Revisiting the brothers Crane
by hammad ali, Contributor
There is just something about a good comedy show. Ever since high school, I have been a huge fan of anything comedy. I still remember spending Monday evenings back home, some twenty years ago, watching several sitcoms back to back. Most of these shows were already off the air or in their final seasons by then. Back in Bangladesh though, we were always either a couple of seasons behind, or got unending reruns. Not complaining. A good comedy show is just as good the tenth time you see it. For a bad one, the first time is one too many.
It was during those years that I discovered Frasier. A spinoff of the older classic sitcom Cheers, Frasier was the story of two self-declared aristocrat (ok fine, snobbish) brothers and their blue collar father. Frasier and Niles, the Crane sons, went to Harvard and Oxford, are successful psychiatrists, and enjoy opera, world literature, and fine wine. Martin Crane, the father, is a police officer forced into retirement after a gunshot wound, is happy to watch football all day, and exasperates Frasier by never using a coaster for his beer can. The Crane family is joined by Frasier’s coworkers from the radio station where he counsels people over phone, Martin’s old police friends, the many socialites and elites that Frasier and Niles are always trying to associate with, and the beautiful caregiver Daphne Moon with whom Niles is infatuated.
Much of the humor of the show comes from Frasier and Niles wanting to present themselves as lovers of art, culture, and fine dining, and how they usually end up being humbled. Frasier’s search for love is also a recurring theme, as is the tension between the father who wishes his sons were more into the simpler things in life, like a good burger from a hole in the wall diner. One episode ends hilariously when Frasier and Niles attempt to trace their ancestry back to some forgotten European Monarchy, only to find much to their chagrin that they have traced it back to one of the servants. As a good father would, Martin then has to help them see past the disappointment and teach them to take pride in their own achievements, not what family they were born into.
These days there is often talk of “smart” tv shows. Comedies where you have to have read classics in order to get the jokes. Science fiction and fantasy shows that probe into issues of morality and free will (think Westworld and Person Of Interest). Personal bias accounted for, to me Frasier will always be the original “smart” sitcom, and went a long way towards defining the genre. Underneath the surface of laughs and jokes, there were often thoughtful messages. Given the brothers’ profession, mental health and the notion of self-contradictory behaviour was a common theme. And there are certainly many deadpan one-liners that I only got for the first time years later upon rewatching, and that still reveal novel layers upon every viewing. And yes, as is in vogue these days, there are many jokes you will only get if you have been reading the same books as the two Harvard (“and Oxford!”, adds Frasier) educated brothers.
Frasier was no slapstick comedy. But nor is it pretentious. Off the air for nearly sixteen years now, it remains my most favorite comedy show. I am afraid that much like the Crane brothers, I do not think most of today’s comedies measure up to how it was done back in the day. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed!