Slate has an solid sendoff to Frasier, which ends its eleven year run tonight on NBC. Dana Stevens asks, “Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?”
Growing up, I watched my parents watch Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart’s eponymous situation comedies: Here were childless professionals in their 30s and 40s who moved in a world that seemed mysteriously complicated and grown-up. Week in and week out, they contended with traffic jams and IRS audits, incompetent colleagues and drunken doormen, and negotiated the intricate dilemmas of bourgeois etiquette: What do you do when a flaky friend asks to borrow a significant sum of money to start a business? Granted, my perception may be skewed by the fact I was 4 feet tall at the time, but even now, revisiting the world of those ’70s sitcoms, the texture of adult life is palpable behind the standard sitcom storylines of marriage and divorce, flirtation and friendship. Frasier was a throwback to that time; more mature than its jejune (but still funny) progenitor, Cheers, it posited a world where a divorced, stocky, balding man in his 40s, who collected African erotic art and noodled on a grand piano in his stark modernist apartment, could be a plausible romantic lead for 11 straight seasons. In the post-Seinfeldian TV landscape of perpetual adolescence, where attractive young slackers were hooking up and trading apartments as casually as if New York City were their personal college dorm, Frasier sided with the grown-ups and won the respect of its audience by treating them as such.
It was indeed a terrific show until it jumped the shark a few season finales back when a married Niles convinced Daphne to jilt her fiance at the alter and take off with him. I haven’t seen an episode since.
Still, the show was brilliantly written and the cast was superb. I suspect another “adult” comedy–in the legitimate sense of the term rather than as a euphemism for “vulgar”–will be forthcoming at some point. We’ve seen the demise of quality television, and of the sitcom in particular, predicted many times before.
An impressive factoid: “Frasier Crane, a character whose 20-year life span on television ties the record run of Marshall Matt Dillon (James Arness) in Gunsmoke.”