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Kelsey Grammer stars in one of the worlds most successful and brilliant sitcoms ever committed to the small screen. This first season sets the series up perfectly, nailing both human drama and intense balls to the walls comedy like you’ve never seen before and probably wont for a long time. Join us on a journey of the mind as the brilliant radio psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane lets loose his suave voice and says “I’m listening…”

Series
American sitcoms—now there’s a form of entertainment. American's always have to do things bigger and better than everyone else, and you know what? They take pride in that, and so they should.

I was first introduced to the wonderful world of American sitcoms some five or six years ago. It will probably come as no surprise therefore that it was in fact Friends that stole my heart for this unique form of entertainment.

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The years passed, and I saw more and more of it, every passing episode enriched my addiction. Then one fine and glorious summer day (in the glowing heights of the DVD nativity) I purchased my very first piece of American history (the first season of Friends). Unbeknownst to me at the time, the show would make such an impression that I would subsequently go on to invest my hard earned cash and buy every available season. So it came to be.

You might be wondering right about now why there’s so much chatter about ‘that other show’ when I should be talking about Frasier. That time will come. See, for me, if it wasn’t for Friends then I probably wouldn’t have come to love this medium so much, nor would it have changed my life so much.

I discovered Frasier only though the Emmy Award season a while back. I had only heard of its existence due to Kelsey Grammer’s leading role (I had heard his name used in context with Cheers). Intrigued by its enormous award sweeps and its insane popularity in the States I decided to learn more. I discovered a whole new world of comedy to be had here. The show, now deceased, ran for a groundbreaking eleven years on US airwaves. It was one of the nation’s top twenty highest rated shows for its entire run and most impressively, it holds the world-record for most awards ever won for any television production. Impressive indeed; so impressive that I had to make a purchase.

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Much to my joy, I discovered that while the show wasn’t as popular as Friends (neither in the US nor in the UK) it nonetheless still had a large following in Britain. Picking up my first season box set (and my first experience of the show) I dived in, head first.

Suffice to say that it was everything I had hoped it would be and more. As a matter of fact, Frasier happens to have the best first season of any television show I have ever seen. Comparing Frasier (season one) to Friends (season one) would be like contesting a BMW 3 Series to a clapped out Vauxhall Nova. No, the first season of Friends isn’t that bad, in fact it’s awesome, but Frasier is so much more elegant, brilliant and consistent.

Now, on with the show. Frasier's family drama is natural and intertwined perfectly with stately and always brutally amusing doses of comedy. Acting is spot on and absolutely sensational. Kelsey Grammer as the titular ‘Frasier Crane’ gives the role everything he’s got as an actor and boy does he shine. Placed in any other show other than Frasier, Grammer would easily outshine every other acting talent, but not here. Here he is equalled by the imposing ‘Niles Crane’ as played ever so courtly by David Hyde Pierce. But the talent doesn’t stop there. John Mahoney as Frasier’s father ‘Marty Crane’ isn't just a character he's Frasier’s catalyst, his opposite and equal. The same can be said for Jane Leeves’s character ‘Daphne’, Marty’s physical therapist. If Frasier didn’t have it tough enough at home, then he has yet another opponent at work; ‘Roz’ as played by the courageous and fun Peri Gilpin. For me, the most shocking addition to the cast is the dog ‘Eddie’. I was gob smacked at first to see the producers use an animal on the show. Eddie is utterly terrific and brings an ingredient that no other show has and even manages to elevate comedy to yet another plateau along the way.

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This season, though only the building bricks to what eventually becomes an even bigger and better show has some true gems and even the odd classic to flaunt. The Pilot episode ‘The Good Son’, which I believe was nominated for a writing Emmy in 1993, sets the momentum of the show gracefully. There’s also a touching Christmas tale in the form of ‘Miracle on Third of Fourth Street’ where Frasier realises how dearly he loves his family; and let’s not forget the excellent season finale (set entirely in the coffee shop).

Yes this series is about snobbery, yes it’s sophisticated and graced with delicate uses of the English language. But underneath all that Frasier is quite unlike most other sitcoms out there; it’s superior to the majority of them and a great deal funnier too. What impresses me most is that as funny as it gets and as side splittingly hilarious every episode can be, it never forgets its interpersonal drama. It’s this that most other sitcoms lack and it’s this that Frasier is the master of. It balances comedy, farce and drama to achieve the best results imaginable. Now, if that's not the trait of a classic, I don't know what is.

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Video
Frasier might be a winner and it might have superb packaging but video-wise it’s just your everyday run-of-the-mill sitcom transfer, unfortunately. There are very high levels of grain, dirt and even smudging throughout the entire series. As you would expect, the original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 has been preserved for the DVD and apart from the obvious problems series’ like this have and despite its age, it is rather good.

If I had to compare this image to any other on the market, I would (and forgive the now excessive amount of references) I would have to compare it to the early releases of Friends. I also demoed this set on a 70” projection screen (running though a Sony projector) to see how the image holds up; and it held up nicely. I expected gain and edge enhancement to duplicate in volume but surprisingly the image remained almost indistinguishable.

Audio
Encompassing a pleasant Dolby Digital 2.0 (surround) track, Frasier clocks in rather well in this regard. Although there’s no LFE and no directional audio, the centre channel is always alight with crisp dialogue. Being a sitcom and all, the centre speaker should capture every spoken cue, and with this mix, it does. It’s very standard and has nothing flashy to flaunt, but it does its job and does it well.

Extras
The first thing to note here is the exceptionally high standards the packaging has been graced with. Paramount really nailed the presentation on all levels, not least the disc holders. The print work is exceptional as is the internal printings on the discs. After the somewhat clumsy region two releases of Friends, it’s something of a welcome and refreshing change to see this level of care gone into a sitcom.

The set comes on four discs in total, each of them has approximately six episodes and each episode runs for roughly twenty minutes. The menu system is static, but easy to navigate all the same.

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Feature-wise, and like most thirty minute series’ that have been released to the digital format, the discs are mostly barebones. The commentary on the pilot episode is fairly mundane, certainly nothing out of the ordinary but charming all the same. Ditto with the remaining features for this season. Apart from the 'making of' featurettes, the delightful highlight on each disc is the ‘Celebrity Voices’ feature which reveals the true identity behind each of Frasier’s callers.

Overall
If you crave sitcoms (especially the American brand) or are a fan of comedy in general, then it isn’t hard to recommend Frasier. Its blend of intelligent laughs and often dark drama lure you into its depths and cease to let go. The pilot episode alone had me hooked and ever since I have become a great fan. Is it better than Friends? I guess that depends on your taste. One thing is for sure; Frasier is without doubt one of the best pieces of television ever produced (regardless of genre). Miss it at your peril.

The set offers fantastic value for money. Having what is probably the best presentation and packaging any sitcom has ever been ornamented with is obviously a bonus and while the features are minimal they are still nicely enlightening. The Dolby track is all centre-channel but dialogue is crisp and fresh.

Open your wallet and reap the entertainment this little show has to offer for it only gets better come season two and beyond...


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