Perfect Pilot: A Review of Frasier’s The Good Son Pilot Episode.
On September 16th, 1993 Frasier Crane returned to the small screen after a great nine year run on Cheers. With its pilot titled “The Good Son”, three amazing writers from Cheers: David Lee, Peter Casey, and the great late David Angell re-introduced the world to Frasier Crane and his new extended family in Seattle, Washington. This was a brave new world for Frasier and the legion of Cheers fans, but any doubt that Frasier Crane could make it on his own was put to rest after what I and many others consider one of tv’s rare perfect pilot episodes.
Dr Frasier Crane returns to Seattle and a new job as a radio psychiatrist. However, his life is not destined to be quiet. His brother Niles, also a psychiatrist, is a dab hand at guilt-tripping and insists Frasier takes in their father — a man with whom he has nothing in common. So that’s when the psychic Daphne makes an entrance to help out.
It’s funny to think that originally there wasn’t even supposed to be a Frasier. The original idea that Casey, Lee, and Angell came up with as a vehicle for Kelsey Grammar was an entirely different thing. Kelsey was to play a rich tycoon who got into a motorcycle accident and ends up bed ridden for life. (think Bone Collector, only supposed to be a comedy) With the aid of a Hispanic physical therapist, he runs his business from his bed… Yeahhhh, not exactly a great idea for a sitcom, which is exactly what NBC thought too and told the three guys to just do Frasier. They were hesitant at first but eventually came around to liking the idea of doing the spin off, but on their terms. There would be no stupid characters or stupid jokes. No transitional music cues or establishing shots, and there’d be black cards used inbetween scenes to do away with pesky exposition. This was the beginning of what would become an enduring and beloved sitcom that was garner a record of 37 Emmy wins and 108 nominations. It all started with that very first scene re-introducing us to Dr. Frasier Crane in his new environment. The writers give us some great exposition and plenty of funny jokes at the start that include some great easter eggs for Cheers fanatics.
The story itself was perfect for a pilot. Simple enough yet gave the audience a clear vision of the show’s premise and the character dynamics. Premise pilots are not always a favorite of networks, but when you get a really strong one you got something special.
Frasier was pretty well known and well loved at this point, but the introduction of the people in his new life like his brother Niles, his father Martin, the physical therapist Daphne Moon, his producer Roz Doyle, and Martin’s best friend and loyal canine Eddie had to be just as strong as the casting of those crucial parts. The producers always talk about how miraculous the casting sessions were for Frasier and when you watch the pilot you can see that magic in action. The characters are also pretty well developed and recognizable from jump. Very little differences in the personalities of Martin and Roz: Martin’s a bit gruffer, and the free spirited, sexually unihibited aspects of Roz’s personality isn’t established quite yet. Nevertheless the characters are mostly the same characters we know and love throughout the rest of the series.
The Performances and Chemistry:
Frasier’s always gotten high marks for its amazing writing, but there’s never been enough credit given for how remarkable as cast this show had as a whole as well as the amazing chemistry between the cast members. Even though it’s a pilot the actors seemed to have their characters down pat and although the chemistry is still being developed between them all, there’s enough of it to see how great an ensemble they’d all become. We all know that Kelsey Grammar and David Hyde Pierce had broken records with each winning four emmys for best actor and best supporting actor in a comedy, and they’re very well deserved, but I find it hard to believe that the other three cast members were neglected the way they were because John Mahoney, Jane Leeves, and Peri Gilpin were just as perfect in their parts and certainly were just as important for the show’s success.
The Big Fight:
One of the unique things about the Frasier pilot is the big fight between Frasier and his dad that both established their conflict as well as the heart of the Frasier series. The argument does not end with a joke which was highly unusual for a sitcom at the time. You may be used to seeing that all the time now, but back then the writers of the pilot were being quite unique and it paid off big time. It also has a wonderful resolution when Martin calls into Frasier’s show and they resolve the argument in a funny and touching scene.
In closing, The Good Son is one of the best pilots ever made because it so perfectly establishes the characters, the situation, the show’s intelligent humor, and the show’s huge heart. I find myself going back to watch it every now and then whenever I need to brush up on how to write a proper pilot episode. Till next time, folks!