For as much as I am still interested in checking out Kelsey Grammer’s upcoming Frasier revival on Paramount+, a part of me was disappointed to learn that David Hyde Pierce would not be returning as the title character’s brother, Niles Crane. I suppose that also means we should not expect the new Frasier cast to finally include someone to play Maris — a character who was never once seen during the Cheers spinoff’s original 11-season run.
If you have ever been curious why Frasier kept this role so mysterious, we actually have the definitive answer behind this running joke below. But first, let’s refresh your memory over what the sitcom would allow us to know about Maris.
Who Is Maris?
Before Niles fell in love with his brother’s live-in aid, Daphne Moon (Janes Leeves), he was married to Maris Crane — whom Frasier described in the popular ‘90s TV show’s premiere as “like the sun, but without the warmth,” indicating he preferred her at a distance. Ironically, the wealthy heir to a urinal cake fortune supposedly could use more time in the sun considering how often the main Frasier cast would reference the unusually white pigmentation of her skin. That's in addition to her frail frame that could be the result of her frequent plastic surgeries.
However, it was Maris’ cold and domineering personality that led Niles to finally seek a legal separation in Season 4, to which she responded with divorce papers. The couple then, instead, agreed to see a marriage counselor, whom Maris is caught cheating with, which finally convinces Niles to leave her completely. Even then, it was only at the aggravated request of Daphne that Niles brought himself to completely break free from his dependency on Maris, whom is said to have fled the country under suspicion of murdering her lover, Esteban (Victor Alfieri), at the end of the series.
Maris' Two "Appearances" On Frasier
While the creative team behind Frasier would uphold her visual absence throughout the series, there were two episodes in which Maris was physically involved. We saw her silhouette through a shower curtain in Season 5’s “Voyage of the Damned,” in which Frasier, his father, Martin Crane (the late John Mahoney), and producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin) find themselves trapped in Maris’ bathroom. The episode contains some of the funniest and most bizarre references to her physical description, such as when Roz says she spots Maris’ “coat on a hat rack” through the bathroom keyhole, and Frasier asks if the rack is moving.
Later, in the Season 10 episode, “Room with a View,” Niles is about to have heart surgery, which prompts him to reminisce about some of his previous hospital visits. One flashback sees him consoling his then-wife who is covered head-to-toe in bandages following her most recent plastic surgery. He tells Maris that he will make sure the surgeon will “cut off more next time.”
Why Maris Remained Unseen
Said funny and bizarre allusions to Maris’ appearance were actually what influenced the running joke in the first place. In fact, it was never co-creators David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee’s intention to keep her hidden forever, but they had an interesting reason to do so initially that related to Frasier’s predecessor. Speaking to Yahoo, Lee explained the following original plans for the character:
When David, Peter, and I were writing the pilot, we thought, ‘Let’s pull a fast one on the audience and make them think that we’re going to do a thing like Norm’s wife, Vera, in Cheers, where he talk about her but you never see her. Let’s do that for a few episodes, and then surprise — we’re actually going to see her, so we weren’t ripping off that Cheers thing after all.
This homage to one of Cheers’ most beloved characters (played by George Wendt) would quickly evolve into an enduring element of the spinoff after just a few episodes. Lee went on to say that the characters’ physical descriptions of Maris had become so surreal that the she was deemed “uncastable.” Even after Newhart star Julia Duffy contacted them with interest in bringing her to life — according to an oral history by Vanity Fair — the creators decided that leaving her unseen and resorting to more “outrageous descriptions” would be much funnier.
Indeed, most fans of I might agree that not revealing what Maris looks like is what made her one of the sitcom’s most iconic side characters. In fact, I am considering using my Paramount+ subscription just to see if her name gets mentioned in the revival, which premieres Thursday, October 12th.