Frasier, which ran for 11 deeply satisfying seasons from 1993-2004, is a superlative sitcom, boasting the holy TV triumvirate of brilliantly-realised characters, sharp as a tack, clever writing and an ensemble more than capable og breathing captivating life into both.
While there are countless episodes where the sitcom’s gift for the very best in TV comedy is on mesmerising, mirth-filled display, the two interlinked Halloween episodes from season five convey just good the show was at committing to an idea and making the absolute most of it.
Kicking things off with the Halloween episode proper, which naturally is titled “Halloween” – it is the only prosaic part of a storyline that is a gift from the comedy gods – Frasier kicks off an exploration of what happens when one character we know for one thing suddenly has the potential to become known for quite another.
In a show known for growing its characters beyond their season one iterations while still retaining what first attracted us to them in the first place, this is hardly a remarkable thing but it’s the way Frasier handles this particular character’s arc that is such a joy to watch.
Roz (Peri Gilpin) may or may not be pregnant, and it’s while waiting for a call from her doctor to confirm if the pregnancy kit was right or wrong, or just agonisingly inconclusive, that she decides, at Frasier’s (Kelsey Grammer) gentle urging, to go to Niles’ (David Hyde Pierce) literary-themed Halloween party.
She’s not really in the mood, with her previously free-living lifestyle hanging very much in the balance, but turns up, confident she can get through the night with her secret intact since Frasier, the only one who knows what’s going on has committed to complete secrecy.
This is, of course, where everything goes highly amusingly wrong.
In a series of deliciously executed scenes, everyone from Daphne (Jane Leeves) to Niles to Frasier and Niles’ dad Martin (John Mahoney) ends up finding out that Roz may be up the duff, the result of artfully written farce that raises a mainstay of British sitcoms to dizzying heights.
There is no way to do justice to the wordplay in the episode which plays off Niles great insecurities about his barely-hidden love for Daphne, Roz’s deep-seated fears about what kind of mum she’ll be and Martin’s desire to have a quiet beer and make it home to his easy chair at a reasonable hour.
It’s a glorious 20 minute of fare executed in the most hilarious of ways that also manages to have some real heart tucked into it too.
That raw, rich humanity which Frasier wore effortlessly along with a penchant for inspired comedy is very much on display in he day-after episode, “The Kid” in which Roz is grappling with the indisputable fact that she is indeed pregnant.
Facing up to the fact that she will be a mother – in an exchange at the radio station where she and Frasier work, Roz admits that she was up all night trying to work out what to do but that she knew, deep down, she would have the baby – Roz has to break the news to her twenty-year-old college ex, Rick Garrett (played by Todd Babcock) that he’s going to be a dad.
Shocked to rudeness at first, Rick rallies and comes to Roz’s apartment (which looks like it’s using Mary Tyler Moore’s old place) pledging all kinds of lofty and wonderful things, precipitating a touching conversation between the two which, once again, points to the rich sophistication of Frasier‘s writing.
While there are laughs to be had, and they are well placed and used to great effect in breaking the prevailing seriousness of the episode, that emerges most strongly is how heart is pumped into this singularly memorable episode.
Roz’s world, always played for laughs as one of one night stands and free-wheeling everything, has been completely upended, and Frasier plays it straight for the most part, maturely acknowledging that this character will never be the same again, and hence, neither will the show.
That doesn’t mean Roz changes entirely – later episodes attest to the fact that what makes Roz Roz is very much happily intact – but she is changing enough that the show will never be the same again.
But that’s okay because as each season went on, it changed, as any good sitcom should, meaning that by season 11, it was an entirely different show to the one that premiered on 16 September 1993.
“The Kid” was a key part of that transformation, and rather than make merry with the idea of Roz as a mum, it gave this major life change due weight and substance, making the bond of friendship between Frasier and Roz all that much stronger, and illustrating that there are depths to Roz that had hitherto been unseen.
“Halloween” and “The Kid” are exemplary episodes, proving that while this most darkly fanastical of holidays has a deservedly creepy, spooky and ooky reputation, it’s also when some really wonderful things can happen, all of which are handled by Frasier with trademark sparkling humour and affectingly raw, heartfelt humanity, fortifying its reputation as one of the great sitcoms of the TV age.