I was kind of dreading this episode—the first season of “Frasier” immediately established the show’s differences from “Cheers” and made the need for a stunt cameo from a “Cheers” cast member superfluous. So waiting to the back nine of the second season to bring in Ted Danson, who was trying to recover from the blackface incident—wait, I wonder if he was originally supposed to be in the first season and they had to push him back.
Either way, waiting until the show’s not just creatively established but also culturally and critically was a power move. As much as an NBC sitcom could make a power move. The episode has “Cheers” pedigree—writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs (who I think have only done “Frasier” for the “Cheers” crossovers), director James Burrows—but the story ends up being Kelsey Grammer’s. It’s less about Grammer as king of “Cheers-Wings-Frasier Multiverse,” taking the crown off Danson, and more about the writers trying to figure out what do to with Sam Malone outside the bar.
He’s a dim bulb, which is kind of a weird thing to bring to the audience’s attention because all it does is reveal how “Cheers” was just written at an easier joke level. Often by Levine and Isaacs. While directed by Burrows. It plays out as this de facto flex from “Frasier” about the child surpassing the parent, but seemingly unintentionally. There really is just nothing to do with Sam Malone outside a particular soundstage.
There’s some fun stuff with Peri Gilpin and Danson as two sexual predators attacking each other—sadly it goes nowhere, which would be fine if Danson did anything but he’s just sort of around; he’s available to participate in jokes, like post-scripting the “Cheers” characters and John Mahoney trying to get Danson to sit in the gross chair.
It’s fine. It’s funny. Affable. David Hyde Pierce and Danson work better together than you’d expect.
Then we get to Danson’s story—he’s got a fiancée he’s avoiding (Téa Leoni, getting an NBC test out)—but then the real story is about Grammer and Leoni. See, when Grammer says he’s met a girl in Boston, it’s not Boston, Canada he’s talking about.
The third act is a little rough and a little easy, but it’s a successful reunion episode. Danson’s fine, Leoni’s good, Grammer’s really good.
Not dreadful at all.