Frasier takes his last bow

Comedy shows wit and grace to the end


May 14, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

After 11 years, NBC's Frasier ended its acclaimed run last night with Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) quoting Tennyson to his Seattle radio audience and then flying off to Chicago in pursuit of a woman named Charlotte (Laura Linney) whom he had met just three weeks ago. Along the way were a birth, a wedding, low farce and some of the most highly intelligent sitcom writing prime time network television is ever likely to see.

Final episodes of long-running series are almost impossible to craft, and this one had its flaws. The episode never found a comfortable rhythm, which left one feeling emotionally jangled from time to time.

Blame it on the NBC hype machine and the crunch of extra commercials. Perhaps the writers and producers also deserve some criticism for trying to cover too much ground as they careened from the broad barnyard farce at the wedding of Martin Crane (John Mahoney) and Ronee Lawrence (Wendy Malick) to the poignancy of Frasier quoting from Tennyson's "Ulysses" as he said farewell.

Maybe they did overdo it in bringing the loutish brothers of Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) over from England to add a dose of larger-than-life madness to the finale. But who wants to complain too loudly about seeing the brilliant Robbie Coltrane and delightful Anthony LaPaglia chewing up scenery as two of the drunken Moon brothers?

Furthermore, how many series can command that kind of supporting talent? And wasn't one of the very best things about Frasier the way it consistently combined low physical comedy with genuine wit?

Frasier by and large stayed true last night to the spirit that made it not only one of the most popular sitcoms in the history of television, but also one of the most honored (31 Emmys). While the finale gave us a birth - a baby boy for Daphne and Dr. Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce) - it took place in a veterinary office and was played more like a vaudeville skit than drawing room comedy, with a rookie vet and monkey wanting to be fed.

There were nice touches of closure. The same delivery man who appeared in the pilot 11 years ago to bring Martin Crane's ratty recliner to Frasier's swank apartment reappeared last night to take it away. The moment brought back so much of the pilot and the spiky father-son relationship.

But even nicer was the growth of Frasier's central character. Unlike Seinfeld, which ended with the leading characters talking about the same self-absorbed, mundane matters as when the series began, Dr. Frasier Crane was moving on. He was pursuing a relationship instead of a job or a piece of designer furniture.

Frasier reminded viewers last night why it was considered network television's most literate sitcom. How many comedies could get away with their leading character reciting poetry - "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" - as Frasier did?

Frasier not only got away with it - Grammer made the lines sing. Try to remember how natural it seemed for such heightened language to be on television the next time you are watching someone kissing a rat or eating maggots and screaming, "Ewww, ewww, ewww!" on NBC's Fear Factor.

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