Why Frasier is the best show to sleep to
That inky swamp of panic you live in? Banished by Kelsey Grammer's soothing voice and plush neuroses.
Netflix's decision to remove some seasons of Futurama came as a blow to members of a subreddit called r/Futurama_sleepers, a community of thousands of people who use the show as sleep-inducing white noise. "For the last decade or so, I've gotten into the habit of falling asleep watching Futurama," Jason Koebler writes. You know the anxiety that wakes you up in a dark pool of your failings? The uncertainty in which you live? This technique helps: You switch on Netflix. You choose a show you've already seen. You know the ending. You can rest.
Dear Futurama_sleepers, you have options! As a Netflix denizen and lifelong insomniac, I've snared sleep using Fawlty Towers, Arrested Development, Golden Girls, The Office, Seinfeld, A Bit of Frye and Laurie, That Mitchell and Webb Look, and a long-running favorite: Peep Show.
But the clear winner — when it comes to Sleep TV — is Frasier.
1. The opening and closing credits are perfect: jazzy, soothing, and they already operate in a kind of dream logic ("tossed salads and scrambled eggs"). That's a consideration, especially if you have autoplay on. (Peep Show's first season has excellent opening credits music if sleep is the goal, whereas the American The Office's opening credits are awful, sleepwise — too jaunty by half. Cheers is also bad — a mite earwormy. Again, your mileage may vary: Against all reason, for example, I find Arrested Development's spunky opening music cozy. I think it's Ron Howard's voiceover; it makes me feel like I'm hearing a story.)
2. There's a musicality to Niles and Frasier's banter, and Kelsey Grammer's voice is even more soothing than Stephen Fry's. I have tested this: I have a Jeeves and Wooster clock that has a button you can push to make Stephen Fry's voice hypnotize you asleep.
3. Most importantly, though: That inky swamp of panic you live in? Banished. Frasier and Niles spar in a limpid, well-off pool. Their neuroses are gentle and plush: "You never fold cashmere, you'll misdirect the nap!" They accept themselves utterly, even when they know they're being ridiculous. Frasier's greatest enemy? Cam Winston, a version of him who lives one floor above him.
They have their struggles, of course. Take "Three Valentines," that classic Frasier episode that takes place over three disconnected acts. The first features Niles preparing for a date alone in Frasier's apartment. David Hyde Pierce offers seven golden minutes that result in Frasier's sofa (which, you'll recall, is modeled on the one in Coco Chanel's Paris apartment) being covered in stew and lit on fire.
I often go to sleep to this episode, because guess what? Not only is that opening sequence hilarious — and dialogue-free — but crucially (for sleep purposes) it's a disaster with no consequences. Niles destroyed Frasier's most precious possession and there are no repercussions. The next episode picks up with the sofa intact. Same with "Momma Mia," which makes Frasier falling in love with a woman who looks exactly like his mother both funny and forgettable.
You can even choose specific Frasiers to address specific problems. If you're wracked between two alternatives, for example, I recommend "Don Juan in Hell," a two-parter in which Frasier's effort to choose between Lana and Claire devolves into a magical confrontation with all the women he's ever been with. It should be cathartic, a life-changing epiphany; in practice, it's a soothing erasure of everything troubling you. If you haven't seen the episode, it ends with him basically snapping his fingers and making all the women — including Shelley Long's Diane, Bebe Neuwirth's Lilith, and Rita Wilson, who plays his mother — disappear.
Suppose you're having trouble sleeping — maybe you're mourning a lost friend or a broken relationship. Or maybe you long for the boozy banter of Cheers but find it (as I do) a mite too dark and absorbing for comfort? (My partner once said that Cheers episodes are structured such that everyone basically loses; this kind of blew my mind, but I think it's true.) May I recommend one of the Frasier episodes that feature Cheers characters? There are a few. I'd try either "The Show Where Woody Shows Up" or "The Show Where Diane Comes Back." Their simplicity is evident, and while both end with the equivalent of a breakup — Frasier concludes that his friendship with Woody and his relationship with Diane were functions of a former self — it's somehow the opposite of painful.
Basically, Frasier crises can be counted on to work through the problem and land on a pleasantly untroubled status quo. (Note: This is not true of Daphne-Niles episodes like "Moon Dance," which I found to be a little too disconcertingly carnal, or "And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon," the oddly painful episode in which they finally get together.)
Now your mileage may vary, but I find that season five is both the best and most soporific Frasier season. "Voyage of the Damned" brings us as close as we ever get to Maris without (of course) ever showing her. "My Fair Frasier" and "Desperately Seeking Closure" make for an excellent two-fer if it takes you awhile to fall asleep (those are the ones where Frasier dates someone more famous than himself). I adore Harriet Sansom Harris' Bebe, and she's marvelous in "The Zoo Story" (If you like her too, I'd also recommend sleep-watching season seven's "Morning Becomes Entertainment" in which Bebe and Frasier host a morning show).
But if your insomnia is truly out of control, here's my prescription for a failsafe sleep formula. It's not for the faint of heart. I have spent years perfecting it. Ready? Here it is:
Start with "The Maris Counselor," the episode in which Niles discovers that his therapist is sleeping with his wife, Maris. It's a brilliant episode that features silk pajamas. That'll take you into seamlessly into "The Ski Lodge," a steamy bottle episode that's less a love triangle than a horny love hexagon with a French ski instructor and no sex. Then you'll slide into the soapily farcical "Room Service," one of the most eventful, dramatic, and hilarious Frasier episodes of all time. It is the biggest Niles-Frasier crisis in the entire show, and yet — you see why this is perfect sleep TV — Lilith and the waiter effortlessly steal every scene and everything shakes out just fine. There's ketchup. Eggs benedict. Narcolepsy.
A word of warning: The only bad thing about "Room Service" is that it's followed by "Beware of Greeks," which is tonally discordant and barely a Frasier episode at all.
Luckily, you'll be asleep by then.