S1 E13: Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?

spreadshirt me NOWAirdate: January 6, 1994
Director:Andy Ackerman
Writer:
Molly Newman
(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
Netflix describes Frasier as “cerebral.” I’m just going to leave that one alone.

Andy Ackerman would continue to direct Frasier episodes until February 14, 1995, having directed his first Seinfeld episode on  September 22, 1994 (actually, those are airdates). He would ultimately direct a total of 89 Seinfeld episodes.

This is the only Frasier episode written by Molly Newman.

This was the first episode that I viewed with subtitles on. They were in Helvetica, all-caps– very tasteful. I vastly prefer to view with subtitles. Everything. All the time. You find out how exotic names are spelled (did you know that the hitman on No Country for Old Men was named Anton Chigurh? Either you are lying or you read Entertainment Weekly, and in whichever case, STOP), you get to hear entire sentences that are obscured by noise and mumbling, you get to process entire sentences before or after they are spoken when, for whatever reason, you don’t get a chance to hear them, and finally– and most importantly, for me– you get to process all of the dialogue two separate times, with different parts of your brain (I guess).

After a dozen episodes, I have started paying attention to things like who’s writing, who’s directing, and what Frasier‘s overall voice sounded like amidst the tinny choir of other ’90s sitcoms. We continue to look (often in vain) for patterns and make value judgments about minutia banal and bizarre alike– that’s what one expects in the television blog genre, I take it– but it seems to me that bringing the crew and the other shows in the original primetime schedule into the conversation gives us more content and more perspective to work with when we listen for this beast’s pulse.

FDs1e13-2Our episode Synopsis:
Open at KACL. Frasier takes a call from 13-year-old Ethan, who reports that he has an I.Q. of 160 and is routinely pestered by his schoolmates. Frasier suggests that the bullies are jealous; tells Ethan he can look forward to having the last laugh. (Double cliché! It’s been a couple of weeks! Good work, everybody! Take the rest of the night off.)

Ethan is disappointed and insults Frasier at length. Frasier responds by telling the bullies, over the air, “if (they’re) listening,” to go to Ethan’s house and beat him up. Frasier then, of course, hangs up.

I’m pleased to announce on this occasion that I have decided to disqualify displays of sociopathic behavior on Frasier’s part in the “mental illness” series-count that he shares with Niles, because it happens too often, and I’m afraid it simply isn’t sporting. Think of it this way: Here is a character who has prompted us to stop counting the number of times that he does things like inciting an audience of half a million into beating a thirteen-year-old, because it happens too often to be interesting. That will serve as this week’s reminder that Frasier looks insane and then some on paper, and the world must know!

(OK. OK. While that indeed was a good reminder of all of those things, in the end I decided that discounting a certain type of occurrence in any category because it happens too often would entirely defeat the purpose of endeavoring to count anything in that category, hence qualifying sociopathic decisions of Frasier’s will stand. I repeat: sociopathy will stand. You guys are killing it this week– are you sure you need me?)

Frasier signs off. Roz touches up her make-up for a date with Noel, from the sales department. She doesn’t even like him. I think that she is attempting to date someone “nice” for a change or something like that, but it really isn’t clear.

Scene 2: Boy in the Hood
(Yes, yes: cliché. And I don’t know how the singular prevents it from being cutesy, OK? It just does.)

At the apartment, Daphne is preparing dinner. Niles asks if he can keep her company. He manages to fall off the counter and slam his head on the fridge. Frasier enters and scolds Niles for milking Daphne’s willingness to tend to him on the floor.

Frasier takes Niles aside; requests that he take Martin out to free the house up for an upcoming date. Niles agrees.

Martin and Eddie enter. Niles makes Martin the offer to spend time with him on Friday. Martin refuses; correctly guesses the reason that Niles is offering the invitation, and Frasier confesses. Martin agrees on the condition that Frasier return the favor on Thursday, for Martin’s date with Elaine Morris, from 1412. You see, it isn’t exposition if it’s revealed in questions and answers (How refreshing. Let’s see if we can get through a whole episode without exposition.)

Scene 3: Foot in Mouth Disease
(If we were hanging out in person, I would do this elaborately exaggerated preparation for a fake sneeze, and say the word “cliché!” really loudly into a kerchief, and everyone would give us ironic high-fives, but everyone would actually enjoy it, so they would really net as unironic, but that wouldn’t come up.)

In the kitchen on what will be revealed to be Friday morning, Daphne is preparing breakfast and Frasier is drinking coffee. Martin enters. Frasier and Daphne inquire about Martin’s date with Elaine, and she enters.

Frasier and Daphne introduce themselves. Frasier stutters into 1,284,679 Freudian slips about sexual intercourse when attempting to converse with Elaine. They sit for breakfast. Frasier fires off another half-million or so entirely non-intuitive single-entendre dirty verbal staggerings linked to plausible conversation with an acrobatic sort of logic usually only accessible via catatonia, and my roommate tells me to stop the damn yawning.

(Oh, now I’ve got you doing it.)

Daphne serves the food, but Frasier starts to speak again. Elaine excuses herself; leaves. Martin sits again. He isn’t that mad. People of Frasier-Denial Land, I must ask that you put down your yogurt for a brief moment and pay attention to what I am about to announce:

Martin has gotten some before Frasier has.

Carry on.

Scene 4: Untitled
FDs1e13-5
KACL caller Marianne (voice-over by Piper Laurie) has required her 22-year-old daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend to sleep in separate bedrooms when visiting; her question for Frasier is whether this is the right approach to hosting them. Frasier details the whole Elaine episode over the air. Marianne hangs up on him. He signs off for commercial.

Scene 5: Untitled
Daphne and Martin are at the apartment. Martin is upset about the show. Frasier enters and says hello to Eddie. Eddie and Daphne exit. Martin confronts Frasier about explaining on the air that Elaine had spent the night; exposits that she now won’t speak to him.
FDs1e13-3I can’t believe I didn’t notice when it happened. Martin has a very good point. Frasier has scored two sociopathy points in one episode– also, we didn’t make it through without exposition. Thank you for trying, though.

Eddie runs over to Frasier and stares at him.

Scene 6: Untitled
On-air at KACL, caller Al (voice-over by Henry Mancini) talks long, low, and dry about how he does not enjoy the sound of his own voice. Frasier and Roz make faces at each other and try not to laugh over the air. Frasier hangs up on him.

Roz puts Moon River on, and Frasier speaks over it with a plea to Elaine, to come to have dinner with Martin at 8:00.

Scene 7: This Is Where We Get Off
(Cutesy and cliché. You know you’re doing it wrong if a double entendre actually seems to redeem the thing.)

Frasier and Daphne are in the kitchen. Daphne explains that she’s making outgoing psychic transmissions to Elaine (I would have called this out as exposition if she were referring to something that was actually happening).

Martin emerges with a suit on. The doorbell rings. It’s a large mob of people who heard the show and are rooting for Martin, who comes out as Frasier starts yelling at everyone to leave. Elaine’s elevator opens; she freaks. Frasier enters the elevator, pulling Martin with him. Martin makes Frasier turn around, since in sitcoms you can’t hear anything that you can’t see; asks Elaine to stay. She agrees.

They return to the 19th floor. The mob applauds. Frasier orders them to disperse. Martin and Elaine enter the apartment.

Frasier and Daphne share a moment of tension as they actually stand in the hall, asking each other what “two grown, able-bodied adults” could possibly be doing together, which is kind of a great TV moment.

Then, they do the laundry.

Credits vignette:
Noel enters the producer’s booth and fiddles around.

End theme closing:
“Thank you!”

By now you may have noticed that there are only 5 closings to the end theme. I’m starting to wonder if this shouldn’t actually be called the “Closing theme ending.” Perhaps we’ll alternate that by season. Seriously, though, these are obviously chosen at random, so I’m not sure what the future holds. The most gracious way to deal with it would probably be a clean break at the end of the first season. However, much like Frasier himself, we who further his Denial don’t necessarily base our decisions on what is sensible, no– we go by feeling, Niles, FEELING!

Closing thoughts:
Frasier is a cartoon. If I could only accomplish one thing with …Denied, it would be to help you see this. Seinfeld and 30 Rock are also cartoons, but there are different ways in which they identify as such: On Seinfeld, everything that happens could possibly happen, but of course never would. In 30 Rock, we inhabit the realm of concept, and don’t even really have a fourth wall. Also, about 15% of what happens is entirely tangled in meta– it’s outright dream logic. On Frasier, the physics are natural enough, but what’s unreal is the social and psychological features of its characters’ world.

When you remember Frasier and Niles, you remember that they liked fine wines, Frasier had a radio show, Niles was in love with Daphne, and their father was a little cranky but loveable. However, if you read this blog (or have merely watched it and reflected on what you are seeing as we do here– I should always give you that much credit), you find a troubling and senseless continuity of petty conflict and frantic narcissism.

But that’s not why I brought this up. 30 Rock and Seinfeld have both treated us to episodes with cartoon endings (with Kramer getting chased by police on the highway and Liz Lemon shooting Wayne Brady in the butt, respectively), and I wonder whether Frasier is going to provide us with one of those (in seasons 1-7, of course. Season 8 on might as well be Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and I’m sure there are endings, beginnings, and middles that simply feature the characters on a trampoline over a shark tank with carrots hanging out of their mouths– who the hell knows?)

Just to be sure we’re all together on this, by “cartoon ending” I’m referring to an ending with narrative “knots” that the writers have no intention of “untying.” You know how Tom and Jerry would chop each other’s tails up or eat dynamite or blow off into the sky like a balloon, then reappear intact and energized 5 seconds later? That. When the next episode begins, there are no consequences or memory of the event.

Speaking of narrative continuity, let’s keep thinking about Seinfeld and 30 Rock for a moment.

In season 5 of Seinfeld, George lives with his parents. In season 6, he is hired by the New York Yankees. During the whole Frasier series, Frasier goes through about as much growth and change as George does in those two sentences. Same with 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon. She has the career, then the other thing (which I won’t spoil, because the series finale was within the past year), and that’s it. Come to think of it, I suppose I only used George instead of Jerry because Jerry really doesn’t have anything happen to him at all (and kudos to him and Larry David, of course, for intentionally making it so).

Anywho, these are all different layers in the substance of the show, sure. But when you think about 30 Rock, you know that there’s an opaque fourth wall; when you think about Seinfeld, you know that it’s “about nothing.” Frasier, on the other hand, somehow seduces you into consenting to its chaotic socio-surrealism, and, even long after you and I have written and read all 168 of these, I’m sure we will simply retain that anesthetized, mild-mannered version of the show that only ever truly existed in our minds in the first place, where Niles says “wow” as he looks at Daphne and Frasier puts coasters under their chardonnay glasses. But I have to try. Dammit, I have to try.

Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
Frasier’s inability to speak to Elaine at breakfast without accidentally talking about sex a dozen times is kind of an embarrassment to the English speaking world.

FDs1e13-1Continuity errors or anachronism:
Frasier says “hello” to Eddie.

And I would call writing in a moment of legitimate sexual tension between Frasier and Daphne a problem, but it’s tricky. As you can see, I’ve crowned it with our highest honor, “Kind of a great TV moment,” because it’s simply so damn novel, but it also seems to ripple troublingly against the canonical Frasier-Daphne narrative as a whole. I won’t speak of it again if you won’t.

And here’s a little bit of non sequitur (because I love you so much):
FDs1e13-7# of women Frasier has dated:
Episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [2]

# of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [2]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [3]

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

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:
Episode:
[1]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [3]

Mentions of Maris:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [25]   series cumulative: [25]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [9]   series cumulative: [10]

In this episode:
Frasier (sociopathy)— when he is an accomplice in the physical beating of a minor.
(I know. I know.  Why do you think I call it “Denied”?)

(It was a close call, but we aren’t in fact going to count talking about Elaine over the air as the behavior of a psychopath. It’s remarkably negligent and insensitive, but I have to call it somewhere. Hey, at least that aspect of the category survived this week’s review, eh, tiger?)

# of tender pauses:
[Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [9]   series cumulative: [9]

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:
Frasier and Daphne experiencing sexual tension for one moment of the entire series.

TV Guide version (© Netflix): “Martin invites his neighbor Elaine over to the condo for an intimate dinner for two. The next morning, Frasier is unnerved to discover that Elaine has spent the night.”

S1 E12: Miracle on Third or Fourth Street

FDs1e12-titleAirdate: December 16, 1993
Director:James Burrows
Writer:
Christopher Lloyd
(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
I have already watched the whole series, but the level of scrutiny it takes to properly “deny” Frasier makes this a unique viewing. I’m interested to find what my favorite season will be, which of the writers I might consider superior to the others, etc.

Is it going to break your heart to learn that the Christopher Lloyd you loved on Back to the Future is not the Christopher Lloyd who co-created Frasier? I thought so. I’m sorry. Look at it this way— I have just spared you the embarrassment of conflating them during a conversation at a party. NOW you can instead be the one to deliver this disappointment to others. Go forth and live honorably!

Our episode Synopsis:
Scene 1: The Office Christmas Party
(This title is neither cutesy nor cliché, but it further muddles our quest to learn what scene titles are really supposed to do. If they score in the categories that we use for expressing how we deplore them just as often as they are either presciently incoherent (which are my favorite) or simply blandly descriptive— as we see in this one— the enterprise of scene titling really comes off as lost and confused.)

Open on air at KACL. Frasier is signing off before Christmas, wishing the audience happy holidays.
FDs1e12-2

Roz eagerly exits the booth in search of a drink. Bulldog enters with one. Frasier produces a gag gift that he got for Roz. As he finishes wrapping it, Bulldog asks him to fill in for the noon-to-four slot on Christmas. Frasier refuses; exposits that he is going to get to spend Christmas with his son Frederick.

Chopper Dave emerges briefly to milk the yelling joke a few times. Bulldog asks Frasier if he knows Bonnie Weems, who, as a KACL tradition, gets driven home by the newest host on the station’s staff— which, this year, is Frasier. Everyone in the station laughs. Frasier asks Roz to explain. She tells him that Bonnie gets insistently amorous when she drinks.

Roz gives Frasier a nice present; he feels bad about the gag gift. The purpose of this is only to kindle Frasier’s sense of disappointment and melancholy. Roz exits.

Bonnie Weems enters, introduces herself, finishes a drink, and exits carrying Frasier over her shoulder. As your Frasier shaman, I am going to predict that he is going to open that most anticipated of series-count categories by getting some for Christmas.

Scene 2: Untitled
FDs1e12-1

At the apartment, Niles is standing up, drinking egg nog while Eddie stares at him. Niles puts down his mug and buffs his shoe, while Eddie drinks his egg nog. I want to get all aloof about how this is a cheap gag, but it’s Christmas (and honestly, it’s one of the Eddie bits that really works).

Frasier enters. Daphne emerges from her room wearing a dress; exposits that she is trying a few on, ostensibly so that Niles can determine if they will fit Maris. Frasier blows the whistle on it and looks disapprovingly at Niles. Daphne exits. Martin enters.

Frasier exposits that he sent Bonnie Weems home in a cab. I’m so sorry. For you all, but mostly for Frasier. I know you and I wouldn’t be first in line at Frasiercon, but given this enduring celibacy, could we not elect him for sainthood?

(How about this: Is it fair for me to suggest that he may simply be lying? Can we consider “expositing deceptively” a potential thing? I guess we can’t— not officially. It really isn’t exposition if something isn’t somehow communicated. For example, if Frasier had said “I sent Bonnie Weems home,” then, as an aside, winked and perhaps quietly added “Oh, I sent her alright, sent her in half is what, am I right, Dad?” the content of the exposition would simply be that Frasier had slept with Bonnie.)
FDs1e12-4
Anywho, Frasier fixes sherry for himself and Niles. Martin hangs a plastic wreath on the door; Frasier protests. Martin exposits that Bulldog called a few times to ask again if Frasier can fill in for the Christmas show.

The phone rings. Frasier takes it in his room. Niles exposits that Christmas is to be celebrated at his log cabin with Martin and Maris. Niles invites Daphne; she can’t make it.

Just so we have everyone’s Christmas plans, as of now, straight before we go any further:
a) Frederick is coming to Seattle to spend it with Frasier.
b) Martin, Niles, and Maris are going to Niles’ log cabin.
c) Bulldog wishes to go to Chicago, where his whole family is gathering for the first time in five years, but he has to do the show.
d) Daphne is flying to San Francisco to meet her uncle.
e) Roz’s mother is flying in from Wisconsin to spend just Christmas day in Seattle.

Frasier emerges; exposits that Lilith is taking Frederick to Austria for Christmas. Martin and Frasier have a serious shouting match, then another. It’s kind of like that scene in Ghostbusters II where Winston and Ray almost kill each other because of the negative influence that the mood of all New Yorkers has on the pink slime.

I don’t know if it’s because the Frasier crew wanted to cut the season’s overall tender-pause flavor with some “gritty,” serious, um, conflict, but it’s really interesting when you get right to the point where you naturally expect comic relief to diffuse the rage, and you instead experience another wave of it. I guess they may have figured that the Christmas decorations provided a cheery enough backdrop to neutralize the ire, and it also happens that they’re arguing about nothing, so maybe that’s supposed to be funny.

Frasier shouts that he is staying home. Please update Frasier, Frederick, and Bulldog’s schedule in the above Frasier Christmas planner accordingly.

Scene 3: Untitled
At KACL, Frasier and Roz are entering the booth. Frasier is unshaven and dressed casually. He apologizes to Roz, who has to accompany him since he decided to do the show. They go on the air.

Cut to two hours later. Caller Don (voice-over by Eric Stoltz) says he left his gym sneakers on the roof of his car, saw a homeless man pick them up, and decided to let the man keep them.

Cut to later still, a couple of times. Callers Gladys (Rosemary Clooney), Barry (Ben Stiller), and Tom (Mel Brooks) all call with tragic and hopeless situations.

Roz cries; Frasier lets her go home.

Frasier asks for a happy Christmas call. Jeff (Dominick Dunne) calls; says he watches The Sound of Music to feel better. This is what depresses Frasier, since Frederick is in Austria, with Mary Poppins and stuff. Frasier signs off.

Scene 4: Miracle on Third or Fourth Street
(This would be a good Frasier scene title if it weren’t eponymous with the episode title. Remember, back in TV World (in this case, in the early ‘90s), we weren’t aware of the episode titles for most shows— well, those of us without TV Guide weren’t anyway— so upon originally airing, this was probably one of the spiffier scene titles of the season.)

Frasier enters a diner, exposits that everything else in town is closed or booked. He orders the “Christmas platter” and meets the man who got the sneakers. Another man enters; Frasier gives him his seat.
FDs1e12-3Frasier goes to the register to pay but realizes that he is missing his wallet. The sneaker man offers to pay for it; Frasier protests, but he is touched to find that everyone in the restaurant chips in to pay for his meal. Since Frasier happens to look homeless (and doesn’t have a wallet), the sneaker man tells him “Christmas belongs to guys like us.”

Frasier leaves, then gets into his car. The waitress finds some keys on the floor. Frasier enters the restaurant again; looks around the floor. He can’t bear to ask for his keys.

The sneaker man does the tender pause. He gives Frasier a quarter and tells him “go call your old man.”

So that’s why they had the hate orgy earlier.

Credits vignette:
A slow pan across the tree and gifts culminates on Eddie opening a present.

End theme closing:
“Goodnight Seattle, we love you!”

Closing thoughts:
I hope that saying “Anywho” in an ostensibly semi-serious context like this doesn’t sound like when someone answers the phone “Yallo.”

Anywho, this episode includes one of the series’ more egregious eponymous scene titles. Since it’s both a good little gag and an apt enough carrier for the “tender pause” dramatic content, it has a lot of potential impact, and that impact is all but entirely spilled when it’s siphoned into the two separate roles of episode title and scene title. I say do one or the other, and in this case, my preference would happen to be the scene title. It is the first Frasier holiday episode, so its title is going to be plenty a robust placeholder for a more generic approach. Call it “First KACL Christmas”: we can handle it.

One thing that is beginning to fascinate me about this series is, while most shows take unimportant, banal everyday things and pretend that they are an enormous deal, with uncharacteristically positive results, Frasier’s namesake in fact takes on very serious things and treats them with nowhere near the sort of respect and tact that they deserve, then suffers no sort of consequences other than his ego remaining just as bruised as it had been the day before because of the same kind of ridiculous decisions.

Billy Superstar pointed out that Full House tends to tell us “do whatever you want. In 20 minutes, endearing music will play and everything will be fine no matter what.” I’m finding that Frasier seems to convey that you have no moral obligation to do anything other than whatever you want, but there is no endearing music, and you in fact end up in the same position you were when you started.

This is the first time that I have felt endeared by the closing “Goodnight Seattle, we love you!” The hypnotic powers of soft jazz have finally broken me.

Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
The “unshaved because there’s no one at the station, therefore later get mistaken for a homeless man” thing is a little contrived, but come on, it’s Christmas.

Continuity errors or anachronism:
Seattle has numbered avenues, not streets. This flub in particular raises troubling questions about the producers’ knowledge of the setting.

There is an editing error when some red tissue paper appears under Frasier’s gift to Roz, then disappears in the next shot.

# of women Frasier has dated:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [1]

 # of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [2]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [2]

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

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [2]

Mentions of Maris:
Episode: [2]   previous cumulative: [23]   series cumulative: [25]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [9]   series cumulative: [9]

# of tender pauses:
[Episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [8]   series cumulative: [9]

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:
When the homeless guy tells Frasier, “Give your old man a call.”

TV Guide version (© Netflix): “Frasier’s Christmas spirit is dampened when he learns that his longawaited son Frederick won’t be joining him for the holidays.”
FDs1e12-5

S1 E11: Death Becomes Him

fd-s1e11-01Airdate: December 2, 1993
Director:Andy Ackerman
Writer:
Leslie Eberhard
(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
Episode 11! Let’s do a quick review of some of our recurring antics. I watch Frasier an episode at a time with a pen and a legal pad. I write the “episode synopsis” portion in my own, casual voice while the episode is on. Then, at the computer, I use this (“Opening thoughts”) section to discuss anything that seems like a good primer for the Denied treatment that you are about to witness being imposed upon the episode.

In the episode synopsis, I also assess the scene titles. Each scene title will be judged as either, a) cutesy, b) cliché, c) neither, or d) incoherent. The protocol for dealing with untitled scenes is perpetually changing— I have ceased trying to establish a consistent procedure for them. (Doesn’t it seem like that’s what Frasier would do?) Next, there’s “Closing thoughts,” for further observations that I might have made while finalizing the synopsis in type.

Two categories follow, the first to cover unnecessary conflicts that the characters experience for no reason other than to contrive interesting story elements, and the second to go over continuity errors, including technical oversights and anachronism.

Then, we have a number of categories for counting exactly how many times specific things happen during the course of the series.

Since we’re at the episode 11 mark, let’s just go all the way to the bottom of the “refresher” bucket:

These characters live together:
Frasier: protagonist (a psychiatrist with a call-in radio show on Seattle’s KACL 780AM)
Martin: his father (a retired cop who is currently working on an unsolved case about a chopped up hooker)
Daphne: Frasier’s housekeeper/Martin’s physical therapist (and a psychic Brit)
Eddie: Martin’s dog (also possibly psychic)

Additional main characters:
Niles: Frasier’s brother (in love with Daphne and always besuited)
Maris: Niles’ wife (who allegedly exists)
Roz: Frasier’s producer (Frasier always “jokes” that she is a slut. She isn’t.)
FDs1e11-4Our episode Synopsis:
Open at the apartment. Daphne and Niles are setting the table. Daphne says that she’s never had a serious boyfriend. Niles responds by saying “men are pigs.” In this unself-consciously absent-minded incoherence, we find Niles experiencing the only thing that has ever been more important to him than good taste and a strong professional reputation. (That thing is love—Ed.)

Frasier enters; announces that the doctor called and told him that Martin skipped his physical. (I don’t suppose this counts as exposition about exposition, since in the Frasier universe, the doctor would genuinely have told Frasier that something had happened—in fact, any case of exposition is downright plausible. The reason that we at Frasier Denied routinely object to (and make open mockery of) when its used in fiction is that it shows a lack of discretion and discernment over how delicate the sacred Meta of the fourth wall needs to be, but I’ll save that for another time when we are dealing with an especially egregious exposition bomb. Don’t worry. It’s just around the corner, I’m sure.)

Eddie runs to the door to greet Martin just before he enters. Martin sits in his chair while lying about getting all his tests. Daphne explains that they know he really didn’t. Martin protests that he needn’t see the doctor when he feels fine. Knowing that this won’t cut it, he also admits that he specifically doesn’t like his doctor.

Frasier suggests his doctor, a woman. Martin balks. Niles mentions a doctor he knows, Dr. Gary Newman. Frasier exposits that he will call Dr. Newman and make an appointment for Martin.

Scene 2: Untitled
Frasier and Martin are in Dr. Newman’s waiting room. Martin exposits that they have been waiting for thirty minutes. Frasier asks the receptionist why the doctor is late. It turns out that he is driving in from Lake Chelan. Frasier takes this to mean that Dr. Newman is a good doctor, since he would have to be wealthy to vacation there.

Frasier sits. He and Martin reminisce about Frasier going to the doctor as a child. Frasier asks the receptionist again; returns to Martin and announces that Dr. Newman has died.

Scene 3: Well, I’m Lousy at Tennis…
(Presciently incoherent. In other words, a perfect title.)

Off the air at KACL, Frasier is ranting at Roz about the doctor’s death. We find out that Frasier is (and the doctor was) 41 years old. He (Frasier, not the doctor) says that he worries about dropping dead while getting his newspaper; Roz says she worries that her lover will die during sex.

Scene 4: A Family Meeting
(I truly hope it’s not too early to congratulate Leslie Eberhard for her scene titles.)
At the apartment, Frasier opens the front door and lets Niles in. Frasier exposits that they are meeting to go over his affairs so that he can prepare his will.

Frasier gives Martin and Niles stickers to put on the belongings that they want to inherit. They both refuse. Frasier produces a binder with the specs for his burial. Frasier and Niles both get sidetracked wistfully chatting about the caterer (the epitome of a good Frasier joke), and Martin asks if the presentation is through.

Frasier brings up the final point of discussion: Daphne discovering his body. It seems fitting, really, since she will know he is dead before she sees it, hence softening the blow— an opportunity not afforded the non-psychic characters.

She agrees amicably. Niles puts a sticker on a bottle of wine (another perfect Frasier joke).

Scene 5: (Untitled)
Frasier is asleep in his robe on the couch. Eddie is staring at him. Martin emerges from his bedroom looking for Eddie. Martin wakes Frasier, who gives a soliloquy about the fragility of the human heart and of life itself.
FDs1e11Martin tells a story about one of his colleagues being killed during a drug bust they were on years ago. He explains that he had to just forget about it and kick the next door down.

Frasier mentions Dr. Newman again. Martin points out that Newman’s medical history could have been awful, hence negating Frasier’s paranoia about dying young. Frasier decides that’s a good reason to look into Dr. Newman’s cause of death.

Scene 6: Kural, Fras, and Allen
(Shamelessly incoherent.)

Open at a funeral parlor. Frasier enters; meets Dr. Newman’s cousin, who arbitrarily exposits that Dr. Newman was Jewish. Frasier stands alone in latent panic; fiddles with a covered mirror. He meets Dr. Newman’s Aunt Bobbie and lies to her about knowing the deceased and awkwardly drills her with a succession of very specific questions about the doctor’s medical condition.

He then meets other relatives paying their respects and continues to ask carefully selected questions about Dr. Newman’s personal habits. They report that he was a health nut who exercised and didn’t drink, smoke, or consume caffeine.
FDs1e11-2Finally, he meets the widowed Mrs. Newman. He admits to her that he didn’t even know her husband, and he can’t bring himself to ask her about the cause of death.

For the first time, the tender pause is initiated by a guest star!

Mrs. Newman asks Frasier how to get over how her husband just died with no good answer as to why. Frasier lays the tender onto that pause good and hard, explaining that no one knows when their time is and the living should embrace life. Do you know how glad I am that this show doesn’t do music under the tender pause?

As Frasier exits, Aunt Bobbie sees him again and thanks him. Just before he leaves, some woman hits on him and gives him her card. He registers an expression that seems to say “Well, this wasn’t a complete waste of time after all. I win.”

Credits vignette:
For the second week in a row, the vignette refers to a joke that we did not discuss in the synopsis. Happy hunting!

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

Closing thoughts:
I’m sure that you’ve already noticed this, but I exclusively use “Anywho” as a mildly self-effacing means of conceding that I have gone off-topic and/or not offered a compelling case for something that I’m positing.

Anywho, not all of the episodes include on-air callers. I wonder if some writers just sat (or stood— or maybe they were doing jumping jacks) thinking, “Do I want to do any callers for this one? No. I don’t.” Maybe none of the writers wanted to do them, but some of them were unfortunate enough to be asked for revisions that included callers who reinforced that episode’s themes, like comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional counterpart (of the same name)’s opening and closing stand-up clips.

The Frasierness is starting to come into its “classic” form now, in two key respects: First, Niles is past the event horizon of utterly falling for Daphne, who maintains the tension with a pinch of distraction and a healthy little dash of ambiguous optimism;

Secondly, the signature Frasier joke— in which either or both of the brothers indulge in the very description of their finer tastes in a context that confines or utterly misappropriates their perspective, paying off with either a barely tacit expression of shared disdain or a mild but sudden and pronounced outburst of shame and/or social isolation.

I suppose thirdly you might as well include the running joke about how Roz unabashedly enjoys the company of gentlemen. (Not to be confused with the running joke where Frasier incorrectly paints her as indiscriminately promiscuous—Ed.)

Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
Frasier is in outright crack-addled cartoonland going to a stranger’s funeral so he can find out if they had a gym membership.

Continuity errors or anachronism:
Lake Chelan is about a 4-hour drive from Seattle. It seems odd that Dr. Newman’s secretary would assume that he had opted to make that trip on the morning of his first day back from work.

The woman who gives Frasier the non sequitur ego ‘roid rush at the tail end of the episode does not appear again. Its only value in the story is reinforcing our comprehensive portrait of Frasier as embodying the paradox of an egocentric who hasn’t the illusion of any sort of control.
FDs1e11-3# of women Frasier has dated:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [1]
(Ouch)

# of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode:
[1]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [2]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode:
[1]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [2]

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

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:
Episode:
[1]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [2]

Mentions of Maris:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [23]   series cumulative: [23

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [9]   series cumulative: [9]

# of tender pauses:
[Episode:
[1]   previous cumulative: [7]   series cumulative: [8]

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:
(none)

TV Guide version (© Netflix): “Frasier is upset when his father skips out on a doctor’s appointment.”

S1 E10: Oops!

fd-s1e10-01Airdate: November 18, 1993
Director:James Burrows
Writers:
Denise Moss, Sy Dukane
(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
This is the tenth episode, and it’s the first time that the kind-hearted xylophone reverb in the intro has annoyed me.

Niles is starting to exhibit painfully obvious outward signs of his consuming infatuation for Daphne. He’s now regularly coming up with goofy, elaborate excuses to be around her, and the ambiguity over whether the affection is mutual is still applied very delicately, which is one of the series’ most consistent strengths:

I tire of Frasier hanging up on people, of Niles never wearing a simple polo shirt—even of Martin’s conviction that salmon is for soulless effeminates, but I never tire of the deliberate, glacial progress of Daphne’s gracious, if passive, acceptance of Niles’ hapless loss of self and sense in her presence.

In this episode, we learn that Bulldog’s name is Bob Briscoe. We also see more humanity painted into his character, which is sort of refreshing. Bulldog is certainly a passionate person, and I dig seeing him unapologetically cry and have some serious dilemmas, rather than just barking and storming around all the time.

Our episode Synopsis:
Scene 1:
Heard It Through the Grapevine
(As the kids say, I can’t unsee this. An atom bomb of sheer cliché megaforce, delivered as a sentence fragment. I’ve called this show a lot of things—until now, “illiterate” was not one of them. What do you need, better lumbar support? Get it! The show can’t go on like this, my friends!)

Open at Café Nervosa. Niles and Frasier are having coffee. Niles explains that Maris and her friends are rehearsing for a performance of Cats. He and Frasier make 1,117 arbitrary jokes about cats and old age in women.

Roz enters. She is with Teddy, Frasier’s engineer, and “Chopper” Dave, the traffic helicopter guy. Dave shouts “hello” at Niles. Get it? Because he’s in a helicopter all the time, so he can’t hear well? The classics never fade or fault us.

Niles exits. Frasier sits. Roz tells him the most recent station gossip: the KACL staff is going to have to be downsized by exactly one employee. Bulldog enters. Dave keeps yelling when he talks. Bulldog has a brief tantrum because he thinks he has lost his Sonics tickets; the audience applauds as if to say “hooray for adults throwing public tantrums.” Out of Bulldog’s earshot, Roz suggests that the KACL employee destined for firing might be him.

Bulldog gets something to go. On his way out, he announces that the station manager has asked to see him and gives Dave his Sounders tickets.

Scene 2: Did I Do That?
(Steve Urkel’s first appearance on Family Matters was on December 15, 1989. Either my reaction is simply misplaced, given how far removed we are from the cultural climate of prime time (and the western world in general) as of 4 years after that, or these scene titles simply weren’t given much serious consideration. In a desperate argument form incredulity, I’m tempted to think that titles may in fact have not appeared at all in, say, the original runs, but I know this isn’t true. They appear over a full audio bleed and, as we have noticed, they’re sometimes quite excellent. This episode is a rough one, though, so sit on your hats.)

On the air at KACL, Frasier’s first caller, Don (voice-over by Jay Leno), explains that he is having trouble losing weight. (Tight double cliché!) Frasier begins to offer advice but is interrupted by a drive-thru employee asking for Don’s order. Uh-oh! Frasier’s gonna hang up!

Actually, Frasier asks Don what was going on; Don says it was nothing (and I’m still holding out for a hang-up). Frasier asks again, the drive-thru lady speaks again, etc., and to my surprise, it’s Don who hangs up. Oh Dr. Crane, you are indeed the ficklest of my mistresses.

Frasier signs off for a newsbreak. He goes out to the vending machine, where he meets Father Mike, the host of the religious show. Mike is worried that he may be the one who is going to be fired. Without hesitation or tact, Frasier actually tells him that it’s Bulldog.

Frasier returns to the booth. Bulldog is waiting, having heard the conversation. He gets very upset. Frasier assures him that it’s just a rumor. Bulldog is too incensed to process this; says he’ll quit instead. Roz enters. Bulldog forcibly kisses her and says he’s off to war; exits. The audience applauds as if to distinctly say “hooray for sexual assault,” finally settling the debate over whether they are in fact a bunch of assholes.

Roz asks Frasier what the hell is going on. He explains. She urgently exposits that Bulldog’s meeting with the manager was to promote Bulldog’s show to national distribution. At Roz’s insistence, Frasier attempts to explain things to the manager by phone, but it is too late to reach him.

Moments later, Bulldog returns to the booth in a flurry of shouting and pivoting, expositing that what started as unilateral hostility in his quick meeting with the manager in fact ended with both of them punching each other. Bulldog exits.

At this moment, in order to embody the title of the episode, Frasier laments what he has done. Roz again admonishes him to speak with the manager to clear things up. (Double cliché!)

Scene 3: One Dog Night
(Cutesy and cliché—forgivably so in both cases, since it’s prescient. I have a soft spot for that here for some reason. (Double cliché!))

Martin is at the apartment. The doorbell rings. It’s Niles. He has a dead plant; claims he wants Daphne to help him bring it back to health. (It’s sentences like that that make me secretly hope that at least one of you has never seen the show before and takes cough syrup before reading these—Ed.) Martin says Daphne isn’t there. Niles excuses himself; Martin invites him to stay and catch up for a bit. They sit uncomfortably and emit chunky, robotic small talk. Not one to waste time trying fooling himself or anyone else, Martin excuses Niles.

(Reminder: if I ever disagree with Martin about anything, I will specifically say so. Otherwise: universal thumbs-up.)

Daphne enters. Niles explains the supposed situation with the plant; it doesn’t even progress as far as a response from Daphne. Frasier enters. Martin inquires about Bulldog’s absence on the air that afternoon. Frasier tells him that Bulldog quit. Daphne announces to Frasier that she is sensing an aura of guilt in him. This actually prompts Frasier to explain everything.

Niles’ phone rings. It’s Maris. She has been kicked out of the production of Cats. Maris is just a wildcard for when Niles needs to do and not do things. Damn that clever Frasier crew. I wonder if they got through a couple of scripts before they realized that the exposition was too thick and bitter, then employed the Maris mechanism in time for the complete script for the pilot.

I truly don’t mind—the never-seen character is pretty interesting to me. You can really do anything with them. It’s a sort of pseudo-meta component that you can use with more flexibility than all the others, especially since they all require the renewing of make-up, lighting, and licensing.

I say “pseudo-meta” because they can say “Maris was skiing on Everest and she found a skull worth millions— that’s how she paid for Niles’ new house,” but they can’t say “Maris thinks we should go to a commercial.” Maris brings us the spirit, while not the letter, of the meta. It’s also amusing that, strictly speaking, we have far more evidence that Daphne is psychic than that Maris exists.

Anywho, now required to console Maris, Niles exits. Martin demands that Frasier speak to the station manager on Bulldog’s behalf. Eddie scratches at the welcome mat. Frasier opens the door to find Bulldog standing outside. Frasier introduces him to Martin and Daphne. Bulldog sits, exposits that his girlfriend has left him because he is not on the radio anymore. He vents and laments at length, and Martin expresses admiration for the show. Frasier’s guilt mounts. Bulldog excuses himself; Frasier offers to let him stay. (Double cliché!) Bulldog accepts; exits to take a shower.

Frasier tells Martin he’s not going to speak to the station manager. Eddie stares at Frasier until he changes his mind. I’m not really sure what to do with that. I suppose Eddie might just be Daphne’s familiar. Anyway, brace yourself: this next title is going to hurt like hell.

Scene 4: It’s Miller Time
(The lone, would-be redeeming aspect of this title is that it’s a complete sentence, but considering that I’m only noticing this because of my lowered expectations, we’re not going to pretend that it manages to break even. If I don’t have some integrity, there’s no point in forming an assessment, now, is there? Don’t worry— that was the last one. Calmer waters are ahead.)

Frasier enters KACL station manager Ned Miller’s office. Miller exposits that he has fired his secretary and exposits about his fight with Bulldog. Frasier defends Bulldog; explains that he’d overheard Frasier telling the rumor, this being the reason that he quit. (Ha. No way. Oh my God— I just exposited, didn’t I? I’m so embarrassed—I feel like I just vomited on your lap. Obviously, I could delete it, but then I’d have to delete that analogy about vomiting on your lap, and besides, WWFD? That’s right: he would just keep talking about it and make it worse. What!? High-five.)

Miller agrees to rehire Bulldog on the condition that he apologize. Before Frasier leaves, Miller explains that the budget aspect of the rumor was true, so someone still needs to be let go, and that someone is now determined to be Frasier.

The phone rings. It’s Miller’s boss, who fires him.

Credits vignette:
This credits vignette refers to a joke that I didn’t discuss in the synopsis. Consider it an Easter egg.

End theme closing:
“Goodnight!”

Closing thoughts:
As we dissect this bent up vintage laugh-can, one thing that I enjoy occasionally considering is how it fit in with the overall sitcom climate of its time— Friends, Drew Carrey, Seinfeld, the then-recent memory of Cheers, not to mention News Radio, Third Rock From the Sun, Wings, etc.— they all have a certain mutual belonging. I know they were on the same network, but it seems to transcend that (not that there’s any way of actually determining that): They seem like part of the same universe, like your Marvel or DC comics.

They also all have the same production quality. I call it “muffled.” I’m kind of surprised I got this far without bringing it up.

This specific grade of film and audio goes back as far as Happy Days. I think that’s the earliest example. Do you know what I mean by “muffled”? I contrast it with the “bright” approach— these are totally non-industry terms (oh: you noticed). “Bright” is more like what a soap opera looks/sounds like, except with a touch less grit and a certain smoother, sunshinier kind of glow.

OK. Am I talking nonsense? Stay with me: Briefly think about the production (the “feel” of the sound and vision, essentially) when you’re watching:

Cheers vs. The Cosby show
Designing Women vs. Who’s The Boss?
Family Matters vs. Full House
Taxi vs. Mr. Belvedere
Mork and Mindy vs. Benson
Perfect Strangers vs. Growing Pains
Laverne and Shirley vs. Family Ties*

In all of these cases, the former is “muffled” and the latter is “bright.”

*(Family Ties actually had the soap opera grit, though—it was kind of an outlier. I would bet my autographed orange dollar bill that Family Ties’ crew had the same gear as the soap opera guys.)

(Disclosure: I realize that “muffled and bright” are just horrible, hack ways to describe something like this and a 5-year-old could probably do better, but when it comes to broadcasting, I’m just a guy on a cushion with a pen and a legal pad. I’ve been observing this dichotomy my whole life, (in other words, that 5-year-old was me), and I’ll be happy to update this with technical terms if such intel manages to penetrate Frasier Denied HQ.)

In the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, you actually had hybrids of muffled and bright:
Alice, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Sun, Joanie Loves Chachi, Charles in Charge, All in the Family, Bosom Buddies, Three’s Company, etc. (and if you remove the exact amount of “bright” that Benson was missing and apply it to Three’s Company, the ledger is exactly balanced. That one won’t be on the test).

Think of how a snippet from these shows looks and sounds. I don’t know whether you’ve taken this dichotomy for granted or never noticed it, but it’s pretty interesting to me. I suspect that some folks have an all-out aversion to certain production approaches, kind of like how a band’s production can turn you off. On the same token, you can get a genuine buzz from a sound and look that highly appeals to you, carries good associations, etc.

For example, the ancillary production on Scrubs—the bumper music, opening credits, closing credits, voice-over sonics (very consistent effects), and overall pacing— are to me one of the most comforting and assuring things that the entire world history of entertainment has to offer, and I’m not even quite sure what’s really happening when it does that to me. I do know that my first marathon viewing of the show took place at a specific time where the buzz of love and home were just so, and the reliable structure of the show’s production— much more so than the characters or the narrative— just mashes those serotonin pistons like a boob to a baby.

Today I wonder if the muffled production grade is going to be with us forever, in its own niche. It lives on in a remnant notable few— How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory (plus a continued death march of fluffy forgetables)— while for almost a decade now, the more compelling choices in ½ hour comedy have blazed their own unique approaches, not just in production but, more importantly, in overall format— 30 Rock, The Office, Arrested Development, Community, Scrubs, Parks & Rec, Modern Family, Portlandia… and you’re probably a season and a half into 12 different web-series that I haven’t even heard about.

The “bright” approach seems to be the one that has been usurped in the digital age, though. I haven’t seen it in a really long time. I almost want to stop yakking about this, because one of you is going to point me to a very simple Wikipedia article that explains a couple of different kinds of cameras and microphones that different studios have tended to have over the last 40 years, but, like I said, this is coming from a simple, child-like devotion to the idiot box.

This episode’s writing duo, Denise Moss and Sy Dukane, also brought us Space Quest (E2) and The Crucible (E6). The titles were so downright painful in this episode that I had to crack those open and see what kind of Frasier Denied title ratings they earned. Here are those episodes (and this one), listed according to our title ratings:

S1E2-Space Quest:
1: neither
2: cliché
3: neither

S1E6-The Crucible:
(1 was untitled)
2: incoherent/half-cutesy
3: neither
4: half-cutesy (but redeemingly esoteric)
5: cutesy and cliché (very on both counts)

S1E10-Oops!:
1: cliché (very)
2: cutesy and cliché
3: cutesy and cliché
4: cliché (very)

It’s hard to tell for sure what’s happening here. It seems like Dukane and Moss may be growing increasingly bitter about being required to do titles. As I mentioned before, though, it’s also possible that a different person comes in and just does the all of the titles, and it might be the same person through the whole series or a drastically “intellectually diverse” duo— who in hell knows? We also will revisit this (only now do I realize) utterly unnecessary inspection when Dukane and Moss take up their pens again, which will be in exactly 8 weeks. The name of that episode is a very bad pun, so I’m just going to block it out of my mind for the next 2 months.

Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
When Frasier assures Bulldog that the news of the pending firing is entirely a rumor, Bulldog’s insistence on quitting is pure television hyperbole. If he was going to be terminated, it couldn’t be changed anyway, and he would have received severance. The minimal, temporal benefit to his pride— with as flimsy an impetus as a third-hand rumor which was that very moment entirely retracted by its source— is pure stupidsauce.

While we’re here, I have to call ‘WTF’ on Frasier gossiping with Father Mike about the rumor in the first place. It’s entirely out of character for Frasier to even tolerate such a conversation, let alone initiate it. I suppose they couldn’t have had Bulldog merely overhear Roz or someone mentioning it, since they needed Frasier to feel responsible, but it’s not impossible to manage that without Frasier stepping out of his Frasierness so drastically.

On the other hand, maybe the joke’s on me. (Double cliché!) If we learn anything from the malignant timesuck that it is to peer into Frasier’s life starting with his return to Seattle (truthfully, I can’t speak much to his behavior during Cheers’ run), it’s that he can go crazy any way, any time.

Continuity errors or anachronism:
(none)

# of women Frasier has dated:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [1]

# of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [1]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [2]   series cumulative: [2]

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

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [1]

Mentions of Maris:
Episode:
[6]   previous cumulative: [17]   series cumulative: [23]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
Episode:
[0]   previous cumulative: [9]   series cumulative: [9]

# of tender pauses:
[Episode:
[0 ]   previous cumulative: [7]   series cumulative: [7]
(They could have easily had Bulldog do one, too.)

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:
(none)

TV Guide version (© Netflix): “The rumor mill around the radio station is working overtime with the news that Bulldog is about to be fired.”