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Episode reviews for Episode 3.18 - Chess Pains

Avg. Viewer Review: 95.0%
Number of Reviews: 6

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CheckMates, Jul 17, 2012

Reviewer: David Sim from Skelmersdale, Lancashire

Chess Pains is very special to me, but not because its a highlight of the season, or because its so delightfully funny; its the very first episode of Frasier I ever saw.

Its always interesting why some shows make an impact on you and some don't. Especially when you're coming in almost three years down the line. Of course I had no way of knowing that. This could have been the first episode for all I knew, and I have no idea why I decided to watch it one night.

I was never much a fan of Cheers, and I knew nothing about the Frasier cast. Little did I suspect that the next 22 minutes would change my life forever. It didn't take long for Chess Pains to work its magic on me, to become entranced by the characters as well as the astute, witty writing. I can honestly say I'd seen films that weren't as funny as this. A die-hard Frasier fan was born that night.

I'd already bypassed classic episodes like The Matchmaker, The Innkeepers and Daphne's Room. But still ahead for me were Ham Radio, The Two Mrs Cranes and Mixed Doubles over the coming weeks. Not surprisingly, I became obsessed with Frasier each and every night. And it all began here with Chess Pains.

OK, onto the episode itself now. I made sure to watch it again before I wrote the review, because I wanted to see if I could pinpoint what it was that made such an indelible impression on me. The first scene alone is full of things that made Frasier so great.

The delightful double-act of Frasier and Niles, Niles' separation from the never-seen Maris, which hardly matters when you get great exposition that ties in with the chess plot:

"The King is stationary while the Queen has all the power."

Then Niles' infatuation with Daphne, although whether I picked up on that right away I don't remember now. As well as the scene-stealing Eddie. And the real crux of the episode, Martin's chess match with Frasier. Although the writers preferred to focus the show on Frasier and Niles, I was always fond of the episodes that pit Frasier against Martin, and Chess Pains is one of they're very best.

Frasier has just bought a very handsome chess set, and although a novice, Martin decides to give him a game. Oddly enough, Martin wins, something Frasier chalks up to sheer dumb luck. But then the very next night, Martin wins in a re-match. And the one after that. Frasier is incredulous and becomes determined to beat Martin at the game he considers his domain.

Whichever way you look at it, Chess Pains is a one-gag episode. And the gag is Martin's non-stop victories over Frasier. But Rob Greenberg (in his sole debut) ensures things never wear thin, because wisely he doesn't allow the same recycled joke to become the sum of the episode's parts.

He surrounds the story with engaging gems, and gives everyone in the cast something to do, so that when the episode threatens to become repetitive (which it could easily have become), he just calls upon one of the other members of the cast to come in and do they're part so the repetition of the plot is barely noticeable.

Chess Pains has one of my favourite subplots. In the absence of Maris (but then what else is new?), Niles has gone out and bought a canine substitute. A thin, pale, scraggly pile of bones in a fur coat, you get a bit of an idea here what Maris must look like. Niles doesn't see the connection, but the way he dotes on her, and the way she ignores him is they're marriage in miniature.

Roz doesn't get much to do (again what else is new?), and her story is probably the least engaging thing about Chess Pains. She worries she's boring her hairdresser Naj. The only laugh it gets is when Roz implies to Naj that Frasier may have been a woman in a past life!

There isn't much interest there, but its more than compensated by Frasier and Martin's joyous storyline, and one other scene I particularly liked. When Frasier keeps getting beaten, he's taken to smothering himself with a cushion. Daphne tries to cheer him up with a singing sock puppet. Frasier's only answer to that is: "Daphne, I would rather have a Tarantula lay eggs in my ear canal than listen to anymore of this puppet show!"

In a fabulous wrap up, Frasier coaxes Martin out of bed with a false fire alarm, and the promise of a $5000 reward if Martin plays just one more game with Frasier. I like the way they try to undermine each other's confidence, particularly Eddie staring out Frasier. Eventually, Martin makes a careless move, allowing Frasier to finally declare victory. But whether Martin let him win or not...who knows?

A fairly flawless episode that really allows Kelsey Grammer and John Mahoney to shine. Never has the word Checkmate sounded so funny. Chess Pains is a pure delight, laugh-aloud, and performed to perfection. No wonder it turned me onto Frasier.

Rating: 100%


Marvelous, Dec 06, 2011

Reviewer: Sammy J from Melbourne, Australia

The Frasier/Martin relationship is endlessly fascinating to me.
Kelsey Grammer and John Mahoney make such a talented team,
and the notion of the father/son disconnect is one that any male
can appreciate. Their vast difference of personality coupled with
the generation gap makes for an interesting pairing that has
yielded much comedic and dramatic fruit over the years.

"Chess Pains" is a very pleasing example of this, which allows
both Frasier and Martin to be correct - and hilarious, and in
character. Frasier does a simple 'good deed' by explaining chess
to his dad, only to become bewildered by his dad's ability to beat
him.The subtle interplays between the characters are very funny,
and it builds to a poignant scene between the two.

Elsewhere, Niles gets a dog which bears a disturbing similarity to
Maris. Was there ever a running storyline on this show that
yielded as much great business as the Niles/Maris separation?
And Roz's issues with her hairdresser hit home with me: I'm
always that person who inexplicably can't find the same rapport
with the employee/service provider as those around me. Keenly-
observed all around.

Rating: 99%


Chess Pains, Sep 15, 2010

Reviewer: Simon Shone from Huddersfield, England

A very funny episode with Frasier getting more and more frustrated at not being able to beat his Dad at Chess. Some brilliant physical comedy from Grammer when, after losing again, he first 'fluffs' a cusion and then begins to punch it with more and more feeling. Daphne's line when she walks past,"Been playing chess again?", was one of those fall about laughing moments.

The last line Frasier says to his Dad is poignant. I must confess to feeling the same way when I finally beat my Dad at something.

Rating: 95%


A great game of chess., Jan 01, 2008

Reviewer: Dean Mather from UNITED KINGDOM

Another highpoint from Season 3,along with the excellent The Friend, Chess Pains see's Frasier getting himself a beautiful chess set and getting himself whipped every game by his dad Martin,who has only ever played once before. Frustration eats away at Frasier as his world falls apart and he takes ever more desperate measures to get Martin to play so he can beat him and bring sense back to his world,resorting to middle of the night fire hoaxes just to have a game of chess. Witty,and without doubt a classic.

Rating: 97%


'Chess Pains' review, Jun 07, 2005

Reviewer: Jocelyn from London, UK

The first solo effort from Rob Greenberg is this memorable Frasier v Martin episode as supposed Chess expert Frasier finds himself constantly beaten at the game by his dad, who is such a novice player that he barely knows the names of the pieces. Martin's constant exclamation of 'Checkmate' never stops being funny, especially as bad loser Frasier's forced grin becomes more painful each time. There's also a great scene where the two of them are trying to put each other off, with help from the ever-staring Eddie. Elsewhere we get a first glimpse of Niles' canine substitute for Maris - I love the way he says 'okay' everytime the dog ignores his orders. Frasier crying into the cushion after each defeat is also funny while special mention must go to Daphne and her sock puppet, especially her vocal reaction when a deeply irritated Frasier puts his hand over it's 'mouth'. Superb.

Rating: 86%


CHESS PAINS, May 27, 2005

Reviewer: Cake for Brains from Manchester, UK

Aside from writing one eighth of the phenomenal ‘Moondance’, this episode marks the debut of Rob Greenberg, who would become a valuable member of the creative team for the next three years. Responsible for some of the very best ‘Frasier’ episodes (Three Dates and a Breakup, Dial M for Martin), we have much to owe him for. This episode is no exception and would rank as one of my all time favourite episodes, as well as perhaps being my second favourite episode of the season. Its just crammed with all the ingredients that make a ‘Frasier’ episode so special, especially the father/son competitiveness displayed by Martin and Frasier. In fact, I think everyone got given some great material to work with, thus making this episode an instant success.

The main plot is one of the very best; depicting Frasier obsessing over why Martin keeps beating him at chess. I loved it when Martin, after enduring a belittling lecture from Frasier asked if he had Frasier in a checkmate position, which of course he had! The same joke is used several times, escalating in laughs every time. From Frasier leads his troops into battle ‘Checkmate Swartz kop’, to a sleepy Martin being awakening only to yawn ‘Check mate!’. After some hilarious cushion wrestling, Frasier resorts to setting off the burglar alarm, to challenge his father to one final game of chess… with hilarious consequences, which results in Frasier winning:
FRASIER: Could it be? Checkmate! I WON! I REALLY WON!

Away from this Roz is in a dilemma about not being interesting enough for her new hairdresser, Naj
ROZ: I’m not that shallow, it’s about my hair.

Elsewhere Niles acquires a pet dog, which is one of my favourite scenes of the season, as it disobeys him only for him to say ‘Okay’ all the time. The notion of making the dog a canine replica of Maris was a masterstroke and works really well. Daphne’s scene is also very memorable, as she tries, aided by Freddie the Sock to cheer up a depressed Frasier:
DAPHNE: (singing/adopting the voice of the sock) Who’s that grouchy gus I see, you can’t be grouchy, not with me. Sing-a-long Doc, who’s that grouchy gus I see, you can’t be grouchy not with m-
FRASIER: (grabbing sock) Daphne, I would rather have a tarantula lay eggs in my ear than listen to this puppet show.

The best scene, and indeed best quote comes in the chess showdown, where Frasier and Martin are resorting to desperate measures to win the game:
FRASIER: Getting your dog to state at me, only shows how desperate you are
MARTIN: I didn’t tell him to do that. He just gets fascinated when people sweat
FRASIER: I sweat when I’m happy
MARTIN: Then you must be ecstatic

John Mahoney and Kelsey Grammer are wonderful in this scene, complimenting one another perfectly as they dramatically embark on the ultimate game of chess. There is not a line wasted in this episode, and it is most definitely on the highlights of the show’s 11 year history. Hilarious.

Rating: 93%