Joe Keenan for the win.
I missed the writing credit on this episode and put off finding out who wrote this marvelous script until now. Keenan starts the season out on a very high point, with an endless amount of always good one-liners as the regular cast gets to do a group showcase episode.
Jane Leeves’s ex-fiancé is in town to take her up on her promise to reconnect if they’re both single in five years time (which, for the normally continuity vague “Frasier,” actually does match with the previous season’s flashback reveals). She doesn’t have any interest and is planning on telling him to shove off, but loses her nerve when he arrives and casts David Hyde Pierce as her new husband.
The episode opens with Hyde Pierce over at Kelsey Grammer’s apartment, still separated from Maris, getting on Grammer’s nerves with his latest eccentricity, so when Leeves and Hyde Pierce inform the ex (Scott Atkinson in an outstanding performance as the straight man) it’s their apartment and Grammer is their martially troubled erstwhile lodger….
The show is layers upon layers of slightly acerbic character conflict, which then comes out in force once Leeves has some second thoughts about Atkinson but Peri Gilpin’s since come over and met him and is interested too.
Meanwhile John Mahoney gets maybe the most constantly funny part in the group subterfuge as he comes up with a very creative career history for himself, given Grammer and Hyde Pierce think—although he was an undercover cop—he won’t be able to think on his feet.
Throw in a subplot about Mahoney needing someone to take him to a reunion with his war buddies as a blackmail and leverage chip for people to pass back and forth and there are some stakes. So Keenan’s got the plot, he’s got the arcs, then he’s got the constant one-liners. Only Mahoney’s are “in universe” and ought to be as funny to his mortified sons and Leeves, otherwise they’re all these wonderful character moments.
I imagine four seasons in they were trying to figure out how they could possibly pick up any viewers not already watching the show but Keenan does a phenomenal job selling the characters, cast, and concept.
Excellent performances from the cast. Mahoney’s the winner, Leeves gets some great stuff, then probably Hyde Pierce (who manages to do his “being this stalker-y is somehow not creepy when Hyde Pierce does it” best). Grammer and Gilpin get the least to do but they’re still good, of course.
And then, again, Atkinson. It wouldn’t work without him.
“The Two Mrs. Cranes” is an exemplar “Frasier” for sure.