance among the Emerald City's cultural elite.

The series won 37 Emmys during its run, monopolising the outstanding comedy series category for a five-year period in the late 90s.

But Frasier wasn't just the critics' choice: it was equally popular with the viewers.

From the very beginning – a pitch-perfect pilot episode – Frasier showed that sitcoms didn't have to be dumbed down. You're as likely to find slapstick gags as witty one-liners about Jungian psychoanalysis ("While my brother is a Freudian, I am a Jungian! So there will be no blaming mother today!"), while regular situational japes achieve almost Shakespearian levels of farce. It's this mix, coupled with the show's refusal to patronise its audience, that makes Frasier such a joy to rewatch.

In fact, part of the pleasure of going back to Frasier is uncovering new jokes. Every return visit reveals witty slights or wry asides that were missed on previous viewings. Partly it's because some of the jokes tend to get lost in the machine-gun-like dialogue of the show, which fires off pithy one-liners with such extraordinary pace it's almost impossible to follow them all. But it's also to do with age. As I've grown longer in the tooth I've been able to appreciate gags that completely passed me by on first viewing. It's testament to a show that has something to offer so many people on so many levels.

The script is the real star of the show – but Frasier would be nothing without its cast. I doubt that Kelsey Grammer will ever quite recapture the brilliant buffoonery he displays here, or that there will ever be brighter days for a supporting troupe which makes even the smallest characters into main attractions in their own right. What really struck me on my latest viewing is just how good David Hyde Pierce's performance as Frasier's neurotic sibling Niles is. A heady mix of facial tics, comic timing and nuanced physical comedy, it's a performance that probably deserved a series in its own right.

Of course Frasier isn't perfect. Rewatching those early series it's fair to say it looks a little dated. The quality also tails off towards the end, particularly after [spoilers!] Niles and Daphne tie the knot, removing vast swathes of comic tension in one fell swoop.

But while the show may have aged visually, it hasn't thematically.

There's a timelessness to the content and a universality to the episodic events that unfold; tales of woeful relationships, family values and a wavering moral compass that still ring true.


Daniel Bettridge

The GuardianTramp

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