TV Review | Frasier | Season 1 + John Mahoney
As noted last week, John Mahoney unfortunately passed away recently and, knowing him best as Martin Crane and having already been planning to re-watch Frasier again, I decided to make an early start on the series and write about it.
Unlike a lot of shows that are spin-offs of other popular series, Frasier dispenses entirely with the premise of its ‘parent’, Cheers, and only brings back Lilith from that show, and she was only ever a guest star then too. The really interesting thing was just how quickly the show established own formula that would be the basis for another ten seasons after this one.
The only real difference in this season is that the show is a lot more Frasier-centric, which should be expected with him being the title character and the only one the audience would’ve been familiar with at the time. What are effectively the supporting cast here develops into a true ensemble over time and really make Frasier into a special show.
And what a cast it is too! Maybe it’s the familiarity I have for them after them for so many years, but I simply can’t imagine and modern actors, or any big name stars, doing a better job than everyone involved already did.
It’s also incredible how quickly all of them develop distinct personalities with their own unique quirks, characteristic and idiosyncrasies that made them all stand out so much compared to other shows of the time. Obviously, the hair, fashion and slang are all very much of the time the show was made, but they all feel like real people.
I want to give special credit for the writers here, as they deserve just as much praise as the actors. These characters are consistent throughout the entire series’ run to how they are portrayed here, yet they never end up exaggerated or caricatured as other shows might have done (looking at you, Friends).
Yes, certain characteristics may have become more prominent over time, but never making the characters feel like they had been written in search of a laugh – it all stayed true to how their past behaviour had been depicted. This isn’t to say there was no exaggeration at all, but when there was, it would be for one scene or maybe a single episode – characters weren’t irrevocably changed.
Season One Top 3 Moments
Watching back through this over the last week, I was surprised to see how many all-time great Frasier moments came in its first season – and not only because it was the first season of a show and most series usually take at least that long to simply establish its premise and characters.
If anything, it was a reminder of just how consistently great Frasier was over the years and how magical the chemistry was between the cast that they could deliver the performances to create these moments and make them have far greater impact than if they’d been struggling to figure out exactly what their role was.
3. “Are you telling me that that the thought of making love to makes you physically sick?”
“Yes, but don’t take it personally!”
From "Call Me Irresponsible", Frasier’s hilarious excuse comes when his (admirable) ethics make him feel sick when becoming physically intimate with the ex-girlfriend of one of his listeners.
2. “That’s my new owner. She’s a model.”
From "Can’t Buy Me Love", it’s not just Frasier’s delight at how things have turned out after being forced into a celebrity date auction by his father, it’s Kelsey Grammer’s perfect line delivery and facial expression that sells it beautifully.
1. “We have a celebrity on the line – my ex-wife, Lilith.”
“What do you mean ‘celebrity’?”
“Oh, they know you.”
From the opening scene of "The Show Where Lilith Comes Back", one of the funniest episodes of the entire first season, it’s again Kelsey Grammer’s line delivery that is just spot-on and completely makes the humour work.
Thank you, John Mahoney – Martin Crane's Top 3 Season One Moments
Effectively saving the best for last is the reason this post exists, with who I consider to be the real heart of the show and his best moments. It’s not that the other characters aren’t as funny – or even funnier – or better at the dramatic moments; it’s because Martin is the character who most consistently feels like a genuine, real-life person.
A lot of what he does is incredibly subtle, and usually when the attention is one someone else. You can see that Martin has certain limits, when they’re approaching and when the line is crossed well before any change in mood outwardly manifests.
I’m someone who is a very harsh judge of any kind of fiction that tries to do sudden changes of tone as a large number don't really work as well as they should have, but there wasn’t one false note from Martin thanks to John Mahoney’s incredible work.
3. “Don’t you believe in second chances?”
“I did. Then we had Niles.”
From "You Can’t Tell A Crook By His Cover", Martin shows he’s not above mocking his sons with a very funny line in an episode where the Crane brothers show that they aren’t actually too fond of second chances themselves.
2. “Don't hate your mother for this.”
A moving moment from "Beloved Infidel" having just admitted that it was actually Frasier’s mother who’d cheated on Martin and not the other way around as he’d led Frasier and Niles to believe.
1. “Oh, never mind. It’s only a chair.”
From "Give Him The Chair". Perfection.
RIP John Mahoney (1940-2018).