S2E10: Burying a Grudge

Airdate: November 29, 1994
Director: Andy Ackerman
Writers: David Lloyd
(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
It has been a long, long break. I am happy to see that people are still reading, and, by extension, I am ashamed to have slacked off for so long! Having twins and finishing school are my flimsy excuses. As far as my own television viewing, so as to stay attuned to the insanity of sitcom logic, I must admit that I have been watching quite a few Friends episodes lately. It’s where I turn right when I get to that point where I will not be able to follow a contemporary show’s plot, and may even not be able to stay awake for that matter, but do not want to go to bed. I actually refer to decent shows as “not stupid enough” when my wife suggests something with substance at that hour and I specifically have Friends in mind. I am not making this up— but as I am sure you can tell, I use the word “stupid” with a certain affection in these moments, some of it deriving from the late night desire for pure nostalgia, for “brain candy.” Shows, films, even commercials from the nineties have such a distinctive ‘nineties flavor,’ and it is the decade of my teen years, so I settle into a great sense of ease and comfort when I veg out on them. Recently, Will and Grace (often directed by Andy Ackerman, as this and many other Frasier episodes were) came to hulu, and I found that it has the greatest nostalgia factor of any other show. I can wake up just long enough to hit the ‘next’ button, so I can drift off to dreamland to the sound of that delightful, energetic piano theme.

Even beyond the shallow value of pure nostalgia, I do not want to disparage sitcoms altogether. As someone with an English degree, I am under lifetime contract to tell you that there is no ‘high-brow/low-brow distinction— any story, in any medium, is apt ground for discussion and enjoyment. It now occurs to me that I may not need to tell you this, for you can already see that I am setting a fair amount of time aside to write about good old Niles Crane’s show— I mean… Frasier’s— and I’ll be drowned, damned, and wed to Maris if it all only amounts to naysaying. Indeed, if the legit (which is to say ‘unironic’) Frasier fanbase does not write me off as a hater, then I will have managed to keep the Frasier-roasting, a measure of cogent analysis, and the guilty-pleasure factor all in balance.

That seems crucial for a blog like this, because irony is slowly disappearing. I am not sure that it is actually possible to like something ironically. I mean, I now play a slow acoustic version of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and if someone puts on “Ice Ice Baby” for laughs, I tend to get bopping and recite all of the lyrics (until someone pulls the plug, which they always do before that song can play all the way through). So it is pretty clear to me that I actually like Niles as a show. I mean Frasier. It might be that what we think is irony is just sincere fandom with an accompanying audience participation, an actual bonus comedic discourse on the side. That is probably the best way to describe what I mean by “denying” Frasier. I mean Niles. No— I had it right that time. Sorry.
Reminder: Lines of text appearing on the screenshots are subtitles from the show. So it’s almost like Niles is sitting right among us, participating in the conversation! No, I meant Niles that time.
We now have a new category! Martin episodes.

Episode Synopsis:
Open at KACL. Though two minutes to air, Roz is just arriving in the booth. Frasier impatiently opens the door and demands “Where have you been?” Roz says she has been preparing his schedule for the next day, which includes sending flowers to Maris in the hospital (she is getting an unnecessary facelift). Roz tosses some extra copies of the schedule in the recycling bin. Frasier suspects that Roz made the unnecessary errand as an excuse to be around the young, new intern. He is correct. And he acts like a dick about it.

Whatever the opposite of slut-shaming is, Roz seems to represent that. She is a sexually independent woman who takes no shit. Along with adopting an increasingly unironic appreciation of the show’s humor, I am also for the first time recognizing some admirably progressive elements in it, like Roz owning her sexuality with no apologies. Obviously, Frasier was not an earth-shattering iconoclast of newly recognized gender equality, but Roz certainly helps put the show on the right side of history.
Roz enters the control room and puts Frasier on the air. His first caller, Linda, is calling from a car phone. She and her husband are trying to find the antique mart and her husband is refusing to stop and ask for directions, which is what she wants Frasier’s help with— you know, since he’s a psychiatrist and all. Roz is able to produce a map, but Frasier refuses her help, just like the caller’s husband.

Scene 2: Quick! Get Manila on the Phone
[I have watched the episode twice in preparation for this post, and I still have no idea what this title means. I wash my hands of it before you all.]

At the apartment, Martin is berating Eddie for playing with a doll. First of all, this is the first time it has ever occurred to me that the dog may have been named after Eddie Vedder, since the show takes place in Seattle in the nineties. At this time, Vitalogy was just coming out— in fact, this episode aired exactly one week after its release. Anyway, it’s a little odd that they chose to explore this issue with a dog, but Martin is clearly shaming him for choosing toys not prescribed for his gender. Martin even goes so far as to say that he needs to get Eddie a G.I. Joe. And there is no wink. I don’t know whether the show is trying too hard to paint Martin as the senile conservative, or to defend our pets’ rights to enjoy the toys of their choice without the constrictive expectations of our prejudiced society. No, really— you simply can’t tell.
Niles enters. He is on his way to visit Maris at the hospital. She is getting plastic surgery for most of her face, and he is going to accompany her so that she can enjoy the comforts of home. Martin scoffs at Maris’s vanity. Frasier counters that it is instead a matter of insecurity, adding that women are subjected to impossible standards of beauty, particularly as they age. Niles goes into a daze, naming body parts in an initially hypothetical description of all the ways that women are pressured to look good, which devolves into a drawn-out, barely-veiled gawking of Daphne, who is playing solitaire at the table and not apparently paying attention to the conversation.

Niles asks Frasier and Martin to go to the hospital in the morning to offer moral support for Maris. They agree. Niles exits.

Scene 3: No Guts, No Gravy
[One of the greatest accidental punk band names I have ever seen. Carry on.]
At the hospital, Niles and Frasier are in the waiting room. Maris’s doctor emerges and greets Niles. The doctor reports that Maris did very well and will be ready for visits shortly, then exits. Frasier and Niles sit down. Frasier reports that he just saw Artie Walsh, Martin’s old partner on the police force. Artie is in the hospital for follow-up on some bad test results. Artie and Martin, once best friends, have not been speaking to each other for years. Both refuse to reveal what their fight was about, and both blame the other for it.

Martin enters, having just picked up his dinner at the cafeteria. He is thrilled about the food, and offers it to Niles several times.
Niles tells Martin that Artie is in the hospital and he is not doing well. Martin says he is already aware of it— a friend from the police station told him. Niles asks if Martin is planning to visit Artie; Martin says he couldn’t think why he should. Frasier states what should be the obvious reason: That Artie is a friend who is sick. But Artie didn’t visit Martin when he was in the hospital with a gunshot wound, Martin counters. Frasier, perturbed at Martin’s pettiness, insists that he go to visit his friend. Martin doesn’t budge. That is, until Frasier claims that Artie said Martin didn’t have the guts to visit him. This tactic works right away. Martin hands Niles the remains of his dinner and storms out of the waiting room, toward Artie’s room.
Frasier, with Martin close behind him, opens Artie’s door. Artie and Martin greet each other icily. Martin immediately takes interest in Artie’s condition, though he asks his questions in a reserved tone and avoids eye contact. Artie confirms that the prognosis is bad, but tries to maintain some skepticism about it. They begin to warm up to each other, but Martin bestows on himself the honor of “being the big man” by coming to visit.
Predictably, they start shouting at each other, making accusations and insulting each other. Frasier begins to follow Martin as he leaves the room. Martin yells that Artie is always looking to get the last word.

Scene 5: Albuquerque Is Approximately 136 Square Miles

At the apartment, Daphne is giving Martin his physical therapy, which in this case involves leg stretches as Martin lies on his stomach. Eddie telepathically accuses Martin of hiding Eddie’s doll. Martin denies it. Eddie telepathically tells Martin that he doesn’t believe him. Martin caves, saying that it was in Eddie’s best interest. Martin says Eddie has been “the joke of the park” because he was not playing with a ‘gender appropriate’ doll. No— Really. Eddie then guilts Martin into taking the doll out of its hiding place and giving it back.
Niles enters the room from the kitchen, finishing a phone call with Maris. Daphne asks if Maris is doing alright. Niles reports that she is actually not getting along with any of her nurses. Niles asks Martin how his visit with Artie went; Martin says it was lousy. Daphne asks what started their long-running fight. Martin says that Artie spread a rumor at the department, that Martin had cried at a movie, prompting the other officers to nickname him Boohoo Crane. Then, He reveals that the bitterness coming from Artie’s direction is that Martin insulted the size of Martin’s wife’s rear end.
Strangely enough, Martin had been trying to insult his own wife— as in, he was jokingly implying that she was awful, but at least he could count his blessings, since her butt was not “the size of Albuquerque.”

Martin also mentions again that Artie always needed to have the last word, followed by a gag where Martin repeatedly pauses, then adds a cliché reiteration of the phrase “needing to have the last word.” Martin goes to the kitchen for a snack. Niles leaves, to stay with Maris at the hospital for the night.

Daphne sits with Martin and brings up Artie and Martin’s relationship in a matter-of-fact way, attempting to get him to realize that his friend is important to him. Martin tells a story about Artie buying a boat and trying to teach Martin how to fish. There is a half-tender pause as Frasier listens to the stories of Martin and Artie fishing, and how they thought they would spend more time in the boat together after retirement, and a pseudo-tender pause as Martin gazes off wistfully and pretends to fall for Daphne’s plan. He says that he sounds like a fool holding this grudge, then wildly exaggerates his would-be reunion with Artie and sticks his tongue out at Daphne like a nine-year-old. (So we are going to clock that in as one tender pause.)
Martin calls Eddie, to go for a walk. As they both head toward the door, the phone rings. Frasier answers it and immediately takes a hushed, dignified tone. He says “I’m sorry to hear that” and “I’m sure they did everything they could.” It seems that Artie has taken a turn for the worse. Martin watches with baited breath as Frasier closes the call. After Frasier hangs up, Martin plays it cool, pretending he doesn’t care what the caller wanted. Still, he asks, as casually as he can.
Frasier says they can talk about it later. Martin’s concern obviously increases, though he tries even harder to conceal it. Then, he decides it is too important to brush off and asks Frasier if everything is alright. Frasier remains coy, still avoiding the subject. When Martin articulates his concern clearly, Frasier lets the truth out: The call was not from the hospital. Martin is forced to admit that Artie is still important to him.
Martin admits that he wants the fight to end and asks what he can possibly do. Frasier offers to drive Martin to the hospital to talk with Artie.

Scene 6: Well, We’ve Come This Far without a Bedpan Joke…
At the hospital, Frasier and Martin enter Artie’s room. Artie is apprehensive at first, but Martin immediately accepts the blame for his part of the fight and apologizes for what he has said to hurt Artie’s feelings. They both give each other’s sides of the story. Martin shows Frasier a picture of Artie’s wife Loretta. Frasier’s eyes bulge out in sublime paralysis. The audience complies, telling us that it is hilarrrrrrrious that Loretta has a big butt. Perhaps in response to the old wound being exposed again, and this time with Frasier as party to it, Artie and Martin go back to insulting each other. But they also realize that they are both being hypocritical and they each admit their own faults, which appears to diffuse both their momentary argument and the long-standing fight itself.

Martin asks Frasier to leave so that the two friends can talk privately. Frasier babbles as he leaves; Martin closes the door on him. Artie and Martin get back into the swing of their old conversational style. They reminisce, retell inside jokes, and laugh together.

As Frasier is waiting in the hall, Niles comes around the corner with his arms full of gifts and treats from the gift shop. He explains that all of Maris’s nurses are having trouble dealing with her, so the gifts are to bribe them, not into giving Maris any special treatment above and beyond the call of duty, but in fact just to bribe them into remaining in Maris’s presence at all and doing their job. One of the nurses rounds the corner and informs them that visiting hours are over. Niles piles some of the bribe gifts on her.

Frasier goes back into Artie’s room to tell Martin it is time to go. The old friends are enjoying each other’s company and laughing. Frasier says goodbye to Artie and exits. Martin wishes Artie a full recovery, in a sincere, tough-guy kind of way where he is insisting on it. They say their goodbyes and Martin exits. Before he closes the door, he lets Artie get the last word.

Credits vignette:
Eddie is playing with his vintage G.I. Joe action figure on the couch—which, for a dog, of course, consists of chewing its legs into tatters. Martin enters, crosses to the couch, and gives Eddie an approving rustle on the head. Martin goes into the kitchen, then Eddie abandons the G.I. Joe, pulls his Barbie doll out from the other cushion, and starts chewing its legs.

Closing thoughts:
This is David Lloyd’s second writing credit for Frasier. His first was S1E15: You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover, also a Martin episode. It is nice to check in with Martin, to fill in some of his past, and give him some more air time than usual. We also see more of how Frasier and Niles relate to him.

What is interesting about Martin’s refusal to admit he cares about Artie is something you get a very clear glimpse of when he admits it to Frasier: He has a sour expression on his face, as if he is being forced out of cramped space and it is ruffling his feathers all to hell. Since it is not due to pretending he cares— which we know because admitting that he cares is the very thing he is doing at that moment— it is clearly a matter of being right, arbitrarily. Or being “strong.” Recall that both of the friends’ grudges derived from a violation of vulnerabilities, the sorts of which tough and ‘got it together’ types like Martin and Artie are not comfortable with: The open show of emotion and the body image of a spouse. Frasier is forcing Martin to get out of a pseudo-comfortable place of being “right” and being “strong,” to confront the pain of living without his best friend’s companionship and all the vulnerabilities and trust that go with it— at a moment when Artie’s mortality threatens to take away the opportunity forever. If we had a category for ‘# of times that Frasier has acted as a good therapist,’ this would be the first one.

I always wonder whether Maris is supposed to be a beautiful woman, or just rich, or what. Martin and Frasier certainly seem to hate her, of course, and Niles describes her negatively in this sort of way where he is just realizing it as the words come out of his mouth.

As I constantly mention, Frasier has a way of taking on a sort of cartoon logic— absurd decisions and zany utterances abound. But when I watch other 90s shows, like Friends or King of the Hill, the weirdness is easy to infer as a credit to the creators. Perhaps Frasier has had me in his pocket all along. It’s not like I’m going to change the name of the blog or anything— it still applies to the character Frasier in various ways— but I can credit the show itself for much more irony than I had previously supposed.

Unnecessary conflicts:
I suppose I have no call-out to make on Martin and Artie’s quibbles, or the unfortunate long silence that they led to. Besides, both of their offenses are funny, which the show is obligated to make happen, and a funny infraction is always going to seem like an unreasonable one for real life friends to be upset enough about to refuse to speak to each other for years on end.

Continuity errors, etc.:
Frasier’s caller asks for directions from her location on “Cherokee and 14th Street.” It should be Avenue.

# of women Frasier has dated:
Episode: [0]    series: [4]

# of women Frasier has slept with:
Episode: [0]    series: [1]

# of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode: [1]    series: [21]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode: [0]    series: [6]

# of “Dad’s chair is awful” jokes:
Episode: [0]    series: [12]

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:
Episode: [0]    series: [17]

# of mentions of Maris:
Episode: [8]    series: [95]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
Episode: [0]    series: [16]

# of tender pauses:
Episode: [1]    series: [16]

# of times Niles has smiled:
[Episode: [1]    series: [12]

Kind of great TV moments:
(none)

Kind of great Frasier moments:
Daphne calling Martin a “hateful old sod.”

TV Guide version (© Netflix): “When Maris checks herself into the hospital for some plastic surgery, Niles asks Frasier and Martin to join him in the waiting room for moral support.”

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