Frasier—The Complete Sixth Season (TV)

(1998) *** 1/2 Unrated
528 min. NBC. Director: Jonathan Blank. Cast: Alan Thicke, Moon Unit Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, Jonathan Penner, Jessica Hecht.

The province of the sitcom has generally been the middle-class, but NBC and Frasier creators David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee took a calculated risk in 1993. By spinning the character of Dr. Frasier Crane off of the primarily blue-collar neighborhood-bar sitcom Cheers, they were able to continue making upper-class twits the butt of the jokes while positioning them as unlikely metrosexual heroes. The weekly network-sitcom adventures of elitist Crane and his equally stuffy brother Niles proved to have mass appeal over eleven seasons.

By the 1998-1999 season (the series' sixth), the Frasier formula was well-established. Frasier, still licking the wounds of his divorce from Lillith (Bebe Neuwirth, who would appear on Frasier, but not in Season Six), dated serially in Seattle while offering psychiatric advice to radio listeners. Frasier's own personal failings continued to make him a dubious font of advice—squabbles with blue-collar father Martin (John Mahoney) and anal-retentive Niles (David Hyde Pierce, who won the 1999 Emmy for his supporting work). Frasier's engineer (and single mother) Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin), and Martin's physical therapist Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) completed the cast, with each undergoing their own dating traumas in the Rainy City.

At the end of Season Five, Frasier's producers did upset the formula temporarily. The staffers of KACL radio were all fired when the station's owners changed the format to all-salsa all the time. Frasier, Roz, and assorted recurring players (Dan Butler's "Bulldog," Edward Hibbert's Gil Chesterton, and Patrick Kerr's Noel Shempsky) have their routines disrupted and scramble for work until the station reverts to the talk-radio format in the season's ninth episode.

Season Six also sees Niles dealing with divorce proceedings; the never-seen Maris doesn't make it easy, and the suddenly single Niles proves too slow on the draw to attract the true love of his life, Daphne. Instead, Daphne falls for Niles' divorce attorney, Donny Douglas (Saul Rubinek), who threatens to get serious with the lass from Manchester. Meanwhile, a financially strapped Niles barely copes with the embarrasment of his new living quarters at the seedy Shangri-La Apartments. He eventually reclaims his astonishingly expensive apartment, but only after a disasterous dinner party that finds one guest dropping dead ("Taps at the Montana").

Season Six begins with an episode cleverly structured around Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief ("Good Grief") and thereafter stumbles with a run of uneven episodes. The series finds its footing right around the time Frasier gets his job back, in the crisp episode "Roz, A Loan." Star Grammer (also an executive producer) directed two of Season Six's best episodes, "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" and "Three Valentines," which begins with a wordless sequence—invloving Niles, Eddie, and fire—that became an instant classic for the series (Frasier's verbal dilemma in this Rob Hanning-penned episode is also hilarious). For a good example of the series' comic economy, check out the hugely enjoyable "Dinner Party," a real-time episode that never leaves Frasier's apartment.

Frasier was a series that enjoyed dabbling in farce, and the sixth season includes some relatively simple farcical gestures ("Frasier's Curse" deals with the doc's inability to impress his peers come reunion time) as well as full-blown efforts like "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" (which won Jay Kogen a writing Emmy), about Frasier pretending to be Jewish for the benefit of his girlfriend's mother (the payoff is priceless). In "Decoys," the doors of a secluded cabin swing with precision as Niles tries to mix Roz with ex-boyfriend Donny while matching himself with Daphne.

By Season Six, Frasier was already attracting notable guest stars in on-screen roles: Fritz Weaver, Eva Marie Saint (as Roz's mother), Christine Baranski (as "Dr. Nora," a riotous caricature of Dr. Laura), and Piper Laurie. A series of beauties—including Teri Hatcher, Virginia Madsen, Amy Brenneman—played romantic foils for Grammer, and celebs including Ron Howard, Bonnie Raitt, William H. Macy, Gillian Anderson, and Yo Yo Ma contributed voices as callers to Frasier's radio show.

Perhaps the most notable guest star is former Cheers regular Woody Harrelson as farm-bred simpleton Woody Boyd ("The Show Where Woody Shows Up"). The episode's "you can't go home again" theme makes a gentle case against such sweeps-week stunt casting, though the episode's nostalgic sweetness makes it irresistable all the same. In fact, such episodes proved enduringl popular, and every live Cheers regular (with the exception of Kirstie Alley's Rebecca Howe) would make at least one appearance on Fraser.

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Dvd

Aspect ratios: 1.33:1 Full Screen

Number of discs: 4

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

Street date: 9/13/2005

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

No extras are provided on Paramount's four-disc set of Frasier—The Complete Sixth Season, but we get handsome transfers and a much-welcome "Play All" feature for ease of viewing. Previews lead off Disc One, advertising upcoming Paramount releases: MacGyver, Charmed, The Brady Bunch, and Airplane: "Don't Call Me Shirley" Special Edition. Previews can be skipped, or later accessed from the Disc One menu.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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