May 20, 2004  
Volume 98, Issue 01  

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Coffee houses, more coffee houses

Mark Polishuk

A&E Editor

Gazette File Photo
BROTHERLY LOVE. Eddie, Niles and Frasier hear the blues a’callin’, but they’re no longer eating salads and/or scrambled eggs since Frasier is off the air.

Recently, Friends and Frasier called it quits after 10 and 11 years, respectively. While the end of Friends was met with a huge media blitz, there has been much less fanfare over the wacky psychiatrist from Seattle taking his final bow. Kelsey Grammer himself even went on record as saying that he thought his show was getting the shaft from NBC in terms of promotion, though in defense of the network, they were probably too busy making commercials for the next all-supermodel Fear Factor.

So, with apologies to Bill Simmons and Dr. Jack Wagner, it’s time to have an old-fashioned breakdown of both shows to see which is truly the bigger loss for the TV landscape.

Cast: There are few leads in TV history as strong as Grammer, who still brings the funny after playing the role of Frasier Crane for 20 years. Similarly, David Hyde “Niles” Pierce is one of the all-time great supporting characters, and I would put him put well above Joey and Phoebe, the two Friends most regularly slotted into the ‘backup story’ of each episode.

That said, it’s a case of quantity over quality. All six of the Friends were perfectly cast in their roles, and while some of them became more irritating over the years (coughcoughRossandMonicacoughcough), they were all integral parts of the cast. Pierce was more or less single-handedly carrying Frasier’s supporting cast. John Mahoney is pretty good, but Daphne got less funny as the years progressed and Roz is barely in about half of the episodes. POINT: FRIENDS

Recurring characters: Tough call. Frasier had actual plots about the people at the radio station from time to time, as opposed to the random comments of Gunther the coffee house guy. Then again, Friends almost always struck gold with their recurring characters (Janice, the Geller parents, etc.), and never had anyone nearly as irritating as Daphne’s mother. Then again, Eddie the dog clearly beats Marcel the monkey. POINT: FRASIER

Main Set: Frasier’s apartment vs. Monica’s apartment. Good God, this could almost be a whole column on its own. Compared to the average student crawlspace, these apartments are like heaven on Earth. SPLIT DECISION

Reruns: Because Frasier adhered to more classic comedic structures, it will hold up better in 10 years time. Once we’re further clear of the 1990s, a lot of Friends’ pop culture references are going to seem pretty dated. POINT: FRASIER

Sexual Tension: Frasier gets laid about a half-dozen times each season, and yet his schtick is still complaining about being lonely. Cry me a river, Crane. Niles’ lusting after Daphne not only lasted for years and was funny, but when the two of them finally hooked up, it actually marked the end of the show’s golden era.

Friends had Ross/Rachel, which was cute for a couple of years, “ok, we get it” for a year and then became just annoying. Chandler/Monica was more based around comedy than chemistry, and Joey/Rachel was just icky and vaguely incestuous. POINT: FRASIER

Prime Years: Friends started to slip in its sixth season, but then rebounded with the “Joey loves Rachel” storyline. Frasier only started to erode once Daphne and Niles got together after seven years, but there was just too big a drop between the “great Frasier” era and the “good Frasier” era without a significant rebound. POINT: FRIENDS

Cultural Impact: Look at it this way: no woman has ever walked into a hair salon and asked for “the Daphne.” POINT: FRIENDS

Impact on Television: Friends led to dozens of shows about young people living in New York, a formula that is still being copied to this day. None of these shows, however, were any good, and frankly, Friends was just an adaptation of Seinfeld’s “show about nothing” except with a more attractive cast.

Frasier has a more important legacy: it will go down as the most successful spinoff in TV history, especially considering that it had a very tough act to follow with Cheers. Frasier will forever stand as the prime example of how a spinoff, if populated with the right cast and right writers, can work. This is a lesson that the producers of Joey should take into consideration. POINT: FRASIER

Final Score: It’s a slight 4-3 victory for Frasier. The Friends cast can take solace, however, in the fact that if I did a breakdown of their film careers, they would easily equal Kelsey Grammer’s movie work. The equal of crap, of course, is still crap, but whatever.



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