S1 E3: Dinner at Eight

fd s01e03Airdate: September 23, 1993
Director: James Burrows
Writers: Anne Flett, Chuck Ranberg
(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
In this episode, the act-dividing convention was further clouded. To review, in the first episode, I made an intuitive distinction between 3 acts, more or less according to where commercial breaks are probably placed for television broadcast. For episode 2, I used the newly introduced subtitles— white text on a black background dividing the show into three parts with reliably cutesy and/or cliché phrases.

For this week’s episode, neither the scenes nor the acts are consistently titled. I don’t yet know whether this is because the show has not yet established a strategy for the titles this early or because the show merely approaches the matter the way Frasier decorates his apartment, which is to say “eclectically.”

To complicate things further, the transcript actually divides the show into not 3, but 2 acts, which happens to coincide with how I have to divided the acts at my own discretion— also into 2. Moving forward, I will simply divide the acts as occurs naturally in my notes.

I will, of course, also continue to include the subtitles and accompanying commentary on whether they are cutesy, cliché, or (newly available as of this episode!) neither.

Our episode synopsis:
Act 1:
Scene 1:
Shhh! They’re Here
(Neither cutesy nor cliché— I was sincerely prepared to go the whole series without finding this.)

Open at KACL. Frasier is on the air. A caller (voice-over by Patti Lupone) says that her in-laws visit constantly; they actually show up while she is on the phone and he admonishes her to tell them how she feels.

Scene 2: How Many Sharks Died?
(Check it out, gang: two respectable titles in a row!)

At Frasier’s apartment, Daphne is alone, folding laundry. Frasier and Martin enter. Frasier has just bought Martin a new suit. Martin leaves the room to try it on. Frasier notices that Daphne is “fluffing his knickers” (her words, not his). He snatches them from her, but is taken aback at how soft they are. The phone rings. Frasier answers; it’s Niles asking if he can come over. Frasier agrees, hangs up, and opens the front door. Niles is waiting outside, still holding up his cell phone. He enters and asks Frasier if he can get an autographed photo to give to his housekeeper.

Then, Frasier introduces Daphne and Niles, and their story begins. Niles is very obvious about his immediate and total infatuation; Daphne pretends not to notice. While they converse, Niles fidgets with the laundry, and he happens to have a pair of Frasier’s boxer shorts, though he doesn’t know this, as he never looks away from Daphne. As Frasier takes them from him, he almost introduces a new series-count category for us (# of times that Frasier shouts “Niles!”), but instead says “Do you mind!” (Perhaps Frasier will open that category for us next week.)

Martin emerges with his new suit on, over his blue lumberjack flannel. Niles is shocked and disgusted with the suit; Martin is pleased to report that it is made of “shark skin.” As she compliments Martin, Daphne also offers the exposition that Martin is going to a friend’s retirement party. Martin and Daphne exit.

Niles asks Frasier whether Martin is their “real father.” They volley in sharp but melodramatic commiseration over Martin’s taste in “everything.” Frasier exposits that they are probably more like their mother because Martin worked “his tail off” so that they could live well and have more opportunities— which counts as 1/3 of a tender pause.

Frasier suggests that the brothers bring Martin out and “broaden his horizons.” Niles suggests fine dining.

(This almost counts in the off-the-record  “double-cliché” category, but let’s maintain the requirement that I come up with them myself, as led by the events in the show. Whereas in this case, both phrases were in fact delivered to us through dialogue, it’s much more fun if I rather just recognize them in the ether, then pair them, draw them into our sphere and deliberately slip as on a prop banana peel. As long as we’re stopped, I will also concede that this review is somewhat padded with such meta- commentary as this, but overall, it should enhance your context for enjoying subsequent Frasier Denied posts and related activities.)

For a dinner destination suitable for schooling Martin on the finer things [double cliché!], they both simultaneously suggest Le Cigare Volant— concerning which Niles of course offers the exposition that he has been trying unsuccessfully to get reservations for months— to which Frasier of course responds by assuring that his celebrity will get them in straight away. He calls the restaurant requesting a reservation for the following Saturday; he succeeds. On Saturday at 8:00, Frasier, Martin, Niles and Maris are to go to dinner at Le Cigare Volant.

Martin emerges and aggressively enhances our sense of the current plot by offering Niles a beer, then pork rinds. Niles refuses. Frasier tells Martin of their dining plans for Saturday. Martin is not agreeable, but Frasier persuades him to accept.

Act 2:
Scene 1: Honey Don’t
(Well, alright. We’re back on track: this time, both cutesy and cliché.)

At the KACL studio, Roz is telling Frasier about her failed date the previous night. Her date had exhibited OCD so severe he would not help her with dinner by touching a honey jar, citing a deathly fear of anything sticky. She gives Frasier the 30-second warning for air time. Frasier prompts her to join him for a Monday ritual thus expositorily established right that moment. She protests, but he insists. The ritual consists of Frasier asking who has the best talk show in Seattle and Roz saying “We do! We do!” (I obviously can’t be too smug about pointing out that they never do this again, because I certainly wouldn’t want them to.)

Scene 2: Dinner at Eight
(Playing it straight again, plus this scene is eponymous with the episode.)

At the apartment, Frasier is dressed in a suit. Daphne is getting her coat and headed to poker night. The doorbell rings. Frasier gets the door; it’s Niles, also besuited (actually, he almost always is). He announces that Maris will not be joining them. When Daphne steps out of the room, Niles suggests that Daphne join them, since it’s a reservation for four. Frasier doesn’t act on it; Daphne leaves.

Martin emerges with a sweater on over his flannel shirt; his new shark skin suit is at the cleaners. Frasier calls the restaurant to inquire about the dress code. The restaurant does not have a record of the reservation. Martin suggests taking them to a place called The Timber Mill, which really ties in with Martin’s shirt.

Martin is very happy about their new dinner plans.

Scene 3: Tim-Berrr!
(Cliché of course, but I like it. Blame Martin.)

Martin, Niles, and Frasier enter the restaurant. Niles and Frasier immediately begin cracking jokes about how unsophisticated it is, which is just plain silly— it’s a pretty decent, average looking steakhouse. Before they are seated, the hostess informs them that they have “a dress code” and she and another employee cut Frasier and Niles’ ties off with scissors. The ties are hung on a wall with dozens of others, and Martin tells the brothers that part of the tie-cutting tradition is that they both get free dessert.

They order drinks. Niles and Frasier start talking shop and Martin doesn’t quite understand. Martin explains that his friends have been suffering health problems and dying, as he spreads an excessive amount of butter on his dinner roll (get it? Because, like, eating lots of butter is part of what killed his friends).

Niles gives the waitress a long-winded explanation of how he wants his steak cooked. Frasier is hesitant about ordering food from this restaurant at all. Martin decisively orders for all three of them, then excitedly stands up and heads to the salad bar, and it’s a real hoot, on account of Frasier and Niles being too sophisticated for a salad bar and all.

Frasier and Niles are displeased with how quickly the entrees are brought out. Martin is offended with how they both treat the wait staff. Then, they take things further still and belittle the restaurant with zealous abandon—and I’m not the one being melodramatic here—the writers really chose this as the way to explain the characters’ differences.

Anyway, it’s worth it, because this is when Martin gives his “People like this place. I like this place” speech (which I referred to last week when describing Martin, as it happens). I don’t know how he does it. He’s only talking about a little steak joint and a couple of wisecracks, but he conveys so well the conflict between his gritty but humane sensibilities and the crass, thoughtless antics of his refined, well-read spawn, while displaying a seasoned mastery of the moral high road in such circumstances. I just can’t help but crown him my favorite character of the series.

No, no: really. As I have been describing (with my own share of sarcasm), it’s a very low-stakes situation (no pun intended), and every aspect of the conflict is shamelessly exaggerated, but there’s something gritty and soulful about Martin Crane that I just love.

Thought exercise: if all of the characters died in an earthquake, which one would you first be aware that you were sad to lose to Death’s cold embrace? See, for me it’s Martin. Send us your responses! (Long rambles welcome.)

Anywho, Oh—first, I almost forgot to mention: this is where we have another 2/3 of a tender pause. I figure Martin is wielding enough sober reverence for at least two whole people, and no one else on screen is taking it seriously, so two over three = 2/3, giving us a net 1 tender pause for this episode. I don’t suspect that they maintain a 1/1 ratio of tender pauses to episodes, but don’t worry. We shall find out. Among so many other things we never knew we cared about, we shall find out.

OK. So, Martin makes a dramatic exit, telling his sons that though she enjoyed the finer things, their mother also was down to earth. [Double cliché! Thank you.] He tells them she would be ashamed, and he specifies that he is in fact currently quite ashamed.

Frasier and Niles, now alone, concede that they have lost touch and become comfortable being quite snobby. They resolve to finish their meals to “prove that they are not snobs,” but they simply can’t bring themselves to do it.

That’s it.

Credits vignette:
It’s late at the restaurant. Most of the chairs are on the tabletops. A dishwasher is sweeping the floor and the waitresses are standing, waiting, as Niles and Frasier are still trying to pick through their food.

End theme closing:
“Frasier has left the building.”

Closing thoughts:
One narrative device that the show periodically uses is Frasier’s local fame as a radio talk show host. In this episode, Niles has visited Frasier just for the sake of getting a glossy picture autographed. I actually admire and enjoy this. There is something purposeful and dignified about a consistent element like that being employed occasionally.

I’ll elaborate by contrast. Many (if not most) sitcoms have introduced story components that are to do with their characters gaining instant fame for some casual pursuit or through inexplicable luck.

On Full House, I think every character becomes famous at some point in the series—they have TV and radio shows and stand-up gigs and win contests and start successful businesses near constantly. As we have previously discussed, Perfect Strangers employed all manner of cartoon absurdity throughout its run— ghosts, gods, and telekinesis entered and exited the continuity without explanation or apology— so I guess Full House actually deserves credit for staying in the realm of the known human experience.

Anywho, Frasier is most concerned with showing us how unwell its eponymous protagonist is, and celebrity is an efficient enough means of accomplishing that when needed.

I also want to reiterate that it’s an enjoyable part of the show. Most of what I like about Frasier is it has a truly soothing homesick, brain-candy appeal in its ambience and rhythm. The voice I will continue to employ for this narration doesn’t seem to come from someone who also feels he has a lot in common with Frasier himself, but I actually do. His confused, erratic, egocentric reactions to a world of extremes and anomie are comfortable and familiar.

Frasier’s catchphrase “I’m listening” is a perfect, ironic synopsis of how he wrangles with the world. He may in fact be listening, but he almost never hears anything in terms unencumbered by his own momentary obsessions. And for those of you who don’t know, the authorized series synopsis reads: “In this Emmy-winning sitcom, Frasier Crane is a Seattle psychiatrist who dispenses advice on his call-in radio show while ignoring it in his own relationships.

Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
I still consider it strange how much Frasier and Niles overreact to the accessibility and simplicity of the steakhouse— with a dialogue-only transcript, you would think they were in the restroom of a filthy inner city McDonald’s. Still, it was an adequate setup for Martin’s moving soliloquy about their mother, and any time Martin sees fit to put them in their place, I’m onboard [Triple cliché! Thank you all so much. That was great.]

Continuity errors or anachronism:
I’m pretty sure that restaurant employees can’t legally destroy their guests’ articles of clothing, especially something as expensive as a necktie, but chalk it up to comedic surrealism.

Same goes for the French restaurant being called Le Cigare Volant, which does in fact mean “the flying cigar.” This is about the sort of humor that you expect from MAD Magazine, and I just love it. It tells you that the show is for people who are somewhat like the stars themselves: sophisticated yet juvenile.

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode: [0]   emerging cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [1 ]

# of “Dad’s chair is awful” jokes:
[0]   previous cumulative: [5]   series cumulative: []

Mentions of Maris:
[4]   previous cumulative: [4]   series cumulative: [8]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
[0 ]   previous cumulative: [5]   series cumulative: [5 ]

# of tender pauses:
[1 ]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [3 ]

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:

I would rate Martin’s “People like this place” speech among the kind of greatest kind of great moments for his character, and most viewers would agree that Niles meeting Daphne may in fact be the kind of greatest kind of great moment specifically for the show, but neither of these really have that universal zing that this category demands.

Also, I thoroughly enjoy entering “(none).”

TV Guide version (© Netflix): “Frasier and Niles decide to invite their father Martin out for an evening of fine dining at a swanky Seattle restaurant.”

5 thoughts on “S1 E3: Dinner at Eight

  1. Pingback: S1 E6: The Crucible | Frasier Denied

  2. As to your question, which character would I miss first in the event of an earthquake, Martin is a close second, but Daphne is first for me. Eddie third, then Niles, then Frasier, then Roz. I would not miss Bulldog, but I probably would miss Dan Butler if there were some kind of real-life catastrophe.

    Also, I like this site and I hope it updates soon. I am slowly running out of ways to get my Frasier fix at work.

    • Hi! Thanks so much for reading– and contributing to that all-important question of who in Frasier’s mythical version of mid-nineties Seattle most deserves to survive! Glad you enjoy this madness. New post coming up in a couple of hours. Cheers!


  3. I have to pause at this point in my read through and say that all of this work is impressively detailed. As a botany student, I could only hope to have experiment logs this thorough and consistent. I’ve only seen the show for a few seconds while flipping through channels, but I find reading these to be like watching the show from backstage.

    I’m a little confused about one thing, though- Are the (double cliche!)s referring to the episode’s plot, or your own way of summarizing parts of it?

    • Thanks so much! The (double cliche!)’s refer to my own way of summarizing what happens on the show. There is a joke in there about how the show forced me to do it, I suppose, but essentially, it’s semantic slapstick. Fantastic question. Thank you for reading!

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