“For 11 years you’ve heard me say ‘I’m listening’. Well, you were listening too and for that I am eternally grateful. Goodnight, Seattle.”
– Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) [s11, ep.24]
There are some shows where you simply have to drop everything and sit down to watch them, no matter what you’re doing or how many times you’ve seen them. I’ve written before about repeatable sitcoms and how great they are for chilling out, enjoying known pleasures and not having to pay quite as much attention as you would with something totally new, but, for me, the final two episodes of Frasier are something pretty special.
While I mostly tune in to Frasier because the show is on air every morning at exactly the right time on Channel 4 – and I can guarantee that I will be consistently entertained by it – I feel different about the show’s two-part finale. It’s not just another funny episode or two of Frasier; it’s the perfect goodbye, and it deserves my full attention every time. Now, I’ll be honest, part of me just wants to write about how brilliant a sitcom Frasier is – for a long time it was my go-to show and it was so exciting discovering episodes I hadn’t seen before – but I do also find the show’s ending heartwarming, emotional and, yes, comforting, and I think that’s ultimately because ‘Goodnight, Seattle’ really feels like a proper goodbye.
It’s handled like a celebratory farewell, one that is respectful of its audience and of its cast, and that expertly weaves together all of the defining characteristics that made the show so popular to start with; strong characters, ‘real’ (sometimes difficult) familial relationships, expert wordplay, sarcasm, physical comedy, cultural references, and so much more. And each of our main characters’ stories don’t just stop here, they simply develop in new ways and look set to continue far beyond the life of the show itself – Frasier’s father, Martin (John Mahoney), remarries; his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), and his brother’s wife, Daphne (Jane Leeves), have their first child together; his producer/best friend Roz (Peri Gilpin) gets the top job at KACL, the radio station where Frasier worked, etc. But what about Frasier himself? Well, the unlucky in love psychiatrist doesn’t/does get the girl.
Let me explain. Throughout its 11 year run, Frasier is pretty much constantly on a quest for love, for a complete or fuller life as he sees it. When the show first started, his character had recently moved to Seattle from Boston, leaving behind an ex-wife, his son Frederick, and that bar ‘where everybody knows your name’. In the opening few episodes, Frasier – a character already in turmoil, trying to restore his life and add balance to it – finds himself suddenly living with his formerly estranged father (an ex-cop recovering from a gunshot wound) and is then forced to accommodate yet another body in his new bachelor pad when the pair have to hire Daphne, a live-in physical therapist/housekeeper for Martin. As the show progresses, Frasier’s brother, Niles, becomes a more prominent feature in his new home too, besotted with Daphne despite being married to the infamous but never seen Seattle socialite Maris Crane. What Frasier constantly has to contend with, then, is this inescapable friction between the life he wishes he had (freely pursuing romance, enjoying his elegant, eclectic apartment, the bachelor life he planned for) and the one he’s got (a suddenly crowded home with family/surrogate family and little space or time for himself).
While his home life is not ideal – home is no longer a space that Frasier has control over, even down to the furniture and Martin’s unmistakable Barcalounger, though this changes as the reassembled Crane family grow together during the show – what ultimately drives Frasier is his pursuit of love and his eternal optimism. Despite disastrous date after disastrous date, he stays resilient and determined, believing in the goodness of people, that the right woman could be just around the corner. And while he has moments of happiness across the show’s 11 years, from a super model zoologist to a big shot attorney, his high school prom queen to a German speaking, haiku loving cellist, he never seems to quite get it right. But that doesn’t stop him, and his sheer passion, enthusiasm and ‘never give up’ mentality is what eventually leads him to Charlotte (Laura Linney), his love interest in the show’s final year, and the girl he that he does/doesn’t get.
What I love about their relationship is that although both know their time is limited – Charlotte bought her business back from her ex in Chicago and is ready to move back there by the time she and Frasier get together – they still enter into this whirlwind romance, aware they will have to say goodbye shortly but wanting to make the absolute best of their time together. This romantic act, this sense that getting to love Charlotte, even if it is just for a few weeks, is worth the heartache of having to say goodbye to her at the end of it all, perfectly sums up Frasier’s character. And when Charlotte does finally leave and it looks as though Frasier is off to San Francisco to start a new radio/TV career, pursuing his own “next chapter” now that everyone else in his life is starting a new adventure, there is something so incredibly satisfying when we discover that the flight Frasier is actually on is headed for Chicago instead, chasing after Charlotte and risking it all for a life with her. His final words to his fellow passenger, to whom he has been recounting the whole story of their romance, Martin’s wedding, Niles and Daphne’s baby, and so on, “I just know I’d always regret it if I didn’t take the chance. Wish me luck,” and that beaming smile full of optimism and hope just feels like the most satisfying and rewarding conclusion possible.
In a way, the final few episodes of Frasier steadily work to reassure the audience, showing us that Martin is happy with his new wife, that Niles and Daphne are ready to be a family, that Roz has found that extra something in her life she was looking for now that she’s the boss; we see that they have all the ingredients they need to go off and be happy, and that we don’t need to worry about them, that they will live well without us. And the same goes for Frasier; it’s time for him to chase something new, and you can’t help but feel excited for him. So when I say he does/doesn’t get the girl, we simply don’t know what happens next (but not in an annoying way like the end of The Sopranos!), and I think that’s a good thing. We leave Frasier wishing him well and beaming with the same optimism and hope that defined his character. We say goodbye, but we know his story is not over, and that feels very comforting.
Now, I can’t talk about the end of Frasier without mentioning Martin’s emotional farewell to his son. As I’ve noted, the pair have a very fractured relationship, but over time they learn how to live together, how to be a family and how to enjoy being around each other. Yes, there are fights, there are even tears (like when they try being Jewish [s6, ep.10, ‘Merry Christmas, Mrs Moskowitz’]), there are attempts to undermine each other – even to steal each other’s love interest, just as they both fought over Ronnie (Wendie Malick) – but the pair eventually learn how to have a father-son relationship that works for them. So when Martin says “Thank you, Frasier, for, well…you know” as Frasier says farewell to them all, having announced his plans to move to San Francisco, it means so much. The audible emotion in his father’s voice, seeing the pair hugging and remembering how far they’ve come together, it just feels like the right resolution to their story. In a way, Frasier and Martin both helped to make each other better, to date once again, to try things they wouldn’t otherwise do, to be a close family (which they never had previously), to enjoy their lives really, so having that acknowledged, seeing that the characters realise what they’ve done for each other, is hugely rewarding as a viewer; that and John Mahoney is a legend! (My favourite episodes are still the one where Martin accidentally gets high and thinks Eddie is talking to him [s11, ep.11, ‘High Holidays’] and the one where Martin pretends to be gay to get out of dating an older woman he isn’t interested in, only to have her daughter set him up with her gay uncle [s7, ep.15, ‘Out With Dad’])
As I’ve tried to show in this Frasier love-in, ‘Goodnight, Seattle’ just feels like the perfect ending as it genuinely feels like a proper goodbye. I still feel myself getting emotional every time I watch it, and not because I’m sad or because I don’t want it to end, but because they just nailed it; I’m happy for all the main characters, I’m satisfied that they would make a success of their developing lives at that point, and I’m encouraged by Frasier’s strength or character and tenacity. This is a truly brilliant show and it got the brilliant ending that it deserved.