S1 E24: My Coffee with Niles

Airdate: May 19, 1994
Director: James Burrows
Writers: David Angell, Peter Casey
(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
It is done! A season in the can.
s01 e24-00

It’s a perfect time to Deny us on Facebook.

Please welcome The Blogsby Show to the Blogroll! It looks like they’ve been cranking them out for a while, so there is plenty of good reading to do over there.

It has been so terrific to see that we’re gathering some more readers lately. I hope you are enjoying the nostalgia and earth tones as much as I am. Strictly speaking, I hope you’re enjoying that part of it more than I am. I’m sort of your Defense against the Dark Arts teacher, here to demonstrate that though Dr. Frasier Crane is charming and animated and seemingly beckons from within you at times, his example will only lead your soul to fits of anger and unintended chastity.

Our episode Synopsis:

Act 1:

At Café Nervosa, Niles is on his super futuristic cell phone giving driving directions to Maris. As he finishes the call, Frasier enters. Niles explains that he was in fact giving Maris directions to her own living room from the kitchen. This doubles as a joke about how big the house is and a joke about her intelligence.

I have noticed that Niles regularly delivers jokes about how odd or unlikeable Maris is, while himself not seeing those traits for what they are, but you know that Tom & Jerry brush we’ve been painting over the cast and script a little more liberally than usual lately? Actually, I’d rather compare this to Bugs Bunny speaking into the camera. A joke like this is clearly intended as something that the writer presents directly to us because they like their joke, not as something that one character says to another about their world.

This would not be the case if Niles were someone who regularly makes wisecracks about his wife (or about anything for that matter). I’ll allow more than enough room for an interpretation that a) Niles is a supremely coy comedian who has dedicated his entire social life to the driest humor imaginable without ever “breaking” (that is, laughing or in any way letting on that it’s in fun); or b) He’s an unhappy spouse with a not-so-subtle subconscious defense mechanism of painting his better half in an unfavorable light every time he speaks of her.

To elaborate further on my personal take, though, it seems that Maris, the unseen character, is where the Frasier crew apply the least sticky patches in the fourth wall. OK, OK– we won’t wonk on this all day, but look: Daphne truly being a psychic (which she is– there’s no wink there) is a fantasy flourish that makes the fiction more entertaining. Niles’ descriptions of Maris are that with a little something else added. I know what you’re thinking: Frasier perpetually delivers condescending jokes as if no one were in the room with him– you’re right, but that’s different. Frasier isn’t stepping outside of his identity as a character amid the continuity of his own universe when he does so– he merely enjoys framing insults that way.

There are no free tables at the café. Niles explains that there is a party that has already paid, and he has been giving them stern looks for five minutes. Frasier asks for a demonstration of the look; he isn’t impressed.

They decide to order. The barista tells them that the coffees of the day are Zimbabwe and Kenya. Frasier orders a Zimbabwe latte and Niles orders a Kenya cappuccino. Frasier explains that it’s now a year since he moved from Boston. Their coffees come up. Frasier apologizes to the barista for forgetting to order decaf. Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld when they spent the whole show waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant? (It’s S2 E11.) This begins to feel like that. It’s an approach that reminds me of a play. It also reminds me of a clip show, probably only because it’s the kind of format that tends to be appropriated for the short, usually contrived-sounding conversations that cement the clips together. Anyway, it also has a decidedly Frasier kind of tone to it, in general, so it fits.

Frasier and Niles decide to look for a seat on the patio outside. They exit through the door that is usually used to get in and out of the café (in fact, I am almost sure that it has been shown from the outside as a door to the street. I’ll meet you under the Continuity Errors heading with a final answer.) (Edit: Nope. The street part was in my imagination). A table has just opened up. Niles grabs a napkin and cleans his chair with great care. Frasier calls him out on it, forcing me to ring Niles up for OCD.
s01 e24-01Niles asks Frasier whether he is happy. Frasier is hesitant, and it gets kind of too serious too quickly as he realizes that he most certainly isn’t. Then, the comic relief, according to the audience, is when Niles outright admits that he is not happy.

Since Frasier is evidently so totally unsatisfied with life, it makes you wonder how he even keeps it together. Well, you know how? Do you? Denial. And that is what we are here for.

Frasier asks Niles why he isn’t happy. Niles explains that he saw a poor child from a third world country receiving shoes from the Salvation Army on PBS earlier that week. The child’s face grew bright with true happiness, and Niles describes this as something that he has never felt.

He takes account of his good fortune and begins to talk his way through convincing himself that he really loves Maris (Niles, not the poor child on PBS).

Roz enters. She is meeting a date. She burns Niles with a couple of quips and exits. Niles asks Frasier if he’s ever thought about mating with Roz. The barista brings Frasier’s coffee. He sends her back with it for non-fat milk. It begins to rain; Frasier and Niles rush inside. They notice Roz’s date, and they both admire his looks.

Martin, Daphne, and Eddie enter. The barista tells Martin that dogs aren’t allowed in the café. Martin pretends to be blind, and she apologizes. The entire cast is now at the café (unless you count Bulldog. I guess we have to count Bulldog). Daphne explains that they were out exercising. Martin is really pissed about the rain.

Frasier and Martin strike up an immediate shouting match about toast. The barista comes to the table with Frasier’s third draft of a coffee. He sends her back for another one, requesting that she omit the cinnamon.

Frasier and Martin keep fighting. Frasier says that they have this sort of flare-up once in a while, but Martin decides to move out. He storms out of the café.

Does anyone want me to make some cutesy joke about an intermission? No? Anyone in the back? No? Gah. I love you guys. Here we go!

Act 2:
Frasier exits the bathroom. Niles has explained to Daphne that Frasier and Martin are having a fight. Daphne mentions that Martin has been impatient with her lately too (I guess this means that they aren’t taking Martin’s threat to move out seriously).

Daphne exits. Niles gestures to the barista to remind her about Frasier’s coffee. Niles tells Frasier that Martin is reacting to his own gradual loss of control, especially since he used to be a policeman. Frasier tells of a recent night when he fell asleep on the couch and when he awoke, Martin was regarding him with paternal affection and stroking his hair. Martin covered for it by telling Frasier to get a damn haircut, of course, but it was important to Frasier. Niles is also endeared by hearing of it.

The barista returns for the fourth time and gives Niles a refill. She reports, however, that at this point in the delicate and elaborate operation of providing Frasier’s coffee, she has deferred to a “team of specialists.” You see– this is the sort of joke that Niles tells about Maris.

Niles smiles.

***

I don’t think you heard me.

NILES SMILES.
s01 e24-03On this, the season finale, in response to Frasier’s suffering at the hands of a barista he has abused, Niles finally smiles for the first time. Also, I finally have a picture for that spot over my bed.

On this, the season finale, in response to Frasier’s suffering at the hands of a barista he has abused, Niles finally turns his lips upward.

Frasier suggests that they change the subject. He outright asks whether Niles is in love with Daphne. After some brief and unconvincing waffling, Niles responds in the affirmative. He describes how alive she makes him feel. Frasier asks if he plans to leave Maris. Niles says he doesn’t, but, as we’ve always known, he simply wants to be with Daphne. They turn the conversation back to the question of whether Frasier is happy. Roz interrupts them, bemoaning her failed date. The man she was meeting was trying to win her for his religion. She exits.
fd-s1e24-04ishFrasier laments his lackluster social life. (No kidding. You’ll see from our handy-dandy counter below that he has only slept with one woman this whole year– and she was his ex-wife! (Um. But of course, wait ’til your married, eat your vegetables, and obey all posted speed limits –FD) Frasier then uses “moving in with Frederick” as a sort of ad absurdum illustration of the worst possible outcome. Now, hmm. Clearly he is comparing himself to Martin, but Christ on a toenail, Dr. Crane, your son is still what? Ten? Is there no bottom to the inky well of your narcissism?

Niles asks his question again. Martin interrupts this time, entering the café and looking penitent. He apologizes for acting so mean lately and taking his frustrations out on them. Frasier forgives him. He follows up, asking what’s been on Martin’s mind. Martin reveals that his birthday was the previous Sunday. Holy. Crap.

They offer to take him out to dinner at the restaurant of his choice. He names an especially Martin kind of restaurant, with free motor oil ice cream floats with every corn dog or whatever. They overcompensate pretending that they don’t consider the very thought of it perfectly dreadful, and it’s actually really endearing.

Daphne returns. She had a psychic flash that told her that Martin had returned to the café. Niles gets up to give Martin, Daphne, and Eddie a ride home. They all exit. The barista comes to the table to give Frasier his non-fat decaf Zimbabwe, no cinnamon.

With inflection that refers to the beverage but words that allow us to hear Frasier’s response to the cozy assurance that he and his father are at peace and Niles is being honest with himself about the direction his life is taking and the whole gang has a loving bond (except for Frederick– forget about him), she asks Frasier whether he is happy.

There is a tender pause, and Frasier responds in the affirmative. He sips his coffee and smiles.

Credits vignette:
Frasier drinks his coffee and discovers something in the bottom of the cup. He signals for the barista, who comes and collects his coffee again.

End Theme Closing: (remember those?)
“See you next year! We love ya!”

Closing thoughts:
Following this finale, aired on May 19, 1994, the fall season would bring us the premier of Friends (quadruple robot clap). I wonder if Frasier’s and Niles’ coffee dates at Café Nervosa inspired the permanent hang-out that the six Friends characters would make of Central Perk (I’m going to wrongfully assume that it did). It’s kind of like when you were a young Soundgarden fan and someone introduced you to Black Sabbath. That’s basically what I’m saying: Frasier is the Black Sabbath to Friends’ Soundgarden. (I’m sorry I make everything about Sabbath. I am.)

You know what this show has almost none of? Events without dialogue. I’m sure you can think of a moment from another sitcom (or at least remember it in general, like I do) when someone does something and, say, the audience gives a knowing, “uh-oh” type gasp. That never happens on this show.

You will notice how I will write about it every time there is almost a brief silence for whatever reason– it’s that rare (although, I may simply be perpetually jumping the gun for it. as of now, tender pauses average once every other episode). However, a few seconds with not only silence but an actual deliberate movement by one of the characters to put a story point in place has never once happened. Perhaps it simply doesn’t fit the personality and cadence of Frasier. (What brought this to my attention was the low incidence of screenshots without subtitles in them. I guess now that we’ve gotten our Niles smile, we can make this our next holy Frasier grail.)

It also occurred to me during this episode that perhaps the hyperbole in some of the jokes and character behaviors/thought processes, etc. is in place to emphasize that not only are these not real people, but they aren’t even hypothetical role models. Frasier’s living so far away from his son Frederick and Niles staying in a bad marriage while in love with someone else come to mind. You can’t swing a wet cat without finding more examples, though. (The brothers also forgot their father’s birthday, remember? Martin also pretends to be blind, etc.)

I tend to call this show a cartoon in something of a disdainful, almost smug sort of way (that’s the voice that these sort of projects require, you see. It’s 11 marathons, not a  sprint. You have to either be very stingy with your approval or have an explicitly stated mission that serves some kind of niche wonk (and I mean that in a totally professional, non-sexual way).

But maybe the surreal tone and social minutia are what give Frasier such wide appeal (I’ve probably given that whole speech before. Oh well. If I can’t remember it, you shouldn’t).

When I think about Friends, it’s sheer brain candy. Frasier hasn’t an ounce more substance, but its structure– the look, language, and rhythm– is crafted so carefully to carry the lasting impression of temperance and sophistication. It’s brain candy in a really, really snazzy foil that you flatten out and use as a bookmark.

Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
This episode hardly had any conflicts at all. It was more of a post-season debriefing, a few mission statements, and a short scare about Martin moving out. Hey, wait– maybe it’s right there: Martin threatening to move out because… nah. False alarm. It wasn’t tortured logic, just unusually emotional and overstated.

Continuity errors or anachronism:
Niles remembers who Roz is again.

Roz hates Niles.

Martin, an elderly man who has lived in Seattle his whole life, takes time to be outwardly angry about rain.

Martin and Daphne talk about “Third Street” and “Fourth Street.” They are avenues.

BONUS: In Frasier’s request to hear what the “coffees of the day” are, there is an obvious effort to justify the inconsistency of the coffee orders that Frasier and Niles have been making at Nervosa. Of course that doesn’t warrant a retraction of our specific objections, but my! That is so well-played.

# of women Frasier has dated:

Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

# of women Frasier has slept with:

Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [1]

# of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode: [3]   previous cumulative: [7]   series cumulative: [10]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:

Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [4]   series cumulative: [4]

# of “Dad’s chair is awful” jokes:

Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [11]   series cumulative: [11]

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:

Episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [12]   series cumulative: [13]

Mentions of Maris:
Episode: [8]   previous cumulative: [61]   series cumulative: [69]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
Episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [15]   series cumulative: [16]
(Niles, at his meticulous chair-wiping again. I tried to look the other way– you know it to be true!– but Frasier wouldn’t have it.)

# of tender pauses:

[Episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [11]   series cumulative: [12]

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:
Eddie and Martin sitting with Frasier and Niles at the café.

Current best scene title of the series: “The Hole in the Head Gang”: S01 E21

TV Guide version (© Netflix): “Over coffee at Café Nervosa, Niles poses an interesting question: After a year in Seattle, is Frasier happy?”
s01 e24-02

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