Grade:  A-

TV comedy

Not rated (would be PG)

From 1993-2004 the king of sitcoms 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 37 Primetime Emmys over 11 seasons—though ironically 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.

The 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.

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 was twofold: highbrow verbal comedy delivered in droll fashion by the fussy Crane brothers, and comedy of character as the “average” viewer identified with the lowbrows in each episode that cut them down to size or highlighted their comparative ridiculousness. That was something that their father, former cop Marty Crane (Mahoney) relished pointing out with regularity. The show also heavily relied on misunderstandings and good intentions that backfired.

Not all of the show’s 11 seasons were great. By the ninth season, you can tell that Grammer and Pierce weren’t savoring their on-screen rivalry as psychiatrist brothers as much as in previous years. A number of the shows also don’t seem as crisply written as the best episodes from earlier seasons, and yet one of my favorite episodes, “Caught in the Act,” aired as Episode 15 in Season 11. In that hilarious outing, Frasier’s first wife, a kiddie show author-performer known as Nanny G, comes to Seattle and Roz begs Frasier to try to get tickets to the sold-out concert so she can take her niece. At a very funny booksigning event she and Frasier reconnect, the group gets their tickets, and the married Nanny G confesses to the doctor how unhappy she’s been. As the pair “reconnects” in a prop room at the venue, the show starts and the bed they’re in raises up to the stage via a mechanical opening. The rest plays out in typical Frasier farcical fashion.

Another very funny episode, “The Ski Lodge,” (Season 5, Episode 14) is a classic bedroom farce updated to contemporary times, as the gang goes to a lodge together with their respective mates or love interests, and all of their hopes for romance are scuttled by misunderstandings and room-hopping shenanigans.

Not all of the episodes involve sex. Some highlight the differences between father and sons, or track each son’s dating mishaps. Others revolve around their sibling rivalry and their need to out-do the other socially, whether in their snooty wine club or an exclusive country club. Others take place mostly in the studio and the various characters and call-ins that can make each day seem like a radio version of The Bob Newhart Show.

Most Blu-ray complete series are space-savers, but this set is actually a half-inch wider than the most recent DVD compilation. But this one is easier to navigate. The 263 episodes and bonus features are contained on 33 discs and housed in 11 standard blu-ray cases according to season. And those are all housed in a sturdy slipcase.  Alas, CBS disappoints again with episode titles only printed on each disc label, so finding favorite episodes won’t be easy.

Entire family:  No (‘tweens and older)

Run time:  5885 min., Color

Studio/Distributor:  CBS/Paramount

Aspect ratio:  1.33:1 (Seasons 1-9) and 1.78:1 (Seasons 10-11)

Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 2.0 

Bonus features:  C+

Amazon link

Not rated (would be TV-PG for innuendo, some alcohol, states of undress, and some mild language)

Language:  2/10—A few mild swear words (damn, hell)

Sex:  5/10—Mostly innuendo, but “Caught in the Act” features an audience of small children and their moms as Frasier emerges in a diaper and pretends to be a baby, and in other episodes it’s clear that people are sleeping/have slept together, though the worst is seeing Frasier’s bare chest

Violence: 0/10—None

Adult situations:  3/10—mostly social drinking, though Daphne’s brother is a drunken soccer hooligan played for laughs; mostly sexual situations, with everything implied and nothing shown

Takeaway:  It’s nigh impossible to watch these episodes without thinking that Frasier has to be the most successful spin-off American TV series of all time