Credited writers Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck wrote the shittiest episode of “Frasier” ever (thus far) earlier this season, and so I was dreading this one. Especially since the logline seems primed for a bad episode—Kelsey Grammer hooks up with not one but two women (consecutively, not concurrently) and has to pick the one he wants to pursue a relationship with. It stands out because the women are returning guest stars—Virginia Madsen and Amy Brenneman—and it’s rare for the one-episode guest stars to come back. They maybe never have; definitely not the love interests.
Madsen is the breathy coworker from the Valentine’s Day episode where Grammer could never figure out if she was romantically interested. Brenneman was in the Christmas episode where the family had to pretend they were Jewish for her mom’s sake. The episode starts with Grammer and Madsen together, then he runs into Brenneman and ends up with her, then starts fretting over the right choice.
Brenneman’s obviously the right choice because she’s nicer to Jane Leeves, who Madsen treats like crap. John Mahoney votes for Madsen because she’s breathy and not too intelligent and opinionated like Brenneman (seriously, Mahoney needs to get a recurring subplot besides being an amiable pig). David Hyde Pierce abstains from choosing but does try to help Grammer with the decision-making. Also, the writing’s really thin on Madsen, so she’s just annoying, whereas the episode’s eventually going to give Brenneman the most agency a love interest has gotten to this point. With the caveat, there’s a narrative device in play the show’s rarely used before and never let anyone but Grammer in on.
It works out, too; Brenneman’s excellent. Madsen’s a low okay. She’s really unlikeable, so it’s an uphill battle, and she was also a lot better last time. One of the problems with bringing actors back is when they’re not better or as good on the return.
There’s also a bunch of great physical comedy from Mahoney, Leeves, and Hyde Pierce. Like director David Lee (his best-directed episode in ages, if not ever) really wanted to have fun with the sequences. Leeves also gets to do a great American impression in the spotlight, which seems to have been meant to make up for her being the punchline for a guest star. And Peri Gilpin has some good moments as she counsels Grammer with his unexpected romantic dilemma. It’s a packed episode.
And rather successful, given it’s about Grammer gaslighting his love interests while he inspects their proverbial teeth. Not enough to make up for Gregory and Huyck’s last outing, but a very solid entry.