It only took five full seasons to figure it out, but “Frasier” has finally realized Kelsey Grammer’s whine episodes are a lot better when he’s actually got something to whine about. Christopher Lloyd gets the script credit, Pamela Fryman directs. Both do excellent work—there’s a lot of integrated, passive wit—as Grammer has to contend not just being unemployed, but less employable than his also laid-off colleagues. It’s perfectly humanizing. Especially for Grammer and the character. The episode seems to know how to hit the right points too with it too, particularly in juxtaposing Grammer and his coworkers, then Grammer’s arc through the episode in general with David Hyde Pierce offering aside exposition to John Mahoney. It’s an exemplar episode; the best one in a while and there have been other good ones.
The episode’s also good at balancing out the cast—Jane Leeves gets a recurring arc as Grammer’s suffering unemployment sidekick (as he works his way from projects to misery) and Peri Gilpin gets in big time on the eventual intervention. Hyde Pierce and Mahoney are on the periphery without their own stories (Hyde Pierce gets the hilarious pseudo-cliffhanger) but get spectacular material, probably the episode’s best.
And it gives Grammer a great lead performance on his show. It leverages what makes “Frasier” great, with Grammer the reliable captain who can deliver, especially when the stars align. The resolution comes from some easy visual, ableist gags, but also sitcom standards. There are asterisks on all of it, but the jokes are successfully executed. Was that compliment wishy-washy enough?
Quick supporting turns from coworkers Dan Butler, Edward Hibbert, and Tom McGowan (plus Marsha Kramer as the story lady)—super agent Bebe gets mentioned in dialogue but sadly doesn’t make an appearance (makes sense, busy episode).
There’s also a great sequence with Grammer and his fan club members, who he decides to invite to the apartment to cheer him up. That sequence has Grammer playing the straight man while Hyde Pierce, Mahoney, and Leeves get to watch disaster comedically unfold in real time. It’s just a particularly great example of the multi camera sitcom medium—Fryman’s direction is always impressive—and it gets the season off to a wonderful start.
Plus cute dog tricks from Eddie.