Reviews

Frasier: The First Season

Stephen Tropiano

In Frasier's freshman season, those episodes pitting father against son are by far the most entertaining and touching.


Frasier

Cast: Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney, Jane Leeves, Peri Gilpin
Subtitle: The First Season
Network: Paramount Home Video
Display Artist: David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee
Creator: David Lee
First date: 1993
US Release Date: 2003-05-20
Amazon

On 25 July 2003, The Hollywood Reporter said a Friends spin-off was in the works for Matt LeBlanc's character, the sweet, somewhat dim actor Joey Tribianni. Television's highest rated sitcom is scheduled to end its 10-season run next May, so the new show won't air until Fall 2004. Though no details are yet available, the word around Hollywood is that Joey, who currently appears on Days of Our Lives, will move out to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career (which is odd, as Days is shot in L.A.).

Television spin-offs, even when built on likable characters like Joey, are a tricky business. Although some characters can move from one show to another (The Mary Tyler Moore Show begat Rhoda, Soap, Benson, and All in the Family generated The Jeffersons and Maude), most spin-offs barely last a season; remember Happy Days leading to Joanie Loves Chachi, Alice to Flo, and, perhaps worst bad idea of all, Three's Company spawning The Ropers?

Frasier is the perfect example of how a supporting character can spin off. At the start of Cheers' third season, the Boston bar welcomed a new patron, psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), introduced as barmaid Diane Chambers' (Shelly Long) new beau. Cultured, intelligent, snobbish, and neurotic, Frasier was a fish out of water among the "beer and nuts" crowd at Cheers, but the seeming perfect soulmate for the equally pretentious Diane. But, just as the couple was about to tie the knot, Diane realized she still had the hots for bartender Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and left poor Frasier at the altar. The doctor stuck around and eventually married and had a son with another shrink, Dr. Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth).

Cheers served its last beer in May of 1993, but Frasier was back on NBC's primetime fall schedule that same year. In the new show's pilot ("The Good Son"), a recently divorced Frasier returns to his hometown, Seattle, to accept a job as a call-in psychiatrist on a local radio station. Here he is reunited with his younger brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), a psychiatrist who is as fussy and erudite as Frasier.

Both brothers have strained relationships with their father, Martin (John Mahoney), a retired cop left disabled by a gunshot wound. Frasier's plans to start a new life are disrupted when Martin moves into his son's swanky high-rise bachelor pad, along with his worn out reclining chair, a Jack Russell Terrier named Eddie (Moose), and a fulltime home caregiver, Daphne (Jane Leeves). Martin is a "guy's guy" with a big heart and little patience for his persnickety sons. Frasier is essentially the story of one man who appreciates the finer things in life, yet feels trapped in what he regards as an inferior, uncultured, and unsophisticated world.

In addition to its talented writing staff and fine ensemble comprised mostly of New York stage actors (Pierce, Grammer, and Tony winner Mahoney), Frasier is one of the most successful spin-offs ever because its creators transformed an egotistical, vain, and pompous supporting character into a funny, likable leading man. Whenever he tries to maintain control of his little part of the world, his snobbish exterior unmasked. Fortunately, the guy underneath is not only warm-hearted, but also smart enough to know when he's wrong.

Paramount's recently released DVD collection comprises the first season. In addition to the first 24 episodes, it features a tribute to the many celebrities who have supplied the voices of Frasier's call-in patients (these include Christopher Reeve, Patti LuPone, Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Leary, and Gary Trudeau), a tour of the set, and an amusing commentary on the pilot by executive producers and creators Peter Casey and David Lee.

In the series' freshman season, those episodes pitting father against son are by far the most entertaining and touching. Frasier and Martin butt heads over everything from privacy ("Space Quest") to restaurants ("Dinner at Eight") to dad's recliner. In "Give Him the Chair," Frasier (with a little help from Niles) convinces himself that it would be in his father's best interest to go behind his back to dispose of the chair. As Niles explains, the chair is like a baby's blanket and "There comes a time when it's the healthy thing to do to put these security objects aside." Frasier's scheme not only puts him in the doghouse, but also, in a truly hilarious scene, his attempt to retrieve it lands him on stage performing in a high school production of Ten Little Indians. As always, in the end Frasier grows a little wiser and closer to his father, who explains his chair's sentimental value: it's where he was sitting when he watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and heard the news that he was a grandfather.

Frasier knows he needs to do the right thing, but his ego or other parts of his anatomy often get in the way. In "The Crucible," he hosts an elegant soiree in honor of artist Martha Paxton (Rachel Rosenthal), and displays one of her paintings, recently purchased from a dealer, only to be told by Paxton that it's a fake. Niles stops him from throwing a brick through the art dealer's window, but then, in a nice twist, Niles ends up doing his dirty work for him.

In "Call Me Irresponsible," Frasier faces a professional challenge when he convinces a caller to dump his girlfriend (Amanda Donohoe), only to have her show up at his studio to chew him out. They find themselves attracted to one another, but when the husband calls back to reconcile, the good doctor advises him to forget about her and leave town. When the moment finally arrives to consummate their relationship on the kitchen floor, Frasier feels guilty. A walking contradiction, he believes he has great insight into human behavior, but when it comes to his own emotions, he simply can't deal. In this way, he resembles his patients, and perhaps his viewers, more than he can know.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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