S1 E10: Oops!

fd-s1e10-01Airdate: November 18, 1993
Director:James Burrows
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:

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)

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:

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

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