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.
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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
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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.)
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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.”
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