Unmissable: Why Frasier is still TV’s ultimate ‘priss’

Cast members of "Frasier," winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, in 1998. From left are

Cast members of "Frasier," winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, in 1998. From left are Dan Butler, John Mahoney, Peri Gilpin, Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves and David Hyde Pierce. (AP) - Credit: AP

My wife takes great pleasure in, every now and then, reminding me how much of a ‘priss’ I am.

I think she knows I’m not really that prissy, I just like to stick to use-by dates on food and don’t like her putting her feet up on my dashboard.

I hardly think that makes me the definition of prissiness (‘excessively prim or proper’ - and if you’ve seen my house, car, shabby beard or the state of my desk you’ll know that’s not exactly me).

But she’s got a point. About certain things I can be a bit hoity-toity and I can see how annoying it might get after a decade or so together.

After recently enjoying a three-week spell of paternity leave, we’ve now got in the habit of watching a Frasier double bill most mornings, courtesy of Channel 4.

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More than a decade since the show ended, Frasier Crane and, to a greater extent, his brother, fellow psychiatrist Niles, remain TV’s ultimate prisses. They’re the champions of prim, the straight-laced lords of Seattle.

Their obsessing over wine, social status, fine dining, private members’ clubs, coffee, clothes – well, everything really – is brilliantly performed by Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce.

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The brothers, although physically so different, are possibly the most believable and well-matched siblings on TV.

And the cast is filled out with so many strong characters, it helps make the comedy timeless in a way so many fail to be.

The show’s weekday morning double-bill bedfellow on 4 – Everybody Loves Raymond – may have been a ratings beast in the States during its original run in the 1990s, but it never took off in the UK and its style and simple construction is somewhat lacking when compared to the more sophisticated Cheers spin-off that follows. With sport-mad former cop Martin (John Mahoney) perpetually puzzled at how his offspring turned out, and sex-mad Roz (Peri Gilpin) offering caustic asides from within her producing booth or across the coffeehouse table, Frasier crackles with witty retorts and withering put-downs, all perfectly constructed.

The early seasons revel in Niles’ longing to leave his never-seen-onscreen wife Maris in favour of his father’s ditsy British physiotherapist Daphne, played by Jane Leeves.

Probably the only false beat the show picks up towards the end of its 11-series run is the changing of Daphne’s manner from daft-but-lovable eccentric to sensible-and-romantic girlfriend.

Frasier just started to lose a little bit of that spark when Daphne finally recognised Niles as her perfect partner, ending one of the greatest sources of running gags in the show.

It’s hardly “jumping the shark”, but it did require a shift in gear that affected the overall series.

Maybe it went on for a year or two too long, but it’s hard to be critical of a show that remains so watchable, is so laden with awards and has such a memorable roster of characters – not to forget that little dog, Eddie.

Incidentally, I let my wife read this piece before it was filed.

Despite being the same sort of age, Friends seems to have dated quickly and suffered from relentless repeats that only go to show that it quite quickly lost much of its spark. Meanwhile Seinfeld was never given the same sort of Friday night platform here in the UK so never quite caught the nation’s eye.

Frasier remains that rare beast, a timeless success story that is well worth a second viewing. Thanks Channel 4.

What do you think? Email me at elliot.furniss@archant.co.uk or follow me on Twitter @Elliot_Furniss

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