The first time Kelsey Grammer directed a “Frasier” episode, he barely appeared onscreen. Subsequently, he started including himself more, and with this episode, he’s got himself front and center. He gives David Hyde Pierce and John Mahoney some outstanding showcases—better than he ever gives himself—but he’s got the A plot from the start.
The episode begins establishing it’s a Christmas episode with Grammer and Peri Gilpin shopping for last-minute gifts. It’s a nice department store scene, lots of activity, some good smiles, and then a great introduction to guest star Carole Shelley. She saves Grammer from a social faux pas and gets her single daughter a date with a doctor out of it. The daughter ends up being Amy Brenneman, so it works out.
Brenneman’s appearance is interesting for a few reasons. First, she’s trying out comedy from drama and adapts her timing well. Second, she ends up being support to Shelley. Third, Grammer isn’t hostile towards her. The last time there was a big-name love interest guest star (Teri Hatcher), Grammer was visibly distressed. This time he’s far more gracious, and the proto-couple are charming together.
Especially when it turns out the A plot is Grammer and family hiding their Christianity from Shelley, who assumed he was Jewish. Problematically, Mahoney wants to hang up an electronic Rudolph wreath, and Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves are running around planning a musical Christmas pageant. Thanks to the pacing and the script—credited to Jay Kogen—the episode dances around being screwball and builds to an emotional conclusion. A funny, moving close, but very much a heartfelt Christmas episode.
Shelley’s fantastic. She and Brenneman toggle between moods immediately, which is part of the story, but it’s also very impressive to watch Shelley do it. Primarily since punchlines are entirely based on her read of a situation.
The subplot with Leeves and Hyde Pierce is excellent too, leveraging their chemistry and Hyde Pierce’s physical comedy abilities. Grammer’s other episodes had a big focus on Leeves and Hyde Pierce, and this one lets them find a good rapport as well, just in C plot territory. Turns out Mahoney and the Christmas decorating that wasn’t is the B plot and a perfect one.
“Frasier”’s always done satisfying Christmas episodes, but I’m not sure there’s ever been one as funny as this one. Of course, the stakes are low—Grammer and Gilpin are back at work, and there are no visiting family guest stars—but the lack of drama just lets them have more fun.
Plus, the credits postscript is Eddie being seasonally adorable.