“Friends” didn’t set the bar especially high for NBC’s grand duo of sitcom sendoffs, so leave it to five-time Emmy winner “Frasier” to strike a more satisfying chord — albeit one unlikely to prove such a commercial juggernaut. Deftly mixing genuine warmth with screwball farce in what became its hallmark, the series rolls out the big emotional guns — a baby and a wedding! — while providing a small reminder of what brought it such acclaim through its 11-year run.
Exec producers Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan contributed mightily to the show in earlier seasons and helped bring renewed vigor to its swan-song year, though much of the audience from its hey-day had long since abandoned it.
Their final writing collaboration, directed by David Lee, manages to get a lot of business done regarding the supporting characters while leaving Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) in a hopeful place that sees him take another step forward — just as he did, essentially, with the move to Seattle that launched this “Cheers” spinoff.
The goofier aspects of the hour included Daphne and Niles (Jane Leeves and David Hyde Pierce) fretting as to whether their baby will adopt his prissy manner or emulate her rambunctious brothers (guests Anthony LaPaglia, Robbie Coltrane and Richard E. Grant), before she abruptly delivers in a veterinarian’s office. Meanwhile, Martin (John Mahoney) finally weds Ronee (Wendy Malick), who, in one of the hour’s more clever throwaway lines, alludes to Frasier and Niles as “the Duke and Duchess.”
Even so, there’s a melancholy tone to the proceedings, as new girlfriend Charlotte (Laura Linney) exits early in the hour and Frasier contemplates a move to a new gig in San Francisco. These are all familiar beats for goodbye episodes, of course, yet they’re played so well by the show’s always-stellar cast as to resonate nonetheless.
Having spent much of its valedictory season in “Friends'” shadow (down to over-the-top NBC promos for the former that spurred a public rebuke from Grammer), “Frasier” signs off with the kind of aplomb one would expect from a show that always dared to be a little smarter than most sitcoms on the block. Indeed, even the preceding clip show exhibited a touch of ingenuity, as Frasier recounted scenes from the past while talking to another shrink, played by Fred Willard.
So goodnight, “Frasier,” which, like most good things in television, probably hung around a bit too long. Yet even though a lot of us might have drifted away over the years, you’ve still managed to leave the building with style.