Snooty siblings Frasier and Niles Crane had probably been locked in competition since the latter’s birth. Even though Frasier had never dropped so much as a hint about his younger brother while in Boston—that’d be because the character was hastily created for Frasier—he’d had Niles in his shadow the whole time. Or at least, Niles would have been, had Frasier not moved out East to start his own private psychiatry practice. So it really brûléed his crème to then have Frasier not just horn in on his act, but become the more prominent Dr. Crane in the city.
The brothers exchanged as many rapier-sharp insults as they did bon mots during the show’s 11-season run, with their sibling rivalry hitting a hilarious, vicious peak in season two’s “The Club.” The titular institution is the Empire Club, the kind of Corinthian-leather–clad, Tiffany-lamped establishment that appeals to both brothers. Niles has a bit of an edge for membership, entrenched as he is among Seattle’s glitterati. Luckily, there are two openings, courtesy of the S&L crisis. So in this late season-two episode, the brothers join forces and talk up each other’s accomplishments in the same manner they might brag about their own. The witticisms flow as freely as the champagne and hors d’oeuvres at the party, where we get this delightful exchange. (Unfortunately, we never do learn the rest of the story that began “I was young and firm and in love with an anarchist.”)
Of course, the opera-length gloves come off as soon as the brothers learn there’s only one spot available in the Empire Club, and the heaping praise quickly becomes scorn. It’s almost impossible to imagine the series without all of the brotherly competition more than 20 years after it premiered, but “The Club” makes an especially good case for the addition of Niles. The character was inspired in part by David Hyde Pierce’s resemblance to a young Kelsey Grammer, and the notion of having two feuding fussbudgets quickly took hold.
The show was all the better for their one-upsmanship—its farcical nature was regularly heightened by the brothers’ escalating poshness. Niles would have readily sold out Frasier for a chance to settle into the wingback chair that was as “smooth as a baby’s bottom”; ditto Frasier once he’d caught a whiff of the atmosphere (“money”). But they were far from irredeemable snobs, even though they’d been sizing up and excluding everyone around them since childhood. So they end up in a “Gift Of The Magi”-like situation over the remaining spot shortly before restoring order to their sherry-filled existence. It’s just like Dr. (Frasier) Crane says: “Blood is thicker than port.”
Availability: The complete series is available on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Vudu, and CBS All Access.