The Innkeepers is a great sitcom episode without necessarily being a great “Frasier” episode. It’s a really good “Frasier,” with the entire cast doing a great job—they just aren’t asked to do very much. John Mahoney spends a bunch of the episode doing his irate thing even after it isn’t making things funny anymore. He eventually gets reassigned and does a lot better, but then you’re just left wondering why they weren’t using him better the whole time.
After some exceptionally efficient and funny setup—including some Peri Gilpin vs. David Hyde Pierce, which is always funny and usually good—Kelsey Grammer and Hyde Pierce are proud new restauranteurs and it’s opening night. Everyone’s going to be there—Mahoney, Jane Leeves, Gilpin, Dan Butler, and Edward Hibbert. Hibbert’s the radio restaurant critic who kicks off the whole plot in that efficient opening.
It’s important to have a lot of people around—it’s a big restaurant set, with adjoining kitchen (the unmarked kitchen doors are going to come into play, obviously)—because once things start going wrong, the episode will become Grammer and Hyde Pierce trying to fix one thing while breaking two others.
The episode gives everyone in the main cast–with the asterisk next to Mahoney—some great material. Some of it’s undercooked, like Leeves and Gilpin getting angry at each other when they should be mad at Grammer or Hyde Pierce, but some of it’s gold, like when Leeves shows off her seafood-related culinary skills.
But writer David Lloyd only seems to be able to reliably write two person conversations, which is usually why Mahoney comes off shoe-horned in and superfluous, and when the action gets to the restaurant, it no longer matters what sitcom this situational comedy is unfolding on. Eventually even Hyde Pierce becomes part of the stock cast, so it’s basically about the lead having four helpers and two foils as everything goes to pot.
Innkeepers is a hilarious half hour of television. And, take off the first act, it would’ve been just as funny if it were on “The Jeffersons,” “Friends,” or, I don’t know, “Family Guy.” If the script was more of a collaborative effort, it shows. If it wasn’t, I guess it needed some collaboration.