A pair of snobs, their friends and family turned in 264 episodes filled with quips and culture clash.

It’s too bad the phrase “adult entertainment” suggests tasteless jokes and topless dancers, because “Frasier” – where the tops stayed on and the taste rarely flagged – was one of the most entertainingly adult shows on television.

Daringly adult, even. Because in an era when the 19-year-old viewer is the most sought-after creature in the land, it takes guts to make jokes about Biedermeier chairs instead of Britney Spears.

I just had to look up the spelling of “Biedermeier,” by the way, which is one of the things that separates me from Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce), the preposterously posh Drs. Crane. Those two would have to look up the spelling of “Britney,” and then one of them would make a little quip about the French countryside, which the other one would promptly top.

Who’d have guessed a sitcom revolving around such a prize pair of snobs and their crabby old father would last a dozen episodes, let alone 264 of them? Or that it would quip its way to 31 Emmys in 11 years, including five for best comedy?

The character of Frasier Crane was born at the end of a bar called Cheers, where his peripheral position seemed just about right. A wry guy, this neurotic psychiatrist, but not someone you’d picture at the center of things.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Seattle, where the doc found a job as a radio shrink. It turned out he had a younger brother so refined he made Frasier look like a Hell’s Angel, and an ex-cop father who never figured out how these two apples came to fall quite so far from the tree.

Martin Crane liked his beer and his sports. His sons swilled vintage wines and, as they reminded their dad, couldn’t catch anything but the flu or a sarcastic nuance.

Frasier and Niles’ efforts to out-connoisseur one another made for comic exchanges as distinctive as they were witty. That their devotion to opera and opulence sometimes made them seem “a little light in the loafers,” as their blue-collar dad put it, became a running joke of its own, handled with typical dexterity and affection.

As important as the sibling rivalry was the father-son culture clash that resulted from the ailing Martin (John Mahoney) moving himself and his hideous recliner into his son’s high-rise condo. Even Martin’s weird little Jack Russell terrier, Eddie, seemed intent on taking a bit of the starch out of Frasier’s well-tailored shirts.

Like Grammer, Mahoney and Hyde Pierce spent years on the stage, and their training showed in some of TV’s crispest comic timing. They weren’t all talk, either: Hyde Pierce’s magnificent bits with a troublesome steam iron and an even more troublesome cockatoo have become slapstick classics.

Next to this family trio, whose comic possibilities were shrewdly exploited, Frasier’s endless troubles with women and even Niles’ infatuation with Daphne (Jane Leeves) sometimes seemed a little thin.

A few seasons back, when the infatuation turned to mutual love and then, after much dithering, to wedlock, the emphasis shifted and the comedy suffered. In 2001, one of the show’s creators, David Angell, died in the World Trade Center attacks; that and other changes in the writing staff have hurt the series in recent years.

This season, with some of the original writers running the show again, the quality has noticeably improved. And Frasier’s attraction to the newly introduced Charlotte (Laura Linney) seems likely to culminate in the happy ending sitcoms require.

Grammer even told the Associated Press this week that he’d been talking to the show’s producers about bringing the character back in a third series.

Far-fetched? A little. But so was “Frasier.” Don’t count the doctor out just yet.

Joanne Weintraub: jweintraubjournalsentinel.com

(c) 2004, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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AP-NY-05-12-04 1411EDT

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