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IMAGE: "Frasier"
NBC
Thanks for the memories, guys.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/14/2004 12:48:08 PM ET 2004-05-14T16:48:08
COMMENTARY

I have a long history of problems with the series finales of shows I like. Maybe I was spoiled, since the first one I saw as a child was Patrick McGoohan’s “The Prisoner.” The image of the automated door closing behind the escaped Number 6, as the Free World merged with the surrealist prison called The Village haunts me still. 

Nothing has disappointed me more than Big Gimmick endings, like when Bob Newhart closed out his "Newhart" series by waking up beside Suzanne Pleshette, his TV wife from his first series, declaring everything that had happened for the last eight seasons a dream.

The on-air promos and other publicity for “Frasier’s” series finale seemed to give away all the significant plot points of the show, with Martin Crane’s wedding, Daphne giving birth, and Frasier himself leaving Seattle to follow his new love, Charlotte, to Chicago. Chicago? That city where another sitcom about a psychologist was set? My Spidey-sense went off like a car alarm as I visualized Kelsey Grammer waking up next to Suzanne Pleshette.

A predictable finale would not be as bad as a gimmicky ending that’s inconsistent with the rest of the series, and “Frasier” has been consistently un-gimmicky; it even boasted a surprisingly low number of dream sequences, considering the main character is an admirer of Freud. Gimmicks may work well on “Scrubs” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” but after 11 years, this would’ve been no time for "Frasier" to start.

Getting there was fun
Knowing the ending in advance didn’t ruin “The Passion of the Christ,” and it wasn’t going to ruin “The Finale of the Frasier.” The episode began with a cryptic scene aboard a turbulent aircraft, where Frasier began recounting recent events the audience had not yet seen. It started with a classic piece of misdirection: Frasier spent a final day with Charlotte, from knocking boots to bumping heads to a pleasant disagreement over the Scrabble-worthiness of the word “QUILTY”, and she flew away to Chicago.

Could her whole story have been a four-week-old red herring? It seemed a trick that was beneath the braintrust that brought us those crazy Cranes.

With Charlotte gone, Frasier pondered a job opportunity in San Francisco, where, his delightfully evil agent Bebe reminded him “an attractive straight man is like a Snickers bar at Fat Camp”. And the relative calm was broken by a trio of Daphne’s brothers, walking plot devices that wasted the ample talent of Robbie Coltrane, whose character was defined by his indecipherable accent.

Longtime "Frasier" watchers knew what was coming when the Crane Brothers volunteered to stage their father’s wedding — as so many times before, an absurdly elaborate plan (featuring Chinese acrobats, a gospel choir and an antique cannon) was destined to lead to a disastrous chain of semi-slapstick events. Most appropriately, Eddie, Martin’s dog, swallowed the rings, leading to the office of a rookie veterinarian, which became the site of both the birth of Niles and Daphne’s son (named David, after the “Frasier” creator lost on  Sept. 11) and Martin and Ronee’s wedding ceremony.

Other typically Frasier-esque moments included the inevitable misunderstandings that many compared to “Three’s Company,” but actually were as much inspired by the classic comedies of manners as were the frequent deflations of Frasier’s pomposity. 

When the rest of the family arrived at the vet's office to see the new baby, they were greeted by Niles, cradling a monkey he was feeding with a baby bottle. And Frasier's unsuccessful appointment with a cosmetic surgeon led to the rest of his family thinking he was dying, not moving. The scene helped buffer the inevitable sentimentality of the ending, and the double-meaning of “Golden Gate” has rarely been better used.

Meanwhile, a seemingly irrelevant side plot about station manager Kenny led to a promotion for Roz; until then, the episode’s odd person out.

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The finale contributed a number of iconic concepts to the library of Frasier-isms, including“The Moon genes beat up the Crane genes and stole their lunch money," and “The Duke and Duchess... Obviously, you’re the Duchess”.

And Frasier bade farewell to his radio audience via a Tennyson quote: “It may be that the gulfs will wash us down; It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles whom we knew.”

The touching quotation was followed by Frasier’s closing admonition that the things we regret most are those we did not do.

Perhaps inspired by the poet's words himself, in the final scene, we return to the plane and learn that he was landing not in San Francisco, but Chicago. Almost as good as Patrick McGoohan’s automated door, and no Suzanne Pleshette in sight.

Wendell Wittler is the online alias of a writer from Southern California.

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