Mercedes Ruehl is back, initially as a quick foil for David Hyde Pierce and Kelsey Grammer. Hyde Pierce is visiting Grammer at work—there’s a brief, welcome Peri Gilpin eye-roll in Hyde Pierce’s direction—and they run into Ruehl. She quickly shows them both up, which is hilarious, and then seems to disappear–“Frasier” has these outstanding pivots from episode setup to A plot, with the setup rarely even showing up as a subplot.
For example, once Ruehl has shown herself to be better informed than Hyde Pierce and Grammer, the opening with the brothers goes nowhere. Instead, Ruehl gets involved with Grammer’s subplot with sports radio host Dan Butler. Butler pranked Grammer, Grammer complained, Ruehl finds out how much more engagement Butler gets from his listeners; so she tells Butler to keep up the pranks and we get an episode.
Can Grammer, with the ever-mentioned Harvard degree, find a way to best Butler with pranks or is it going to go bad real fast….
Butler’s pranks are hilarious—Grammer’s great playing the butt of jokes, it’s kind of a staple of the performance from “Cheers” days—and the plot nicely involves everyone: John Mahoney’s a faithful Butler listener, Gilpin’s Grammer’s sidekick whether she likes it or not, and then Hyde Pierce is his sounding board.
Nice support from Michael Whaley as Butler’s comically suffering (he works for Butler, after all) producer.
Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett-Giordano are the credited writers. They’re quite good at finding the right situational comedy for “Frasier,” like, all you need is the spark and you get a great episode thanks to the cast, which makes me think it’s when “Frasier” starts taking itself for granted is when the slide begins.