This episode’s a very pleasant surprise and not just because it’s the return to form for director Jeff Melman. The story takes a big shift in the middle and it all comes together very nicely in the end, particularly for Peri Gilpin and Kesley Grammer, but everyone gets a great showcase.
Suzanne Martin and Jeffrey Richman share the writing credit; it stands out as neither regularly shares writing credit with another writer. It opens as a somewhat traditional—albeit funny—Crane boys griping about their love lives, with Grammer and David Hyde Pierce relating their tales of dating woes to one another until John Mahoney tells them to stop whining and throw a singles mixer. Contributing to their exasperation at their lack of lady luck is Leeves having successfully met a nice man–it doesn’t bother Hyde Pierce, which seems odd, and then when they do throw the party, Leeves is off on her date (to a bat mitzvah). She’s not exactly missed at the party, but she is missing.
Grammer and Hyde Pierce are busy having a brotherly competition for the attention of one party guest—Claire Yarlett—while Mahoney tries setting them up with other female guests (since everyone there is single). Gilpin’s got some good material trying to flirt while pregnant and then Mahoney’s got a great subplot about his hair dye leaving stains everywhere. It’s a lot of funny all in a row; the script rattles off jokes continually, not taking a break until the big plot development.
There’s still humor post-big development (including a return to the continual joke rattle) but there’s also a lot of heart to it. The episode finds a wonderful balance between the party and the resolution, getting a lot of laughs while also letting Grammer and Gilpin exercise more dramatic chops. Leeves also gets a good quirk post-bat mitzvah; the episode does well introducing new gags throughout, some getting more immediate resolution (like Gilpin’s flirting subplot), some going the rest of the episode (Mahoney’s hair), so Leeves is able to get a showcase in the last five minutes or so. Very well-written. Very well-acted. Very well-directed.
I’m not sure if The Life of the Party is an exemplar “Frasier” (sadly, despite often being real good, this season has less and less of them), but it’s a really successful conclusion to a season-long plot thread and a winning episode besides.
And it’s so nice to see Melman directing well and ambitiously again. It’s been a while since he was doing either.