On October 10th, just in time for Halloween, Paramount released not one, but eight Christmas-themed episodes of Frasier. Each one like a gift of laughter to be plucked from under the tree, opened, and enjoyed. Now, we all know that what we find under the tree is not always what we are hoping for. There are the occasional pair of socks. Such is the case here, but the majority of these episodes are exactly what we asked for.
Ultimately, It’s hard to go wrong with one of the most successful spinoffs (from Cheers for those too young to know or not from Earth) of all time and an outstanding situation comedy in its own right. Winning 37 prime-time Emmy awards over its 11-year run, Frasier built its success on solid performances, well-crafted scripts, and comedy that would sneak up on you in the most subtle of ways. All elements are in evidence here.
From Season One (1993), we get “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street”. Frederick will not be joining Frasier for Christmas, which is a running theme throughout the episodes, so Frasier works at the radio station on Christmas Day. This leads to some amusing calls, and Frasier ending up at a diner for Christmas dinner. The episode leaves us wanting more as some potentially funny situations at the station Christmas party remain unexplored, and the payoff humor in the final scene is a bit contrived. Ultimately, the performance of Kelsey Grammer makes it all worthwhile.
Season Three (1995) brings us “Frasier Grinch”. This year’s station party serves up far more laughs and leaves us thinking that a whole episode could be written with the party as the setting. Instead, we get an amusing fish-out-of-water story with Frasier scrambling to find Frederick some gifts at the mall on Christmas Eve. Maris, wife of Niles, freezes his credit cards in a storyline that yields few laughs.
Season Five (1997) lends us “Perspectives on Christmas”. Not necessarily the funniest of the bunch but certainly a well-crafted effort. Different perspectives on the same event combined with Niles being stuck in an elevator and Martin (John Mahoney) preparing for a Church Christmas pageant make for a fun Christmas tale.
In Season Six (1998), “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowits” had the writers running wild with witty quips and puns fed mostly to Niles (David Hyde Pierce) as the family pretends to be Jewish when the mother of Frasier’s girlfriend visits. The jokes come faster than Santa’s presents this year.
In Season Seven (1999), we are witness to “The Fight Before Christmas”. Our episode once again relies on the performance of Grammer to bring a somewhat tired premise to life. The fun here is seeing the relationship between Niles and Daphne (Jane Leeves) begin to get interesting. Picking up the changes in the relationship from year to year is an unexpected enjoyable element of watching these episodes.
In Season Eight (2000), we are wished a “Mary Christmas”. Arguably the weakest of the bunch so far as Frasier is focused on landing the job of parade announcer. He succeeds, gets saddled with a partner he does not want, takes the whole thing too seriously, and it blows up in his face. Simply too contrived and not particularly funny.
Season Ten (2002) brings us “We Two Kings”. While Frasier and Niles bicker over who will host Christmas dinner, the comedy in this episode comes from Roz (Peri Gilpin) volunteering as Santa’s Helper at the local mall and falling for Santa.
Season 11 (2003) strives to deliver some “High Holidays”. Sadly, the worst was saved for last as the series had clearly run its course here. Fredrick comes home for Christmas but has gone Goth in a storyline that goes nowhere and is filled with weak performances. The title of the episodes references Niles desire to try marijuana, which results in antics we’ve seen in other series done much better.
Recommendation: Some bonus material would have made this the perfect stocking stuffer, but this still makes a great gift for the true fans of the series and those with little recollection of the Crane clan. Though I never missed an episode of Cheers, Frasier never made my list of shows to watch. After seeing these episodes there may be some binge watching for me over the holidays.