'Frasier' wastes no time in getting 2nd season moving

September 20, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

The announcement that NBC would move it to Tuesdays has been the buzz of the television industry for months. It sent "Roseanne" high-tailing to safe harbor before it ever arrived. And, last week, it won the Emmy for best comedy.

No spinoff in recent years has achieved, so quickly, the kind of near-instant ratings success and critical acclaim that "Frasier" has enjoyed in its first season.

And, based on the new episode of the "Cheers" spinoff -- which airs at 9 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2) -- it looks as though Year Two is only going to be better for the sitcom about the talk-show psychiatrist in Seattle.

Tonight's season premiere, titled "Slow Tango in South Seattle," finds Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) in -- what else? -- a snit.

Once upon a time in an unnamed bar in Boston, Frasier had helped a fellow patron, Thomas Jay Fallow (John O'Hurley), overcome writer's block. Fallow has since, it turns out, taken a confidential story that Frasier had told him in Boston and turned it into a super-best-selling, romantic novella. Fallow's "Slow Tango in South Seattle" is the story of Frasier's initiation into manhood by an older woman, his piano teacher.

One of the greatest pleasures of an intelligent spinoff is the way it plays with the rich storehouse of memory viewers have from the series that spawned it.

"You mean you know him?" Frasier's radio producer, Roz (Peri Gilpen), asks incredulously when Frasier seems to recognize the author's picture on the book's dust jacket.

"Yes, yes, he used to drop into a neighborhood bar I frequented back in Boston. He was a bit pretentious, though. He stuck out like a sore thumb," Frasier says derisively.

It's just a quick aside in tonight's show, but fans of "Cheers" will savor the extra chuckle remembering that Frasier was the pretentious guy in the bar where everybody knows your name.

Another delight of "Frasier" is how skillfully it combines high/low, intellectual/physical comedy.

Frasier's trip back tonight to visit his former piano teacher and provide "closure" to their relationship is a nifty commentary on male ego and adolescent sexual fantasies carried into manhood.

In that sense, it's very smart stuff.

But, halfway through the half-hour, when they need a fast and easy laugh, the producers are not above having Eddie, the dog, lie on his back and kick his little legs wildly in the air for slapstick yuks at Frasier's expense.

There's a flat-out brilliant high-low moment in next week's episode, when Frasier and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) try to take Eddie to the vet to be neutered. They notice that Eddie is listening to their discussion of how to get him into the car, and they suddenly begin talking only in French. They do this because they believe that, while Eddie understands everything they say in English, he has not yet picked up enough French to foil their plan.

OK, maybe you have to love dogs to think that's brilliant, but it killed me.

The big TV question of the fall is who's going to get killed in the kamikaze showdown that starts tonight between "Frasier" and "Home Improvement," the very heavy artillery ABC rolled in when it rolled "Roseanne" out of the line of NBC's unfriendly fire.

It's a call that's impossible to make. But if "Frasier" stays on the kind of roll it's enjoyed the past year, I'd look for Tim and Jill to be adding a terrier to the Taylor household by the end of the year . . . and for the terrier to do a lot of lying on its back and kicking its little legs.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.