Friday, June 18, 2004

A few thoughts on the demise of Frasier

The imminent demise of one of my favourite shows prompted me to trawl through the internet looking for information about upcoming Frasier dvd releases. I can't imagine life without my regular "Frasier fix" and Paramount repeats just won't do ~ I need nice shiny Frasier artefacts assuming pride of place in my dvd collection and I need them now. I recently discovered a lone copy of series 2 hidden forlornly, and almost apologetically, behind the massed ranks of Friends dvds in my local record store and I was alarmed at the implications for aspiring completists amongst us.

Now, I wouldn't consider myself a Frasier aficionado and I'm certainly not an anorak. I couldn't even tell you the names of more than a handful of episodes. But one thing I do know is this: I feel sad that Frasier is coming to an end. All that sentimental rubbish that Friends' fans spout about losing their ersatz "buddies" is starting to hit home. What will life be like without Frasier and Niles' dry wit, erudite charm and endearing pretensions? Diminished without a doubt. Frasier was such a rich and rewarding viewing experience for me because it was populated almost exclusively by characters I'd really like to hang out with and shoot the breeze with. I'm gonna miss those guys and gals. Sadly, there's little doubt that we'll never see Frasier's likes again. Frasier represented one of the few remaining recalcitrant ghettos of intelligence in the dumbed-down dystopia that is contemporary t.v. programming.

What have we got left? The West Wing, The Sopranos and The Simpsons, at a push. Not that there ever was a golden age of intelligent t.v. Shows like Twin Peaks, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and Larry Sanders were always the exception rather than the rule. However we're now fairly and squarely in the grip of lowest common denominator scheduling. I've got about 900 channels and I can't find anything worth watching on any of them. Jackass, Big Brother, Pop Idol and their execrable ilk seem to be the template for the future. I suspect even the insipid "Friends" will seem like an anachronistic example of intellectual humour to future generations.

I never really understood the alleged "rivalry" between Friends and Frasier. To compare the entertaining antics of the stylish Seattle sophisticates to the anodyne adventures of a bunch of vacuous telegenic New York yuppies is the equivalent of proposing that Manhattan and Ace Ventura Pet Detective be accorded equal status in the pantheon of cinematic comedy. My sister and my wife both love Friends and I've been subjected to the infernal show more times than I'd care to admit yet I've failed to smile once let alone laugh. I don't know if it's a "chick" thing, and due to the affection those nearest and dearest to me obviously possess for the show I'm naturally reluctant to claim that it's a "thick" thing, but I just don't "get" it. I'm sure the writers on Friends are smart people and I'm equally sure that they were "slumming it" and "writing down" for the sake of the ratings.

The thing I love about Frasier is that it's never been afraid to shoot for the stars. It never patronises and underestimates the intelligence of the viewer. And, as the excellent final series has proved, it was never afraid to take risks. One of the last episodes (Crock Tales) was a brilliantly subtle deconstruction of the inanity of "rival" shows as well as a touching reaffirmation of all that has been, and is, unique about Frasier. This wonderful episode was certainly nostalgic and sentimental but in Frasier's inimitably endearing, imaginative, intelligent and idiosyncratic way. Thankfully the formulaic predictability of other shows has never been Frasier's modus operandi. We can argue until the cows come home about which were the best episodes, and seasons, or moan about how the show lost some of it's sparkle in seasons 8-10 but the truth is the worst of Frasier was always far superior to the best of practically any other show. One thing's for sure though: I've never met a Frasier fan I didn't like.

As Steely Dan once sang: Sharing the things we know and love, with those of our kind; Libations, sensations, that stagger the mind. Frasier is quite simply one of the best things in life, and it's always been an axiomatic principle of mine that "if you like Frasier too then we're going to get along just fine."