What a character: Why Niles Crane from Frasier is a TV great
About a year ago, your humble author penned a tribute to the star of what I believe to be the greatest sitcom ever made.
Choosing Frasier Crane over his brother Niles was a tough call to make at the time and ever since, I’ve been searching for an excuse to give the younger sibling his moment in the limelight.
The truth of the matter is that Frasier wouldn’t be half the show it is without the contribution of Niles, around whom the central and most important storyline of the show (his long-term pursuit of Daphne) is based.
The show’s producers are originally thought to have cast David Hyde Pierce in the role because of his physical resemblance to Kelsey Grammer – it is uncanny, to be fair – and if that was their primary reason for doing so, then it’s a good job they did because it proved to be a masterstroke.
Four Emmy awards for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series is a testament to both Niles’ appeal as a character and Hyde Pierce’s ability to make him into the character he was.
Here’s why he deserves to be considered as a TV great.
In three words he’s: Vulnerable, fussy, sensitive.
Why he’s a TV great: Although Niles eventually develops into the most relatable character in Frasier, or certainly the character that elicits most sympathy from the audience, he starts off as a thoroughly dislikeable chap.
In early episodes, for example, Niles has little or no relationship with his father, Martin.
He's also snobbier and more pretentious than Frasier (a hard enough task in itself) and although still evident throughout later seasons, those traits soften to a degree as the show goes on as Niles reveals a warmer and more sensitive side to his personality.
Niles’ best moments in the show come from his two most important relationships; with his brother Frasier and with the lasting subject of his affection, Daphne.
The intense and mostly petty competition with Frasier is the main subject of many episodes throughout the show’s 11 seasons, whether it be in their battle to become cork master in the wine club, to buy their father the best birthday present or when they both mistakenly believe they are fighting for the affections of the same woman.
Clip via adnbek
Though it takes little for their sibling rivalry to rise to the surface, at the core, Frasier and Niles’ relationship is a loving one and both would both go to great lengths to get what’s best for each other.
Frasier demonstrated this when sticking his neck on the line to ensure that Daphne and Niles eventually gave it a shot, even if he picked the most inappropriate time to do so.
With Daphne, it’s hard to disagree with some critics’ assertion that Frasier was a better show during Niles’ seven-season long battle to win her over than it was when they eventually became an item.
Though they had their moments as a couple, the unspoken chemistry between the pair provided some of the tenderest passages, such as their intimate tango dance or their perfect harmony when chopping vegetables.
Clip via Smokey(The Bear) 125
Finally, what stands out the most about Niles compared to the other characters – and this is a huge credit to Hyde Pierce’s acting chops – is the number of laugh out loud moments provided by pure physical comedy.
It’s impossible to watch him, for example, faint at the mere hint of blood, hyperventilate when he fears Daphne might discover his true feelings for her, or nearly convulse when any random object is merely lobbed in his direction, and not chuckle uproariously.
Few other actors could flourish in a six-minute scene completely on their own (or, at least, without any other human presence) and without a word of dialogue, but Hyde-Pierce, as we’ll see below, managed to turn it into a masterclass.
His best quote: It would be remiss of me not to mention Niles' many gags about his various clients/workshops and this is one of the best.
"I have a session with my multiple personality. Not to worry. If I'm late he can just talk amongst himself."
If we could put him in another show: Sideshow Cecil, based on Niles, proved to be one of the most inspired occasional characters in The Simpsons; I don’t think I can do better than that.
Clip via The Simpsons
His best scene: I could have picked 20, but it’s hard to look past the physical masterclass mentioned above, when Niles prepared for a Valentine’s Day date at Frasier’s apartment.
Clip via XERF1020