Frasier: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review

4.5 Stars Frasier receives a long-awaited and much deserved remastering for Blu-ray.
Frasier Press Photo

Frasier is one of the all-time great sitcoms.

Frasier (1993–2004)
Released: 16 Sep 1993
Rated: TV-PG
Runtime: 22 min
Director: N/A
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves, David Hyde Pierce
Writer(s): David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee
Plot: Dr. Frasier Crane moves back to his hometown of Seattle, where he lives with his father, and works as a radio psychiatrist.
IMDB rating: 8.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: CBS
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 98 Hr. 5 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: 11 individual three-disc hinged Blu-ray cases in a cardboard box
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 11/08/2022
MSRP: $129.99

The Production: 5/5

Frasier is one of the all-time great sitcoms.

Occupying the same rarified air as I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show and a few select others, Frasier is simply one of the best programs ever put forth on television, even surpassing the legacy of the show its main character spun out from, Cheers. Kelsey Grammer expands upon a role he had already been inhabiting for quite some time, adding additional nuance and depth to his portrayal of the blustery psychiatrist Frasier Crane, who in this show has traded his Boston practice for a gig as a Seattle AM radio talk show host.

The cast of characters includes arguably career-best performances from David Hyde Pierce as Niles, Frasier’s younger and even more tightly-wound brother; John Mahoney as Martin, Frasier’s retired cop of a father who is as down to earth as his sons are pretentious; Jane Leeves as Daphne, Martin’s live-in physical therapist and Niles’ not-so-secret crush; and Peri Gilpin as Roz, Frasier’s producer and friend. Each performance is perfectly calibrated to play with each other; different episodes find different pairings for the characters, and there’s never one that doesn’t work, with each character bringing out a different attribute in the other. And then, of course, there’s Martin’s dog Eddie (played by Moose through most of the run, with Moose’s son Enzo taking over for the final years), one of the best uses of a canine co-star in a sitcom.

In its original run, Frasier set television records by winning thirty-seven Emmy Awards, including five consecutive years of Outstanding Comedy. Like any long-running show, there might be a lesser episode here or there, and some storylines don’t pay off as well as others, but in the context of eleven seasons and 264 episodes, the extremely rare misfire can be forgiven and forgotten. What’s actually more impressive is how Frasier manages to uphold the expectation that sitcom characters and scenarios shouldn’t change too much, while still moving the character development and relationships forward in ways that seem both organic and satisfying. The producers and writers were always good at thinking on their feet and recognizing what they had in front of them. One simple example of this, which wound up setting the tone for the entire series, was the use of the Niles character. According the the audio commentary on the pilot, the producers had initially envisioned the central relationship in the series to be that of Frasier and Martin, and the dynamic of an adult son having his father move in with him. Niles was envisioned merely as an eccentric side character, and doesn’t even share screen time with Daphne until several episodes into the show. But once the writers started envisioning how Niles would react to meeting Daphne and decided that he’d have a crush on her, Pierce and Leeves delivered instant chemistry and the show was quickly retooled to make the relationship between the brothers (and Niles’ resulting feelings for Daphne) a central part of the show. The producers use similar judgment in knowing when to expand the roles of certain guest stars and when to start curtailing them; there’s rarely a moment where it feels an opportunity is missed, and it’s just as rare to feel that a side character has overstayed their welcome. Just as smart is when they choose not to show something offscreen; a long-running gag with Niles’ wife Maris is made all the more funny by never showing her onscreen.

As a show running from 1993-2004, some elements of Frasier viewed today appear more of their time rather than for all time, but the show itself remains timeless because of the way it handles those elements. If Frasier and Niles’ snobbery occasionally reaches a point that might seem beyond inconsiderate, it’s worth noting that the show is laughing at the Crane boys and their impossible standards, not the targets of their dismissiveness. If the show occasionally lingers too long on Bulldog’s (Dan Butler) misogynistic rantings and unwanted advances, it’s not condoning the actions but pointing out how distasteful this (then accepted) behavior actually was. Characters like Bulldog and Noel Shempsky (Patrick Kerr), with their frequent examples of sexual harassment, would probably be sent to H.R. in an episode and written off the show had it been made today, but it’s not inaccurate to point out that this behavior was commonplace at the time the show was made, and they never get the last laugh. There’s probably too much made of Roz’ dating life in the early seasons when Frasier goes out just as much, but the show itself isn’t judging Roz, and characters who do rarely come away looking good for it. Much like The Dick Van Dyke Show didn’t know what to do with the Sally Rogers character’s personal life other than having her constantly pine for unattainable men, Frasier doesn’t always know how best to utilize its strong female leads outside of their relationships with men. But despite these concerns, the show remains compulsively watchable today in no small part because of the choice not to glorify what is now more obviously unacceptable behavior.

Frasier endures nearly two decades past the conclusion of its original broadcast because of the high quality of the writing and performances that remained consistent over its astonishing eleven season run. The characters grow and change enough to make revisiting the entire series in a shorter timespan a rewarding endeavor, but remain grounded enough in their cores that episodes from different seasons can still be viewed interchangeably. And for holiday episode aficionados, Frasier boasts eight fantastic Christmas episodes, two highly entertaining Thanksgiving episodes, and one wacky New Year’s Eve episode that are all worth revisiting seasonally.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

Seasons 1-9 Video Rating: 5/5
Seasons 10-11 Video Rating: 4/5

Seasons 1-9 of Frasier are presented in their original broadcast aspect ratios of 1.33:1, while season 10-11 are presented in their original broadcast ratios of 1.78:1.

The first nine seasons are brand new high definition transfers from original film elements, and are huge improvements from the original standard definition broadcast masters and subsequent DVD releases. In particular, the improvement on season one cannot be overstated, though all of these seasons benefit from improved clarity, shadow detail (there is some now!), black levels and fine detail. There is a very fine, very natural looking sheen of film grain visible, which is aesthetically far more pleasing than the NTSC video artifacts that plagued the older DVD editions. The show has always been mostly dialogue based, meaning that the improved transfers don’t materially alter the experience, but it now plays like a timeless show set in the 1990s rather than a show from the 1990s.

Seasons ten and eleven were originally broadcast in high definition, and the disc set reuses those existing masters. Though they are perfectly satisfactory, there have been improvements in film scanning and editing technology since then, and eagle-eyed viewers will note that the last two seasons aren’t quite as sharp or detailed as the first nine. There’s less visible film grain here, with occasional hints of digital noise. There’s nothing objectionable or wrong with these last two seasons, but they’re not the night and day improvement found in the earlier ones.

I noticed one mastering error with season 7’s “The Fight Before Christmas” – it is presented in 16×9 widescreen rather than its original 4×3 ratio. Rather than being cropped, there is additional picture information on both sides of the frame, though nothing important. It appears that when the episode was remastered, the disc producers either forgot to matte the sides of the image to create a 4×3 ratio, or inadvertently substituted a widescreen master created for syndication and streaming. The error is limited to this single episode, and this observation is more footnote than complaint.

Audio: 5/5

Frasier is presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround, with mixes that appear identical to the original broadcast and earlier DVD editions. The show is almost entirely dialogue-based, and that dialogue has been placed in the center channel, and is always clear and intelligible, with the live audience’s laugh track never stepping over the cast’s lines. Occasionally, sound effects (particularly in weather-themed episodes) make subtle use of the surround channels, but this is overwhelmingly a front-oriented mix.

Special Features: 2/5

Special features are carried over from the DVD editions for season 1-3 and 11. There are no bonus features for seasons 4-10. No new special features were created for these Blu-rays, though the Celebrity Voices clip reels for seasons 1-3 have been upgraded to HD. Bonus features are generally presented on the final disc in each individual season set. While there is nothing wrong with what is included, most of it is more along the lines of EPK fluff pieces rather than truly in-depth looks at the production of the series – it’s not a loss that there aren’t more of these featurettes for the other seasons. The best bonus feature is the commentary on the pilot, which in a brief period manages to convey a lot of information about how the show began and where it wound up. While it’s understandable that the surviving cast members did not reconvene for a retrospective, it’s slightly disappointing that Kelsey Grammer wasn’t brought in to talk about this show as he works on the forthcoming next chapter of Frasier’s life.

SEASON 1:
Commentary on “The Good Son (Pilot)” – Co-creators Peter Casey and David Lee reminisce on the writing, casting and production of the pilot. They cover a lot of ground in just 23 minutes.

Behind The Couch: The Making of Frasier (20:48) – The cast and crew discuss how Frasier grew out of Cheers, and how the new show came to life.

Frasier Crane’s Apartment (9:56) – A set tour with production designer Roy Christopher.

Season One Celebrity Voices (14:54) – A clip reel of some of Frasier’s most notable guest callers with captions revealing the identities of the celebrity voiceover contributors.

SEASON 2:
Commentary on “The Matchmaker” – Led by director David Lee and writer Joe Keenan, the camaraderie between the two colleagues is evident in their remarks. Recorded towards the end of the series’ run, there is some silence at moments as Lee and Keenan watch the episode, and some spoilers regarding where characters will wind up in later seasons.

Marching On To Season Two (5:59) – A brief featurette with Peter Casey and David Lee about how the Frasier-Niles dynamic deepened during the season. The standard definition clips used in this featurette give a great basis of comparison to how much better the remastered episodes look on the Blu-rays compared to the original broadcasts and DVDs.

The Mystery of Maris Continues! (3:12) – Casey and Lee discuss the ongoing Maris jokes and why she’s never seen onscreen.

Roz’s Dating Tips (2:56) – A brief featurette about Roz’s romantic follies.

The Niles & Daphne Attraction (4:10) – Casey and Lee discuss how Niles’ attraction to Daphne was a spontaneous development.

And Then There Was Eddie (4:57) – John Mahoney takes the lead in this featurette about the dog Eddie.

Season Two Celebrity Voices (13:20) – A clip reel identifying season two’s celebrity callers.

SEASON 3:
The Crane Brothers Remember Season Three (12:50) – Kelsey Grammar and David Hyde Pierce reminisce about their characters in an interview filmed later in the show’s run.

A Conversation with Art Director Roy Christopher (8:30) – Another featurette with Christopher discussing the show’s design.

Bulldog Crazy (2:07) – A clip reel of some of Bulldog’s more notably uncouth one-liners.

The Mystery Of Maris: The Break-Up Begins (2:22) – A clip reel with snippets of the characters speaking about Niles’ wife.

Season Three Celebrity Voices (11:45) – A clip reel identifying season three’s celebrity callers.

SEASON 11:
Observations, Analyses and Good-Byes (16:50) – The show’s creators, producers and writers look back at both the final season and the journey in getting there. They note that unlike many long-running sitcoms, their core cast remained the same throughout, which allowed the opportunity for the characters to grow over time. Knowing that the series was ending this year also gave them to the chance to plot out story arcs in advance in a way they hadn’t previously.

Frasier Says Farewell (13:21) – The cast looks back at preparing for and filming the final episode, while hinting at their then-future plans.

Overall: 4.5/5

Frasier: The Complete Series comes to Blu-ray with brand new high definition transfers of the first nine seasons, with the HD broadcast masters for seasons ten and eleven making their Blu-ray debut here. Taken in total, this release represents a significant visual upgrade from the previously available DVDs, not to mention the standard definition syndicated and streaming reruns. While it is slightly disappointing that the studio did not remaster the final two seasons, the quality on those episodes is perfectly acceptable, and should not dissuade anyone from looking into this new set. (Watching 16×9 high definition masters from 2002-2004 on Blu-ray is still a big step up from viewing them in standard definition cropped to 4×3 on DVD.) While it appears that all of the bonus materials from the DVD releases have carried over, no new material has been created for this set. With a suggested retail price of $129.99, that means that each season works out to less than $12 each, under fifty cents an episode – a bargain of the century for one of the best comedies to ever grace the airwaves. Highly recommended!

 

Josh’s fate as a physical media enthusiast was probably sealed the moment he figured out how to operate a top-loading VCR before he even knew how to walk. Since graduating with a degree in film production, he has enjoyed a career focused on the archival and distribution side of film and television. These days, Josh thinks of himself as a proud father of twins first. He would like to thank his wife for her unwavering support, and for every typo she’s ever caught.

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Nelson Au

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Thanks for the comprehensive review Josh. There is a lot of work and territory to cover in an 11 season TV series set!

I have not gotten to season 10 and 11 yet, so I didn’t know those are 1.78 aspect ratio. For the Christmas episodes this year, I have not ripped the blu ray’s Christmas episodes beyond the 5th season. The DVD’s are 4:3 when I watched High Holidays. I look forward to getting to the last 2 seasons to see how they look now.
 

KPmusmag

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It is so interesting to me that one episode from S7 is 16:9. I checked the streaming version on P+ and it is 1.33. The last 2 seasons on P+ are 16:9.
 

Jeffrey D

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Great review, Josh. Funny that I watched a few episodes from seasons 10 and 11 this past weekend, and I was a bit let down by the softness of the image, so I definitely agree with your take.
 

BobO'Link

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I wonder why they didn't use the 16:9 masters for the blu-ray then or on P+.
Because it wasn't broadcast that way. AOR is preferred by collectors.

If they had released the entire series in 16:9 I would never consider a purchase as that's not how it was originally aired.

I somewhat expect a replacement program to fix that errant 16:9 episode, putting it back in proper 4:3. It'll be interesting to see what, if anything, they do about that.
 

LeoA

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If it's not cropped vertically and we're just seeing extra space on each side, I'm not sure that there would be much backlash unless it's suddenly revealing things like mics that we never never meant to see.

Perhaps that's just me, but I don't mind something like The Dick Van Dyke Show on Blu-Ray that has been widened up a bit, as long as we're not adding space to the sides at the expense of things that we were always meant to be able to see at the bottom and top of the frame.

A good example of when it's distasteful was the Bewitched comparison in one of these threads a while back, where Elizabeth Montgomery's legs are cut off in the widescreen screenshot with nothing of worth gained in exchange.
 
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BobO'Link

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So... that sounds like it was shot in 16:9 with the main action in a protected 4:3 area. Essentially cropped for 4:3 with no loss of important information on the sides. That's absolutely acceptable as long as the original protected 4:3 image area is untouched (no cropping of any type). If the entire series was shot that way it'd be, IMHO, the best presentation for a BR release as it should please both WS and OAR camps since nothing's been cropped to make the 16:9 image.
 

Jeffrey D

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So... that sounds like it was shot in 16:9 with the main action in a protected 4:3 area. Essentially cropped for 4:3 with no loss of important information on the sides. That's absolutely acceptable as long as the original protected 4:3 image area is untouched (no cropping of any type). If the entire series was shot that way it'd be, IMHO, the best presentation for a BR release as it should please both WS and OAR camps since nothing's been cropped to make the 16:9 image.
I got the impression of this while watching a few episodes from the 16X9 years- seemed to me that there was nothing of importance on the left or right side of the screen, and the action was right in the middle of the frame, so the DVDs in seasons 10 and 11, while being 4X3, didn’t chop anything off the sides that you would miss.
 

KPmusmag

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They remastered Friends for 16:9 and I was absolutely going to get the blus. But the DVDs had a few minutes of cut footage added for many episodes while the blus were same as broadcast and I preferred to have the content, so I stuck with the DVDs. As long as the content is the same, I would love Frasier in 16:9, regardless of how it was originally shown (due to the tech limitations of the time). That's just me I guess.
 

Chewbabka

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Going by the discussion elsewhere, that errant 16x9 Frasier episode in season 7 is indeed just opened up and not cropped. The framing looks a little wonky in spots because of it, but you're only gaining extra information, not losing anything.
Right. But the lack of “lost” picture information doesn’t justify botching the framing. There’s that scene with Niles on Daphne on the balcony in that episode, where the perspective keeps shifting, and the “dead air” jumping from one side if the frame to the other is distracting. Framing isn’t an accident…
 

David Deeb

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Am a huge Cheers fan. But only seen Frasier episodes randomly through the years. So I’d really like to get this as a digital HD purchase though.

Why can’t the studios release more complete digital HD series? Frasier is only available in SD digital and at a price much higher than the BD discs.
 

bmasters9

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They remastered Friends for 16:9 and I was absolutely going to get the blus. But the DVDs had a few minutes of cut footage added for many episodes while the blus were same as broadcast and I preferred to have the content, so I stuck with the DVDs. As long as the content is the same, I would love Frasier in 16:9, regardless of how it was originally shown (due to the tech limitations of the time). That's just me I guess.

Why would the Friends Blus be as broadcast on NBC, while the DVDs were more than was broadcast on NBC?
 
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