Frasier Season 4

After watching 23 episodes of Frasier, you get more than just a feel for the show's integrity, though it's true the same jokes surface throughout. There are Niles's (Frasier's brother) lack of sports knowledge, Martin's (Frasier's father) disdain for his sons' pretensions and Roz's (Frasier's producer) sexual adventures. But it's hard to thread a romantic storyline through a sitcom series without it becoming The Guiding Light because it's too easy to fall back on the shorthand of stereotypes when you've only got 22 minutes to tell a story. So Frasier wisely focuses on character. Niles's doe-eyed pining for Daphne Moon (Martin's physiotherapist) is played for all the laughs that the fourth season will comfortably allow. But writer Christopher Lloyd gives us a quick glimpse of Niles's painful longing early in the season that is surprisingly touching. He butters us with comedy then hits us with unexpected shots of the pain hiding underneath. It's inevitable that a show of Frasier's calibre would be peppered with stellar guest spots. There's a pre-Will and Grace Megan Mullaly as Niles's suitor, James Earl Jones as a benevolent senior citizen and Marsha Mason as Martin Crane's outrageous girlfriend, whose favourite piece of relationship advice is, "The only way to get over someone is to get under someone." It's also inevitable that some episodes would shine more than others. "Ham Radio" features Frasier's clumsy re-enactment of his radio station's first live mystery play, during which he unknowingly enlists a dyslexic stripper to shout the line, "Look out! He's got a nug!" "Roz's Krantz and Gouldenstein Are Dead" has Roz labelled as the Angel of Death in a nursing home when two of the senior citizens in her care unexpectedly drop dead. And the finale, "Odd Man Out," is a meditation on isolation and romance that's a refreshing change from typical end-of-season cliff-hangers. In my enthusiasm for Frasier, I was looking forward to insightful extras and cast interviews. Though I was disappointed to find none, it was very little rain on a long and entertaining parade. (Paramount)