Death and the Dog does a couple things I think are new to “Frasier” and immediately seem like series standards. The first is using the radio show as an episode-long bookend device. The episode opens with Kelsey Grammer and Peri Gilpin bored on a sunny Seattle day and getting a single caller—Patty Duke (not playing Patty Duke, obviously)—and Grammer regales her, the listening audience, and the viewer with a moral tale to help her with her depression problem. I’m pretty sure the episode’s never used a call for bookending before. It’s an obvious device—and it even plays fairly obviously, with occasional interruptions from Gilpin as Grammer divulges too much about her personal life—but all plays well thanks to an excellent Suzanne Martin credited script.
The other new but familiar part of the episode is the entire regular cast—sans Dan Butler, who’s not in this episode and hasn’t been around for a while and must only be included in the regular cast titles when he appears–sitting around the apartment for a lengthy group conversation. James Burrows’s direction is really good on it, but it’s the actors and Martin’s script. See, Eddie the dog has been depressed and the pet psychiatrist Mahoney calls thinks he’s mirroring depression. So everyone talks about what’s got them depressed. It’s a phenomenal talking heads scene, bouncing between the five participants, exquisitely timed and acted.
Zeljko Ivanek guest stars as the pet shrink, who Grammer and Hyde Pierce mercilessly tease (turns out justifiably but it’s no less mean-spirited). Ivanek’s awesome. He’s got this very droll take on the character, which contrasts with Grammer and Hyde Pierce doing their gleeful snob thing. It’s a great scene.
We also get to see Hyde Pierce’s dog again—who hasn’t appeared since last season—as he brings her over to cheer up Eddie while Grammer cautions Mahoney not to point out the obvious similarities between the dog and Maris, Hyde Pierce’s never seen, infamous (and estranged) wife. It’s a quick, but thoughtful and effective set piece. Martin’s script has a number of such set pieces, including the cast discussing how they’d imagine Eddie the dog as a person, in addition to some great recurring bits. Jane Leeves gets the best recurring dialogue, while Gilpin gets this amazing subplot about dating gynecologist Tom Lagleder (against her better judgment).
It’s an excellent episode. The way it showcases the cast’s ability to play off one another (thanks to Martin and Burrows as well obviously) is spectacular. Not to mention how it’s able to get away with the pedestrian framing device thanks to everything else excelling so much.
Great end credits joke too.