The ABSOLUTE DEFINITIVE Ranking of Frasier Christmas Episodes

In our household, both in my current home and the home in which I grew up, traditions often revolve around the TV. Around the holidays, this means nights full of Christmas movies and TV specials. One tradition that seems to cross past and present is Frasier Christmas episodes.

Though they weren’t constant or even necessarily a big deal, Frasier managed to pull off some of the most memorable episodes, without the help of special guest stars or musical numbers (usually).

Out of 11 seasons, they did 8 Christmas shows. I’ve watched each of them dozens of times. Which is why I am completely qualified to give you the absolute, definitive ranking of Frasier Christmas episodes. This is it.

#8. Season 8 – Mary Christmas

Terrible. Just awful. Season 8 is notoriously weak, so this one fits right in. Frasier pushes his way into hosting a popular Christmas parade like his broadcasting hero, only to find out he’ll be hosting with “Dr.” Mary, a fellow radio host who offers advice with a medical degree from “the school of hard knocks,” much to Frasier’s chagrin.

The majority of the episode dwells on Frasier’s selfish insistence that things go his way and his ever-growing frustration with Dr. Mary, culminating in an accident sending Santa to the hospital. There’s a somewhat redeemable moment where Frasier meets his hero, and they share some “banter,” but that’s about it. There’s only a minuscule B plot about Niles, Daphne, and Martin opening all the presents early.

Ultimately, it feels like a heartless episode, completely lacking of any real Christmas sentiment or laughs. SKIP.

#7. Season 7 – The Fight Before Christmas

While not an all out terrible episode, on the Christmas scale, it lands low on the list. The aforementioned fights are between Frasier and his upstairs neighbor Cam Winston, not seen on screen here, who are hosting competing Christmas parties. The other is between Niles and his girlfriend Mel, who catches Niles in multiple lies about where he was the night before.

The funniest moments are when Frasier gets enthusiastic about his own Elizabethan themed event. And there’s a sort of interesting point here where Daphne, who is aware of Niles’ feelings for her, panics when Niles gives her jewelry as a gift.

While not inherently bad, it’s just a forgettable episode that makes Christmas feel like a background detail.

#6. Season 1 – Miracle on 3rd or 4th Street

For a first season episode, this one is about on par. Frasier, excited to see his son Fredrick, is abruptly disappointed when he learns Freddie and Lilith are changing their plans. After fighting with Martin over the Christmas decorations, a common theme throughout the series, Frasier agrees to cover Bulldog’s Christmas Day shift at the station, unknowingly forcing Roz into work as well. After hours of miserable, depressing calls, Frasier leaves work, stopping at a diner for dinner. At said diner, Frasier, sloppily dressed and unshaven, realizes he forgot his wallet. The other diners take this to mean Frasier’s too poor to afford the dinner he ordered. Many customers are poor themselves, so they collect enough among each other to cover for Frasier.

It’s a  middle-of-the-road episode that’s heavy on the Frasier/Martin conflict, which was the main theme of the first season. Some clever jokes and well-laid punchlines lighten up the script, but overall it’s heavy-handed in its lesson-learning.

#5. Season 3 – Frasier Grinch

With a relatively typical Christmas plot (kid wants sold-out toy that dad didn’t think to get), this episode does really well with the little things. Frasier’s panic doesn’t come from not getting the popular toy, but not having all the brainy toys he thinks Fredrick will enjoy. It takes Martin to clue Frasier into his gift-giving issues. The B plot, where Niles is separated from Maris, who cuts off his credit cards and services, is wisely used a few times throughout the episode. It’s also the first time in the series we see Martin’s true love of decorating for the season. A great visual is Frasier walking into his own apartment, barely recognizable under the colored lights and plastic figures adorning the usually pristine space.

#4. Season 5 – Perspectives on Christmas

A fun episode with little vignettes of comedic situations each of the characters find themselves in, weaved together through their own individual recounts during a massage session.

Martin got talked into a Christmas pageant, which he keeps under wraps until his fear of hitting the high note in O Holy Night (ya heard of it?) gets the best of him, and Frasier and Niles offer their assistance. Daphne, still in the dark about it, notices Martin’s secrecy and she’s convinced Martin is dying. Roz is having a rough patch in her pregnancy, not helped by Frasier who lets the cat out of the bag to Roz’s mom. Niles gets stuck in an elevator and is forced to climb a Christmas tree in his brand new suit to save the day.

With tensions running high, Frasier’s original plans of a happy Christmas gathering while he tells each person how he feels about them do not go over well, so instead he arranges massages for all.

An interesting take on the comedy standard of different viewpoints of the same situation. And while there’s no overhanging emotional story or deep moral, the individual instances are comical and the cast plays them off ingeniously.

#3. Season 10 – We Two Kings

A delightful gem in the 10th season, We Two Kings takes classic farce with a Christmas twist. It’s another great example of taking a relatively common comedic trope and executing it with intelligence and nonstop jokes and asides.

After bickering over who will host Christmas dinner, Martin’s had enough. He’s just going to work that day, and blames Niles and Frasier for ruining Christmas. Feeling terribly guilty, the boys come up with a plan. They’ll celebrate Christmas with Martin at his job, a plan that includes swapping out the fake gifts under the tree for the real ones. In the ultimate comedic twist, on Christmas morning, Martin surprises them by having the day off. Meaning all the gifts are locked up in the building where Martin works.

This one’s B plot involves Roz’s major crush on the Santa Claus she’s elfing for. Not the guy playing Santa (who, by the way, is Dean Cain). No, Santa himself. Simple, not a big effect on the overall story, but seasonally and characteristically appropriate.

This episode falls higher on the list because it’s really about the Christmas spirit, and Frasier and Niles finally appreciating Martin’s love of the holidays.

#2. Season 11 – High Holidays

This decision was difficult. I LOVE this episode. I crack up every time, even though I know it by heart.

In its final seasons, the original creative team came back to give the show back some of its former life. It’s very evident in this episode.

There are three plots happening: Frasier’s now teenage son Freddie has come in for Christmas and to everyone’s surprise, he’s a faithful Goth kid, black eyes, black trench coat, chains – you remember the look. Frasier is horrified and confused, until we see Freddie’s new friend Andy, a Goth girl. Frasier is frustrated that Freddie wants to spend all his time in Seattle with his “little ghoul-friend,” as Niles calls her.

But Frasier manages to keep himself busy by filming a tourism promo. He’s attracted to the French girl organizing it, and after meeting Eddie, she insists Frasier bring the dog to the shoot.

The final, and perhaps “major” plot is Freddie’s appearance leads to a discussion about rebelling, where we learn Niles never had a “rebellious period.” This upsets Niles, so he decides to rebel now by “getting high on reefer.” Again, in a brilliant mix-up, Martin eats the pot brownie meant for Niles, unaware of its extra ingredient. He replaces the brownie with a normal one, unbeknownst to Niles.

True comic genius follows, as Martin has wandering conversations and laughing fits and Niles relies on research for his anticipated trip.

The writing is dead on here, as all three plots converge, Frasier’s promo dovetails into an amazing bit on stoned Martin, while Frasier’s eventual heartbreak over the French girl coincides with Freddie’s own heartbreak.

#1. Season 6 – Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowicz

One of the best Christmas episodes of television EVER, this genius take on the farcical trope on pretending to be something you’re not.

Frasier winds up on a blind date with Fay, arranged by her pushy mother. In the meantime, Daphne is directing a Christmas play and asks for Niles assistance.

On Christmas Eve, Fay and her mother stop by Frasier’s before their flight to Miami. Fay sees a tasteful wreath above the fireplace, and questions if Frasier’s Jewish. Turns out, Mrs. Moskowicz spied Frasier purchasing a menorah (for Freddie, who is half Jewish), and assumed. Frasier agrees to take the wreath down and play the part until they leave. Through circumstance, he ropes Niles and Martin into the charade as well. But Niles gets called into Daphne’s play at the last minute, so he disappears.

Just as Fay and Mother are about to leave, Frasier’s tasteful Christmas tree arrives, which promptly gets shoved into the powder room. While they are distracted, a beard-clad Niles bursts in, sniffling. The hay from the manager scene is activating his allergies. His surprise appearance allows for the greatest line in the whole episode, with Kelsey Grammer’s perfect delivery, “JESUS!”

Eventually, the jig is up, and Fay and her mom have a loud, emotional, but quick argument. Martin and Frasier try their hand at letting their feelings fly, but they soon realize they’re a bit too WASP-y for this.

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And that’s it. The absolute, definitive ranking of Frasier Christmas episodes. Do you see a flaw in my reasoning? Let me know your thoughts!

 

The Importance of All of the Christmas Music

I know. We all probably have a love-hate relationship with Christmas music. When played too early, too often, or long after the holiday, it’s THE WORST. But there’s a sweet spot – I’m gonna say Black Friday through New Year’s Eve, and even that may be too much for some.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the radio stations that convert to Christmas seemingly play the same dozen songs over and over and over and over. Then, just as you leave the car, you head into the mall, where the SAME SONGS are playing.

The majority of Christmas songs are standards and have been around for decades. It’s very rare for a “new” Christmas song performed by a trendy music artist will actually become apart of the pantheon of usuals.

So of course, there are tons of lists out there of Bests and Worsts. Maybe I’ll get into that someday. But I have my own list of songs – Christmas songs that are important to me, whether they’re new, old, well-known or obscure, terribly or awesomely over-played. Because, in that sweet spot, I can’t get enough of these songs.

#1. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Bruce Springsteen

For me and my mom, this is our JAM. We rock this song like no one else. Mom loves Bruce’s half-singing, half-growling. I love the super deep “Better be good for goodness sake,” and the “ho ho ho” in the background. Let’s just say, no matter what’s going on in the house, if that song comes on, we drop what we’re doing and belt it. When I go home for Christmas, I just might try to get Mom to do a Dubsmash with me… Stay tuned.

#2. Christmas Eve Sarajevo – Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This song is at least 20 years old now, but every time it plays, I feel the same as I did when I first heard it on the middle school bus. Cory and I have seen TSO several times, and let’s just say if you love rock and pyrotechnics, this is the greatest Christmas concert ever. Cory’s favorite part? When they light the *fire* on fire.

#3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Frank Sinatra

The Sinatra version is one of the saddest, making it closest to the original and devastating version Judy Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis. Why do I love a sad Christmas song? I can’t say, really. Maybe because the pressure to be chipper during the holidays can be too much. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean life stops. It’s nice to be reminded that in spite of everything, you can still have a Merry Christmas, even on a small scale.

#4. Deck the Halls – Sesame Street

This is a VERY SPECIFIC version, from A Muppet Family Christmas, only the greatest Christmas TV special of all time. While it’s an hour full of music, including a religion-free, gift-giving celebration courtesy of the Fraggles (Pass it On!), and a brilliant transition of a humble Jingle Bells (Kermit and Robin) into Jingle Bell Rock (Dr. Teeth & the band), it was tough to pick just one. But the part of the special that fills me with absolute glee is when the Sesame Street gang shows up to Mother Bear’s house, singing their hearts out. They enter singing “Here We Come a-Caroling,” but when they break into “Deck the Halls,” each of the Street stars – Bert, Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover (THE BEST, btw) – they each have their moment. I just love it.

#5. A Christmas Carol from Scrooge

This may not be my favorite song from the 1979 film (more on that at a later time), but wow does it hold some impact. For example, when searching for the above video, I burst into tears as soon as it began to play. Okay, I might be a little holiday homesick….  Anyway, it’s not a show stopper like Thank You Very Much. In fact, it’s barely featured. It’s played over the opening credits, then sung essentially in the background by school children celebrating Christmas, dressed in costumes (the carrot kid is my favorite) during Scrooge’s venture into his past. The other reason is that in high school, while organizing the chorus instructor’s cabinets full of music, I stumbled upon an arrangement of this song. After my constant insisting, he added it to the line-up for the Christmas concert. What’s more, he asked if I wanted to accompany on the keyboard. A terrifying request, since I had major insecurities playing in public. But I did it. I may have turned the keyboard way down, letting the band director’s keyboard take the lead — but that octave chord at the start of each chorus? All me, baby.

#6 Christmas Children – Scrooge

Okay, when I was typing about #5 and eventually stopped crying, this song came to mind and actually laughed out loud for awhile. This is the song that Bob Cratchit sings to his children as they go around the marketplace, buying things for their Christmas dinner. This song cracks me up because my family watched this film every year for decades. And yet my brother and I never, ever knew the lyrics to this bloody song. If forced to sing it, it would go like this:

“Christmas something something in Christmas windows.

Christmas something something something goes.

Christmas la la la.

Christmas la. La la.

Something something something something no one knows.

Something something something young and old.”

…Nailed it.

#7. We Need a Little Christmas – Angela Lansbury

The Angela Lansbury version, right from Mame, is probably my favorite. One nerdy reason is in high school, we did “Hello, Dolly,” and I was thoroughly convinced “It Takes a Woman,” was the same song. The following year, we did “Mame,” and to my delight, I was pretty much right, since both were written by Jerry Herman . Another moment was my long-time friend Annie and I performed this song for our church Christmas show. It was… pretty sad. We choreographed it minutes before. But our priest thought we were just delightful, so…

#8. Twelve Days of Christmas – ALL OF THEM

There are so many freakin’ versions of this song, and I have a place in my heart for all of them, yes even the grating Twelve Pains of Christmas. Twelve Days was a huge hit in the 4th Grade Christmas Show. I auditioned for 9 Ladies Dancing, but got stuck with a solo in Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Whatever.

While some of these songs are so specific, you only know them if you already know them, if you know what I mean… you know…

Others are played ad nauseam for eight straight weeks. And that is a beautiful thing. If Bruce Springsteen didn’t come on every 21 minutes, my mom and I wouldn’t be guaranteed a great sing-off. The many different versions of Twelve Days give me and Cory something to argue about. Every time I hear Burl Ives’ Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, I think of my brother, which makes me think of Scrooge and Christmas Children, and I laugh. In fact, I’d argue that BECAUSE these songs are played so often is why they become important. It wouldn’t be nearly as funny if James and I didn’t get Christmas Children lyrics after one or two viewings. But after twenty? It’s damn hilarious.

And honestly, I could probably add to this list for awhile — Somewhere in my Memory, Feliz Navidad, Hey Santa, Carol of the Bells — but you get it. Christmas music does more than bring in the holiday season. It gives us the chance to create memories and traditions — and that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

What over-played Christmas song means something to you? Let me know in the comments or head over to Share Your Favorites!

The Importance Of Home Alone… 2

One of my recurring blog topics will be “The Importance of…” These posts will cover things that have significance in the grand scheme of things, not just personally. And since it’s the Christmas season, though since moving to San Diego, I have no freaking clue what season it is, I think it’s time to look at a holiday classic: Home Alone 2.

That’s right. Lost in New York.

Home Alone, the original 1990 John Hughes film, is officially a classic. There’s no argument. It’s funny, charming, heart-warming, and a great time. I really do love it.

Here’s the thing – among Millennials (a term I’ve grown to despise, so when I come up with a new one, you’ll know), Home Alone 2 is not only as loved as the original, but often preferred. Older or snobby film critics might not get it. And, speaking on behalf of my generation, I’d like to point out that yes, Home Alone is the better film, critically-speaking. BUT — Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is damn hilarious. Tim Curry’s quivering lip, Marv turning into a skeleton when he’s electrocuted. Come on.

Home Alone 2 follows every basic joke structure in the book. Triples (paint can expectations), slow burns (Katherine O’Hara’s realization that Kevin wasn’t on the plane), and call-backs galore:

Marv’s remark: “Kids are a-scared of the park.”

Kevin’s mom & dad missing their alarm: “We did it again. AAAAAHHHHH!”

Angels with Even Filthier Souls, and the repeated usage.

Just to name a few.

This works in its favor. It uses these set-ups brilliantly, defying not only Harry and Marv’s expectations from their last encounter with Kevin, but ours. We simultaneously feel like we’re in on the joke and completely fooled. It’s a perfect equation to keep the movie fun without getting off track or trying too hard.

And of course, I have my own personal bias. Home Alone 2 is a family favorite. When my cousin, Kimmie, was maybe 4, she would watch Home Alone 2 over and over. Her dad, to this day, uses the term “Crowbars up,” before getting started on work. The best thing was Kimmie actually mimicked Marv after he gets hit by the bricks: “Harry? Haaaarrrrrryyyy?” in her high, little voice; it was the cutest thing I’d ever seen.

She also referred to them as Harry and Marf, which is what we still call them today.

But it’s more than just family. This is a connection point with Cory and most friends who are my age. We get it.

My only real issue with the second one is the pigeon lady. She’s most definitely a carbon copy (call-back?) of the scary neighbor in 1, and though I do like the Turtle Doves story, that whole arch kind of slows down the rest of the movie. Because, let’s face it, we wanna see more of Kevin screwing with Tim Curry and Rob Schneider and Harry and Marv getting destroyed.

Ultimately, Home Alone 2 never tries to be something it’s not, and that’s why it wins as a sequel. I’m a firm believer in taking things as they are — kind of like the Jules Dessert theory. You can’t expect Jell-O to be creme brulee and there’s nothing wrong with liking Jell-O as long as you know what it is: Jell-O.

And it works.

Lost in NY is not a critical darling. But if you don’t laugh as Marv and Harry lean against the door, wondering what the sound is…. then maybe you’re a little less Mr. Duncan and a little more Buzz.

Honestly, which one do you HAVE to stop and watch?