S1 E15: You Can’t Tell A Crook by His Cover

FDs1e15-04FDs1e15-05

Airdate: January 27, 1994
Director: Andy Ackerman
Writer: David Lloyd

(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
I did not put on a Frasier drinking game this week. I also didn’t watch two episodes at once. I did take a “No-Pause” oath and type as quickly as I could as the episode played, then went back and filled in everything else. Perhaps my mind will marinate Frasier’s many madnesses in a different manner when they fire off uninterrupted.

The title is cliché and a pun, but is manages to tell a story.
So that’s three things it’s got going against it.

Our episode Synopsis:
Open at KACL. Frasier is giving Martin a tour of the station. Martin fiddles with all of the equipment in the booth. Roz enters. Frasier exposits that Martin is going to stay for the show.
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Roz asks Frasier to borrow some cash, because she has given her last $10 to a man who needs to go to the Australian consulate. (Pseudo-meta-exposition? Damn, Roz. We are in awe. In awe!) Martin recognizes it as a scam that was previously reported multiple times. Frasier chides Roz for not being able to spot a criminal. Martin scoffs, asserting (correctly) that Frasier has no such skills himself. Frasier rebuts in his usual ever-elaborate/never-eloquent, straight-faced stammer, spritzed and seasoned with the audience’s abundant tolerance.

Martin tosses in one of the thicker exposition bricks of the season, engaging Frasier’s watery claims with the announcement that the evening ahead just so happens to be Poker Night at the apartment, and all but one of the guests coming over to play are former policemen, the other, an ex-con. The bet, of course, is whether Frasier can pick the criminal out amongst the cops.
FDs1e15-03I have to point out that both Roz and Martin would obviously crush Frasier in terms of demonstrating this skill. Picture the three of them trying to read a line-up, in turn. Martin looks back on an entire career of chasing criminals, and Roz is more worldly than mid-swing, balls-bound brass knuckles.

Roz gives the $10 to Martin, to take the same bet, against Frasier.

I have two things to say before we move on to the next scene. First of all, the evening’s event is conveyed as Martin’s weekly Poker Night. I believe we see him through another game later on at some point, but it’s still a valid time to bring it up: Let’s add “solitary, supposedly regular events” to our official Tropes to Deny list, as we mercilessly probe sitcom history under the throat-splitting noon sun with our Cracker Jack magnifying glass.

Though Frasier will apparently manage to (barely) acquit itself of this particular sitcom crime, it fits snugly on the list. Before you go carving our hero’s name in a tree over it though, I will remind you that this phantom blip of momentary integrity atones for but a minute measure of comparable iniquity– there remains yet a hell’s lot of unpaid penance on our divine Denial ledger.

Secondly, when we do come to that other Poker Night (which, I think, features Roz beating everyone), I am not going to take advantage of that satire softball, which in fact offers me two bitter, supple orbs of comedy all but bursting as they run aground in the dusty soil. (Does a mixed metaphor count as a double cliché?) Nay indeed, I will neither claim that the writers fell back on an already-used plot device, nor that they offered too little too late when it comes to justifying Martin’s “weekly” Poker Night.

Scene 2: Pick a Con, Any Con
(Another cliché/pun combo, which, of course, puts writer David Lloyd on trial.)

Frasier, Daphne, and Martin are at the apartment. Martin is setting up the poker game. The guests– Linda, Frank, and Jimmy– arrive. Frasier goes over the rules: he can’t ask anyone if they’ve done time or what their profession is, but they must otherwise answer his questions truthfully.
FDs1e15-06Daphne serves snacks. She exits to give Eddie a bath, which is a more intriguing sub-plot than Frasier’s bet.

Scene 3: Untitled
Later in the night, Frasier is still studying the guests. Jimmy helps Daphne clean up. Linda is the night’s big winner. Martin asks Frasier to deliver his guess. He says it’s Frank, then Linda. The ex-con turns out to be Jimmy, meaning Frasier in no way could have possibly done worse.
FDs1e15-07Frasier pays up. The guests leave. Martin exposits that Jimmy was a jailhouse sneak for the SPD, which introduces a plot more interesting than Frasier and Martin’s bet, but still not as interesting as Eddie needing a bath:

Daphne exposits that she has agreed to go on a date with Jimmy. Martin tells her that she cannot go. She yells emphatically and effectively about how uncool it is for Martin to even try to treat the situation as if he were her father and she were 16 years old. There is a tense pause. It isn’t the first tense pause of the season, but it shows us that Daphne is much more lethal than Martin if you are unfortunate enough to have given her a reason to strike.
FDs1e15-08Scene 4: Untitled
(Sticking with untitled scenes now, are we? Wise choice.)

Frasier and Niles are at Cafe Nervosa. They both order nonfat decaf lattes.

Remember, in the pilot, when they ordered Caffe Latte Supremos, and I said that we would be on the watch through the whole series to determine whether that was a continuity flaw in the making? Yeah. It’s starting to look like they simply order different things depending on their mood, which is pretty realistic. Hence, as your appointed Frasier demi-god, chosen to sift, purify, and exalt its insanity for all the world to see, I am sorry to have to close that continuity error case.

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If you happen to be doubting me on this, later in the pilot– yes: in the same episode– Frasier ordered a double espresso. This one is indeed dead and desiccated. But come on– chin up! There’s plenty of cringing and face-palming to come. If our entire viewing history here is any indication, it’s just around the corner. (Double cliché!)

Frasier explains that Jimmy did time for fraud. Niles agrees that Martin should not have been so judgmental. Frasier then, however, explains that Daphne is going on a date with Jimmy. Frasier and Niles work themselves into a frenzy and decide to “rescue” her.

Scene 5: Oddball in the Corner Pocket
At The Topaz Room, Daphne is playing pool with Jimmy and a couple of guys. Their opponents offer to bet on the last ball, and Daphne, who turns out to be very good at pool,
takes all. Everyone applauds. Daphne exits to the restroom.
FDs1e15-11Frasier and Niles enter; ask the bartender where Daphne is. Frasier bumps into a man and blows his shot. He informs Frasier that the shot had a $200 bet on it. Daphne returns; offers double or nothing plus the right to beat up Frasier and Niles, on sinking 6 balls in one shot.
FDs1e15-12unusedShe takes her shot. In slow motion, we watch the first five balls go in and the sixth barely miss. Daphne, Frasier, and Niles run out of the bar like cartoon characters.

Credits vignette:
Eddie follows a trail of biscuits through the apartment. The biscuits lead to Daphne, armed with a sponge. She attempts to lunge at Eddie, but she misses.

I TOLD you that was the most interesting story in the episode.

Closing thoughts:
This week we have axed the End theme closing and brought subtitles back into the screenshots. But you already knew that. I also removed the link to the blank “Template,” since the only category still unopened is “# of women Frasier has slept with,” and we might as well stop reminding ourselves of it.

I was always delighted with how the creators of The Simpsons gave each episode an introductory plot that ran roughly as long as the opening credits. I was going to call it a “throw-away plot” (like the first panel in the Calvin & Hobbes Sunday cartoons, in place to preserve the main story for papers that put the Sunday C&H in a smaller space), but the initial plots on Simpsons episodes were always used as a springing point for the main story.

This particular episode of Frasier gives us a short introductory plot, very much in the Simpsons style (in fact, it also places a plot in at the end– almost making it a symmetrical triumvirate, if you don’t count Eddie’s bath). It’s the first time in our series run that I have considered this aspect of the show. From what I remember of my overall life-time tally on the sitcom couch, most shows in fact have a strict plot/subplot format for each episode. It’s like your burger & fries or drinks & dancing– it has a balanced pacing that fits the combined context comfortably.

I don’t know why we’re wonking/wanking so much on Seinfeld lately (more to come next week– sorry), but tell me David & Seinfeld didn’t in yet another way shake the whole sitcom world apart when they committed to doing four plots per episode. The only other series I can think of that so drastically abandoned the 1 plot/1 subplot oath (and utterly capably at that) was Arrested Development, 10 years later. If someone is capable of nerding that for me, that would be great, but as I remember it, A.D. went nine standard plots overall on each episode, right? Didn’t they have a plot for each character at all times?

Nerd me this as well: I have honored Seinfeld and Arrested Development alone for bravely departing from the potato chip and nickel-infested cushion club and its “plot-and-a-half” ways. Are they truly alone?

I enjoy getting to know fictional characters. It’s key that for any given behavior– or, I suppose, any given choice to enact a behavior, strictly speaking– you can nearly always tell what they would or would not do. A fictional character is a self-contained, ketchup-packet caliber measure of ethical study. Some characters in mediocre, poorly executed story structures (and b-movies– which don’t “try” in the same sense) are made to violate the substance of their own conscious constitution– as if a puppeteer is whipping the character off of the wrist mid-performance, in order to effectively scratch a sudden and pressing itch on their buttocks.

When you’re radically changing a character’s apparent inner workings (which are synonymous with the term “character” itself in some contexts), the hows and whys of placing such conditions amidst the timeline and meta-timeline (in the psychologies of those characters) are ridiculously delicate. At some point, it becomes a matter of taste– both in terms of accepting a psychological jerk of the wheel on that character’s behalf, as it were, and judging to what extent it sours the entire story structure.

There’s more room for varying results in that evaluation than you might initially think:  Is the story surreal in the first place– at least ambiguously? Have that character’s back story and motives been sufficiently enigmatic? Has the overall execution so far been competent enough that information yet to be revealed on the subject may merely add to an increasingly novel “big picture”? You can, of course, immediately judge whether any of these is the case.

Unless, of course, it involves Doctor Frasier Crane.
FDs1e15-13Somewhere between “guilty pleasure” (which is just how modern people beg off being judged for liking things that suck) and legitimate enigma, Frasier’s choices (and candid utterances) continually contort the canon of the show into something that has so far managed to ensnare great minds– yours and mine at least (which is enough to say so, yes?)– for dozens (and, for my part, hundreds, my friends: hundreds) of hours.

Perhaps we finally have what we need for a Frasier Denied t-shirt:

What Wouldn’t Frasier Do?

Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
Since Daphne had to give up all of her pool shark winnings, it’s kind of sad that she, Frasier, and Niles had to flee the scene like Pokemon characters. It’s supposed to be because Daphne had made beating the brothers up part of the bet, but there were so many terms hurriedly crammed into that wager, including adding the sixth ball at the last second– you can hardly blame them. (Double cliché!)

The excitement was probably worth $200 anyway.
FDs1e15-15Continuity errors or anachronism:
There is a bed & breakfast in Seattle that offers accommodations in something that they call the “Topaz Room,” but there was not a bar by that name in Seattle in 1994, so far as I know.

If you remember what I said about Martin’s “weekly” Poker Night, it really takes us into uber-wonk territory like an avalanche underfoot if you take it any further than we already have.

Picture this: Until the next (and only remaining) Poker Night that we see (Oh. I have internet. OK– it’s S6 E17), we take note of every time the day of the week is mentioned on the show and graph it up with all the detail our true nerd-worthiness affords, then we rule out every night that involves any evening activity on Martin’s part, and–? It falls the hell apart. During this episode, there isn’t even an indication of what day of the week it is.

This is good news for the continuity mall-cop in all of us, though. If you consider a season’s worth of story time, how much time, on average, does a weekly episode cover? Sometimes it involves about a week’s worth of time in the characters’ lives, sometimes only a few hours. Is “approximately a week” an apt guideline for elapsed story time in between episodes, such that the pace of life (in original airtime, mind you) matches the pace of our own?

Now that we have Netflix original series, we can simply “binge” a show into the dirt in one night, so in time, this will be recognized as a discussion of sitcoms in the “pre-digital” age, when entire work weeks and all of their obligations separated the episodes.

(Not to mention the Burger King and bathroom cleaner commercials that splintered the episodes themselves. Remember taping shows on VHS, and pausing for commercials? Huh? Remember the despair when you missed the return from the commercial!? It seemed that something was lost forever! It sure was great to have those collected, commercial- and closing credits- free shows. That was how we binged when I was your age.)

Anywho, broadcast TV’s Halloweens, Thanksgivings, and Christmases certainly match ours. But does this mean that the whole cast of characters “takes the summer off,” in terms of submitting to our surveillance (as they do when they use the bathroom or foul language)? If you evaluate for this in the respective worlds of sitcoms, I doubt you’ll get anywhere with it at all (Unless it’s 30 Rock, whose creators were savvy enough to synchronize the seasons with the characters’ annual schedule as they film a TV show).

What then? Does the typical sitcom cast’s annual, fictional timeline proceed (after New Year’s, anyway, having begun around Labor Day) spacing its episodic increments until May in a 5/4 ratio of time-consumption, such that the season finale in fact bridges our still-delaying lives to summer’s end? What are you looking at me like that for? I think about this shit so you don’t have to.

# of women Frasier has dated:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

# of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

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

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

Mentions of Maris:
Episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [28]   series cumulative: [29]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [10]   series cumulative: [10]

# of tender pauses:
[Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [9]   series cumulative: [9]
Though there was a tense pause– first time anyone other than Martin did one, too!

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:
Daphne shouting at Martin and Frasier and having them (and the audience) shut the hell up.
FDs1e15-14This episode put a ton of mileage on Daphne’s character development. She took no sexist pandering from either Martin or Frasier, and when Frasier and Niles tried to fool themselves into thinking that she needed their guidance and protection, it was she who saved them. If you remember, that is precisely what happened when Luke Skywalker thought that he had to rescue Leia in The Empire Strikes Back (except Frasier doesn’t get his arm cut off).
FDs1e15-02TV Guide version (© Netflix): While visiting Frasier’s radio station, Martin hears Roz talk about being scammed by a local con artist.”

EDIT: While capturing screenshots, I noticed that Daphne in fact grabs her $200 off the pool table before running out of the bar. Daphne: 1, World: 0.

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