FrasiercoverGrade: A-
Entire family: Yes, but . . .
1993-2004, 5,895 min. (263 episodes), Color
Rated TV-PG (mostly for innuendo)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Includes: 44 discs in two sturdy plastic cases w/cardboard slipcase
Bonus features: C+
Amazon link

Modern Family may be King of the American Sitcoms now, but in the ‘90s it was Frasier, a spin-off from the popular sitcom Cheers starring Kelsey Grammer as a pompous but endearing psychologist who reveled in his intellect and haute culture tastes, but also yearned to be “one of the guys.” Frasier won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for each of its first five seasons and continued to win Emmys in other categories for all of its 11 seasons—though it wasn’t a runaway hit with audiences. Its best showing came with Season 6, when Frasier finished as the #3 most watched TV show in America, behind Friends and ER.

In Boston’s Cheers bar, Grammer made arrogance endearing as he played a good-but-jilted doctor who hung out with a dim-witted Iowa bartender, a narcissistic ex-ballplayer, a know-it-all mailman, and an overweight, professional barfly. Sometimes you laughed with him, while at other times (most of the time, actually) the humor came at the doctor’s expense—a book smarts vs. street smarts face-off. In Seattle, fresh from a divorce from his domineering wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), Frasier found a fresh start as a Dr. Phil-style radio psychologist and acquired a new hangout: Café Nervosa, where he and equally effete brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) would indulge their cappuccino tastes and parade their knowledge in front of a generally apathetic public.

FrasierscreenThe show, with chapter tiles that played with puns, had two main sets. The first was KACL-Radio, where Frasier dispensed his psychiatric bromides and producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin) was a perfect “give it a rest” foil to his pompous side. Obnoxious sportscaster Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe (Dan Butler) took him down a few more pegs with his cuts and practical jokes, and restaurant critic Gil Chesterton (Patrick Kerr) was the uncomfortable mirror that showed reflections of what Frasier might be like without such irreverent and frequent shots to keep him grounded. Much of the at-work time is spent with Frasier talking to unseen call-ins with a host of problems, and much of the fun for fans is watching the end-credits to see what famous celebrities posed as the callers from week to week.

At home, the brandy-oriented Frasier met his match with his blue-collar dad (John Mahoney), a Ballantine-loving ex-cop who walks with a limp and has a live-in therapist, a Brit named Daphne (Jane Leeves). With dad and son facing off and Daphne offering her humorous third-party, third-culture take on things, it made for more dry humor. And Niles visited so often that it felt as if the four of them lived—and bantered—there. His epic crush on Daphne and the brothers’  sibling rivalry and sharp contrast with their down-to-earth dad became series-long storylines.  

The Crane brothers were American bluebloods without the pedigree, lovers of the good life who aspire to be accepted by high society. It was their continuing lack of acceptance by the true snobs that make those of us in the hoi polloi tickle inside. The humor is mostly verbal and as highbrow as the Crane brothers, though “average” viewers identified with the lowbrows in each episode that cut them down to size.

FrasierspacesaverThat’s what CBS TV/Paramount did to the complete series, and without resorting to double-sided discs or spindles. The previously released single-season sets each took up the shelf-space equivalent of two standard DVD cases, for a series total of just under 14 inches. This newly released Complete Series measures just 5 inches wide. That’s a pretty dramatic difference, and the packaging is well designed. Forty-four single-sided discs are housed on plastic “pages,” with no stacking or overlapping, in two large sturdy plastic containers that slide into a substantial cardboard slipcase. All 263 episodes from the series’ 1993-2004 run are included, along with the same special features from previous releases.

Frasier is rated TV-PG for innuendo and some adult situations, but it’s largely tame enough for the whole family to watch. Will it work as family viewing? If the kids are in their mid to late teens, yes. Otherwise, young ones won’t get the jokes and the plots aren’t as dependent on sight gags or occasional slapstick as much as the typical sitcom. And if you don’t like the Crane brothers, you won’t like this series, because the plots revolve around them—whether it’s ex-wife problems, unrequited love, or jockeying for snobbish recognition over who’s going to be named “wine steward.” But it remains one of TV’s most intelligent and witty comedies.

Language: a few mild swear words (damn, hell)
Sex: mostly innuendo, but one show involves Frasier being caught in a prop bed with his ex-wife, a kiddie singer, and when the bed raises to the stage and an audience of small children and their moms Frasier emerges in a diaper and pretends to be a baby, though it’s clear to adults what was going on
Violence: None
Adult situations: Social drinking, mostly sexual innuendo and situations, with everything implied and nothing shown
Takeaway: Sometimes intellectuals can be too smart for their own good