The Nanny, created by Fran Drescher and then-husband Peter Marc Jacobson, about a Jewish woman from Queens going to work for an incredibly rich and English widower and his children, is the latest classic ’90s sitcom to experience a renaissance thanks to streaming. (The entire series is now available to watch on HBO Max.) Premiering in 1993 on CBS, the series stars Drescher as Fran Fine, the nasally nanny herself, and draws upon her real-life Jewish blue-collar upbringing. As a member of the tribe myself, I often wondered how the show, with at least a third of its scripts utilizing deep-cut Yiddish vocabulary, was able to find such a broad audience. But Drescher knew that integrating her authentic cultural self was essential to the show’s success, which is why the Nanny we know and love makes matzo balls instead of meatballs. If that weren’t enough, The Nanny boasted some of the ’90s most memorable fashion and a gaggle of guest stars flashy enough to make even the flashy girl from Flushing plotz.
So, whether you’re a lifelong Fran fan or just beginning to get that catchy theme song stuck in your head, here are 15 essential episodes of The Nanny to kick off your binge-watch.
This article contains spoilers for The Nanny.
“Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
I hate to break it to you, but most pilots of your favorite TV shows are really, really bad. They’re usually over- or under-produced hot messes of awkward character introductions and misguided studio suggestions. The Nanny pilot could have been that — it almost was that! — but instead it turned out to be something else entirely: a wonderfully simple and funny foundation for the entire show.
For a series that would go on to use much more rambunctious motifs, The Nanny’s pilot can basically be summed up by the theme song itself, with a bit of introductory Yiddish thrown in to fill things out. That’s not a slight. The pilot really just does what it’s supposed to do: introduce us to the premise and the characters without seeming forced or awkward. It’s more impressive when you realize the pilot introduces nine main characters, each established pretty seamlessly. Max is the emotionally constipated widower, Niles the sassy butler, Sylvia the overbearing mother, etc. All the while this first episode gets in some good jokes along the way (“Ms. Fine, you seem to have listed the Queen Mother as a reference?” “Oh no, that’s not the Queen Mother, that’s my mother from Queens!”).
“My Fair Nanny” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Early in its run, The Nanny establishes itself as a show that loves a good shtick. In this episode, that shtick is the plot of My Fair Lady, slightly tweaked to follow Fran as she prepares to host Maggie’s debutante luncheon. Fran is all ready to throw Maggie the hottest shiksa shindig west of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway, only to second guess her ability to fit in with the other high-society women the day before the party. Enter Niles and Maxwell and an Eliza Doolittle-esque training session. Fran emerges at the party sporting slicked-back hair and shockingly subdued adenoids. While Drescher’s voice manipulation work is impressive and hilarious in this episode, lets not forget that Daniel Davis, the actor who plays Niles, was so convincing as a fancy-shmancy British butler that viewers actually wrote in and suggested he teach Charles Shaughnessy (Maxwell) how to do an English accent — except Shaughnessy was born in London and Davis was born in Arkansas.
“The Nuchslep” (Season 1, Episode 4)
Suffice it to say, The Nanny is more Jewish than 6 p.m. bagels at Yom Kippur break-fast. Drescher was so committed to this part of the show that the fourth episode of the entire series is named after a very obscure Yiddish insult. In “The Nuchslep,” Fran is forced to tag along on Maggie’s first date with her crush (played by yet-to-be-discovered ’90s dreamboat James Marsden), making her the nuchslep, the shtetl’s version of a third wheel. Aside from that, this episode also features the first appearance of Chester, C.C.’s vicious Pomeranian, whose hilarious hatred of C.C. can really be explained by his devotion to Drescher, his IRL owner.
“Stock Tip” (Season 2, Episode 7)
In my (accurate) opinion, season one of The Nanny came out of the gate stronger than most classic sitcoms. However, the ratings at the time failed to back up that claim, and the show was almost canceled after its first season. Luckily, the president of CBS, Jeff Sagansky, championed the show, and The Nanny was renewed for a second season where it would really hit its stride.
One of the more stride-y of those episodes follows Fran as she dates a man who she believes to be a hotshot Wall Street type. Yadda yadda yadda, the guy ends up being a fraud, and Fran has to break into a men-only club to stop Mr. Sheffield from investing money with him. Naturally this means Fran must dress up in an elaborate costume to break into the club. It’s one of the first episodes where we really get a taste of Drescher’s grasp on physical comedy — not to mention how well she can pull off a three-piece suit.
“Lamb Chop’s on the Menu” (Season 2, Episode 18)
This episode features three Jewess talents: Fran Drescher, Shari Lewis, and Lambchop the puppet. After another appearance from C.C.’s vicious dog Chester, things get a wee dark for poor Lambchop, yet hilarious for everyone else. It’s one of the first episodes to feature a big-time guest star as the show gained momentum in its second season.
“What the Butler Sang” (Season 2, Episode 20)
Lauren Lane, the actress who plays C.C., is best remembered on the show for her ability to deliver biting zingers, while her physical performances often go under the radar. Perhaps her physicality goes unnoticed compared to Drescher and Renée Taylor, who plays Fran’s mother, both of whom tend to deliver every line with their entire bodies. This makes sense when you remember C.C. is supposed to be Fran’s Waspy foil: composed, subdued and heavily medicated. But it also makes it all the more funnier whenever C.C. finally snaps and is forced to engage with Fran’s shenanigans — and Lane plays it perfectly. This episode features one of the first instances of Lane’s range, as she chases “Nanny Fine” in the background of a very important investors performance (starring Niles, which also allows us a glimpse of Davis’s broadway-quality voice).
“Close Shave” (Season 2, Episode 21)
Truth be told, most of this episode is exactly as solid as any of the others. However, it contains one of the more famous scenes from the show, where Fran, filling in as a candy striper for Maggie, finds herself needing to shave Maxwell for emergency surgery. Again, the whole episode is good, but if you need a quick pick-me-up, you can watch the iconic scene above.
“A Fine Family Feud” (Season 3, Episode 4)
Sorry Ginny and Georgia, but there is no better mother-daughter team on television than Fran and Sylvia Fine. The chemistry between Drescher and Taylor is arguably the best of any pair on the show — add in superstar Lainie Kazan as Freida Fine, Fran’s aunt/Sylvia’s enemy and sister-in-law, and you get a yenta trifecta. In this episode, Sylvia and Freida’s lifelong feud comes to a head as Fran plans to throw Maggie’s sweet 16 party at Freida’s retro disco. Sylvia threatens to jump out a window, like any good Jewish mother would, and the whole thing ends in a cathartic éclair food fight. The episode made Freida such a popular character that she would go on to make an appearance in every subsequent season.
“Val’s Boyfriend” (Season 3, Episode 17)
This is another basically solid episode that features one of the most famous scenes from the series. In it, Fran’s perpetually down-on-her-luck best friend Val finally snags herself a boyfriend, only for him to hit on Fran. That’s all well and good, but the memorable scene comes when C.C. takes Fran out for sushi for her first time and Fran mistakes a glob of wasabi for mustard. For context as to how good this scene is, most of the videos on The Nanny’s official YouTube page average a few hundred thousand views, while this clip has over 3.5 million.
“Where’s the Pearls?” (Season 3, Episode 20)
In terms of guest stars, it’s hard to get any starrier than Elizabeth Freaking Taylor. The iconic actress appeared in this episode — along with three other CBS series all airing on the same night — to promote her new fragrance. So sure, this episode is a 23-minute-long commercial, but it’s a really good one, as it follows Fran getting amnesia and losing Elizabeth Taylor’s famous and expensive black pearls. It’s also quite tickling to see Rosie O’Donnell make a cameo as a rough-around-the-edges cab driver, only for her to appear on the next season as … herself.
“The Tart With a Heart” (Season 4, Episode 1)
In the ’90s, it was basically illegal to have a sitcom without its own trademark “will they or won’t they” mishegoss (that’s Yiddish for shenanigans). So whereas Friends had “we were on a break,” The Nanny had “the thing.”
The origins of “the thing” actually spans two episodes, but the fun stuff starts after Maxwell tells Fran he loves her in the season three finale only to take it back in this episode at the start of season four. It’s a turning point for The Nanny, and even though it took the show in a direction Drescher didn’t really want it to go, “the thing” itself would lead to many funny moments in the later seasons.
“The Rosie Show” ( Season 4, Episode 4)
This episode has everything: The Rosie O Donnell show, an elaborate Fiddler on the Roof parody, a cameo from a future president/insurrectionist.
In this episode, Fran is asked to do a guest segment on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, doling out her special brand of child-care advice. The segment ends up being immensely popular and her newfound stardom takes her away from the house and Mr. Sheffield, who is still in the doghouse for taking back “the thing.” To get her back, Maxwell fabricates a prophetic dream à la Fruma-Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof.
Again, fair warning, a certain MyPillow sales rep does make an appearance. But hey, did you know Rosie O’Donnell used the same animators for her talk show credits as The Nanny’s opening sequence? Fun stuff!
“Samson, He Denied Her” (Season 4, Episode 17)
C.C. and Fran make a natural odd couple, yet for some reason they are rarely paired off together throughout the series. The times when they are, like this episode, where they are sequestered together while serving on a high-profile jury, breathe fresh air into the series, especially during its later run.
“First Date” (Season 5, Episode 2)
By the start of season five, things really start to heat up between Fran and Max, even after “the thing.” To take things to the next level, in this episode Max asks Fran out on an official first date to the premiere of Elton John’s new documentary. When it turns out Fran actually has a mysterious cameo in the movie as an unidentified yet loud and annoying fan of Elton’s, Fran is forced to disguise herself as her grandmother Yetta at the post-screening reception. Naturally, the Elton John cameo and story line get a lot of attention, but I personally enjoy the B-plot, where Niles convinces the ever unraveling C.C. into thinking Maxwell has a fourth child — whom she is responsible for losing at the screening.
“The Hanukkah Story” (Season 6, Episode 10)
The sixth season is a tough one. Drescher and Jacobson have gone on record saying they never really wanted Maxwell and Fran to get together as they feared it would cause the show to fizzle. Unfortunately, the network insisted they put on a wedding or they would pull the plug. So, by the sixth season, Max and Fran are married and living in domestic bliss — which does make for kind of a boring season. It’s not bad, but it reads more as an epilogue to a show that threw so much of its weight behind Max and Fran’s will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic, not to mention the kids are all glaringly elderly at this point. Still, the show managed to put on a great Hanukkah episode that features some equally sappy and funny flashbacks, plus a very special performance by Ray Charles.