It’s Frasier Week at IndieWire. Grab some tossed salad and scrambled eggs, settle into your coziest easy chair, and join us. We’re listening.
Ask a few diehard “Frasier” fans to name the strangest moment from the show’s 11 season run and you’ll get a few different answers. Some will point to the infamous “Goth Freddie” scenes, in which Frasier’s bookish son shows up looking like a seat filler at a Nine Inch Nails concert. Others will single out the time Frasier stars in a TV commercial that sees his voice imposed on a talking version of Eddie in a nightmarish foreshadowing of TikTok A.I. And of course, someone will mention a stoned Martin Crane explaining that he put his trousers in the refrigerator because he had an idea for “Fridge Pants.” All three are perfectly defensible choices — and they all come from the same infamous episode.
“High Holidays,” the eleventh episode of the show’s final season, is quite possibly the most polarizing “Frasier” episode ever made. Christmas episodes are hit-or-miss territory for every sitcom, but “Frasier” had long established itself as one of the kings of the subgenre with classics like “Merry Christmas Mrs. Moskowitz” and “Miracle on 3rd or 4th Street.” But the show’s final bite at the sugarplum was a wildly creative swing for the fences, pairing the proprietary “Frasier” farce structure with a marijuana-centric plot that threw its buttoned-up reputation to the wind.
The episode, directed by Sheldon Epps and written by Peter Casey, David Angell, and David Lee, begins with Frasier’s dismay that his son Frederick (Trevor Einhorn) has embraced a goth aesthetic and has little interest in spending time together during his Christmas visit. The eyeliner, door-slamming, and insistence on spending nights with his goth girlfriend Andi make it clear that he has officially kicked off his teenage rebellion. Martin and Daphne comfort Frasier with reminders that every adolescent finds a way to misbehave as a way of differentiating themselves from their parents — everyone except Niles.
When Frasier’s brother realizes that he never rebelled as a teenager, he decides to enjoy one last adventure before fatherhood by, as he puts it, “getting high on reefer.” But when Roz hooks him up with a pot brownie, she leaves it with Martin at Cafe Nervosa. Already struggling to cut back on Christmas sweets, Martin gives into temptation and eats it himself, thinking it’s a normal dessert. He replaces it with another brownie from the bakery counter, which Niles falsely assumes is marijuana. The two men proceed to spend the night hanging out in Frasier’s apartment — with Niles thinking that he’s stoned while he’s actually sober, and Martin not realizing that he’s high as a kite.
To a certain breed of “Frasier” purist, the episode is a blasphemous piece of evidence that it was time to wrap things up. The show had spent a decade making its bones as a modern comedy of manners, lampooning the bugaboos of an educated class whose concerns seldom extended beyond an ill-conceived seating chart or a subpar Bordeaux vintage. (At the very least, it sold viewers on the illusion that was the case.) The comedy could get outlandish, but the action was always kept within the confines of something resembling upper class reality. Adding “reefer” to the mix in such a ridiculous episode was proof to many that the writers room was running on fumes.
But to a different strain of “Frasier” obsessive, the episode was a dry pile of tinder for a meme bonfire. Those of us who attended college in the late 2010s (and were more preoccupied with multi-camera sitcoms than sex and drugs) remember the heyday of “Frasier Shitposting,” a truly elite Facebook group churning out a steady stream of memes that proved the show’s relevance extended far beyond the ‘90s. Niles and Martin’s weed endeavors were a frequent topic of mockery — particularly Nile’s declaration that he plans on pairing a Chilean sea bass with an aggressive Zinfandel when he gets the munchies. “High Holidays” might have been a throwaway episode at the end of a show that had nothing left to prove, but it went on to play a major role in helping the show remain relevant long after its finale aired.
While the online “Frasier” fandom has always cherished “High Holidays” as a delightfully bizarre cultural artifact, the consensus has shifted over the past few years to the point where it’s now seen by many as one of the best episodes of the series. Look past the subject matter and you’ll find a tightly written episode that uses confusion to create farce every bit as effectively as iconic episodes like “The Ski Lodge” and “The Two Mrs. Cranes.” There’s never a wasted line, with three plotlines converging in a surprisingly heartfelt moment between Frasier and his son. And John Mahoney and David Hyde Pierce unleash some of the best physical comedy of their careers as a stoned old man and his tightly-wound son who desperately wishes he was.
Of course, the charge that “High Holidays” is the work of a writers room that was running out of ideas seems to be indisputably true. Between the marijuana, the Goth Freddie, and the side plot about Frasier being replaced by a talking dog in a commercial, the whole thing feels like a collage of leftover ideas from a show that couldn’t bring itself to throw another dinner party. But with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps we should look at that as a feature rather than a bug.
By the time “Frasier” began its 11th season, its legacy as one of the all time great sitcoms was firmly intact. Seasons 9 and 10 are the closest it ever came to feeling tired, but the show had produced so many iconic moments that it would have been nearly impossible to squander its sterling reputation. But Season 11 brought one last shot of manic, occasionally incoherent energy that allowed it to go out on a high note. The final season went in some bizarre narrative directions, including a multi-episode arc about Niles’ ex-wife Maris’ involvement in a murder trial that ultimately sees her smuggled out of the country, but even the weirdest ideas were executed at an elite level. It might not have been the exact same show viewers were accustomed to, but there was no denying that “Frasier” was fun again.
If anything, more sitcoms should give themselves the kind of weird epilogue that “Frasier” enjoyed in Season 11. Because sometimes narrative coherence is overrated in a medium that is destined to live on through individual episodes. Nobody would have begrudged the producers for ending things a few years earlier — which might have made more sense for Frasier Crane as a character — but the world would be a duller place without episodes like “High Holidays.” When you have a creative team that’s still at the top of their game, there’s no harm in letting them get weird. Much like a stoned Martin Crane pouring chocolate pudding into his bag of barbecue chips, you never know when you’ll stumble onto a magical combination.