Frasier is one of the best sitcoms ever made – originally airing from 1993-2004 as a spin-off of the much loved Cheers, the show ran for 11 seasons and is still in syndication across the world. Starring Kelsey Grammar as Dr Frasier Crane, a character he had already played for years in Cheers, the series follows the psychiatrist as he moves back to his home town of Seattle and embarks on a career as a radio psychiatrist. Whilst Grammar was the titular star, what made the show so excellent was its ensemble cast, which was made up of Frasier’s father Martin (John Mahoney), Martin’s physical therapist Daphne Moon (Jane Leevis) and dog Eddie, as well as radio producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin). Rounding off the ensemble was Frasier’s younger brother, Niles Crane, played so wonderfully by David Hyde Pierce.
Niles very quickly became the shows breakout character, and remains one of the best remembered aspects of the show some 11 years on. He represented a more extreme version of Frasier – a sophisticated, pompous psychiatrist who married into money but finds himself lusting after Daphne from the moment he meets her. The success of Niles – and the fact that he is not only funny but likeable in spite of numerous less than flattering characteristics – is totally in the hands of Hyde Pierce, who did a phenomenal job across the show’s entire run. With impeccable comic timing and a gift for physical comedy that perfectly suited the show’s penchant for slapstick, here are five of the best Niles Crane moments (this list is by no ways definitive – it is extremely hard to choose)…
ARE YOU BEING SERVED (SEASON 4)
The saga that was Niles and Maris was one that was played for laughs many times, but this is one of the most unexpected and most hilarious laugh out loud moments in the series. Maris has served Niles with divorce papers, sending him into turmoil which culminates with Martin’s Hot & Foamy gadget (a running gag throughout the episode in a side-plot between Martin and Daphne) exploding whilst Niles is in the bathroom.
It’s the perfect, unexpected culmination of the seemingly unconnected plot strands, and the exchange that takes place between the characters immediately following the incident shows how perfectly the cast bounce off each other:
DAPHNE: “Dr Crane! Are you alright?”
NILES: “I’m fine. Just a little hot. And foamy.”
MARTIN: “You know what must have happened? My hot and foamy must have exploded!”
DAPHNE: “He was a detective, you know.”
Whilst it’s easy to give Niles all the love, it is really all of the characters bouncing off one another that makes Frasier so funny, and the hot and foamy scene is a perfect example of that in action.
DIAL M FOR MARTIN (SEASON 6)
A lot of people would argue that Niles’ unrequited love for Daphne was the core of his character and the lifeblood of the series, and right now I am a lot of people, because that is exactly it was. Whilst the later seasons with Daphne and Niles as a couple still had their moments, the true golden age was in the days before Niles told her how he felt and he had to suffice himself with puppy dog style yearning and the occasional sniff of her hair.
A great example of just how deep Niles’ desire for Daphne ran came in season 6 with Dial M For Martin. Niles is trying to get closer to Daphne by inviting Martin to live with him, but his plan is scuppered when she announces that she is leaving her role as Martin’s physical therapist due to the fact that he no longer requires her aid. A series of incidents then leads Frasier to worry that Niles is subconsciously trying to harm Martin in an attempt to get Daphne to stay.
This episode is classic Frasier and Niles is at his best here, lusting after Daphne to the point that he is potentially willingly hurting his father. There are some real laugh out loud moments, including the balcony one liner, and it is one of the best examples of the true depth of Niles’ feelings for Daphne.
AN AFFAIR TO FORGET (SEASON 2)
Another example of Niles and Maris’ marriage woes acting as a catalyst for a hilarious final act. An Affair to Forget see’s Frasier discover via his radio show that Maris is having an affair with her German fencing instructor. Niles eventually finds out and his suitably devastated, but after being bolstered by Martin he takes on his love rival in a fencing match which is blighted by the language barrier, with Frasier attempting to translate and the maid struggling with her pronouns.
Frasier is at its best when culminating in a totally ridiculous situation that still manages to be totally relevant to the plot, and this is one such example of this being pulled off excellently. The slapstick elements of the fencing match blend perfectly with the dialogue, with it turning out that Frasier’s mistranslations leads the instructor to believe he is fighting Niles over a pair of stolen shoes.
This episode also features some more dramatic moments from Niles – his devastation over Maris’ affair makes for a surprisingly sombre moment, and when he collapses into tears at Frasier’s apartment is both funny and heartbreaking. The fact that you can feel sorry for a character who so routinely acts in a snobbish manner again shows just how talented Hyde Pierce is.
THREE VALENTINES (SEASON 6)
Three Valentines is an episode that features six minutes of some of the best physical comedy Hyde Pierce ever portrayed in his time playing Niles. The scene features no dialogue and instead shows Niles get himself into an escalation of blunders which include an iron, fire and blood amongst other things.
The scene strikes reminiscent to something you would see in Mr Bean, and also pays loving homage to slapstick comedy of the silent era. It is a perfect showcase of Hyde Pierce’s talents in terms of communicating comedy without his hilarious one liners, showing just how adept he was at portraying the character by the sixth season.
FLOUR CHILD (SEASON 2)
This could quite possibly take the crown for best Niles episode ever. It was in the second season that Niles really began to come into his own, and this episode is a prime example of this. After their taxi driver goes into labour, Niles finds himself wondering if he is ready for parenthood. Frasier then suggests that he could embark on an experiment, using a bag of flour as a ‘practice’ baby. Thus the stage is set for classic Niles’ one liners about the perils of his new status as a ‘parent’:
“Last night, I dreamt my flour sack was abducted…and the kidnappers started sending me muffins in the mail”
More hilarity ensures when it becomes clear that Niles may not be ready to become a father, with his bag of flour going through various wars including bursting into flames, getting knocked on the coffee table and ultimately getting ripped apart by Eddie. A life cut too short, it would seem.
The episode also acts as significant character development for the character, explaining why he and Maris do not have children in spite of being in their late 30’s and having been married for a number of years.
What are your favourite Niles Crane moments? Let me know in the comments section!