Thursday, November 20, 2008

S1 E6 "The Crucible"

Frasier: I hate lawyers.
Niles: Oh, me too, but they make wonderful patients. They have excellent health insurance, and they never get better

That’s right, there’s a lawyer joke in this one. Just when I wonder if my life could get better, two pinnacles of terrible humor collide in one magnificent moment…if I wasn’t such a weirdo I might take that as a bad sign but come on, this shit is almost too good to be true. Moving on…

‘The Crucible” is a “Frasier learns a lesson” episode (although Niles seems to learn the exact opposite lesson so I’m not sure what to make of it-also some parts of the lesson are just entirely inaccurate and asinine which makes me even more confused-maybe this is more of a “Frasier and Niles think various stupid things about the same topic” episode, but that isn’t one of the templates so whatever) this is also an E&J fueled review so please excuse the digressions.

It is a bit refreshing to be viewing some classic Frasier episodes-let’s just say that later Frasier makes early Frasier seem like mid-run Seinfeld. In the new millennium episodes the high-brow personae of the Crane brothers is just a rumor typified only by their inability to ride a bicycle and their enjoyment of sherry in the afternoon, but in the early going their upper crust identity is an intrinsic element of the show. For instance, the entire plot of this episode centers around a painting by a woman whom Frasier describes as the pre-eminent neophobic artist in the country or something like that which is fucking amazing-this needs to be an art classification I know that the idea of artists only referencing and existing within older types of art is not new at all (no pun intended) but it should be referred to as neophobia from here on out.

Anyway, the painting is not actually done by this neophobic artist but is in fact a forgery. Upon learning of the forgery Frasier attempts to get his money back and is rebuffed; he is then informed by his father that the police would not be at all interested in investigating the faking of a high-priced piece of art. He is also told by Niles that going on his show and telling people the truth about the forgery and the gallery that tricked him would amount to slander. In spite of the fact that both of these claims are absolutely ridiculous and nonsensical Frasier learns a valuable lesson from them: life isn’t fair and the institutions set up to help us can’t always do so…He then attempts to throw a brick through the gallery’s window while wearing a suit but Niles catches him (in the only Frasier scene I have ever seen depicting the outside, save for Frasier's ludicrous looking balcony) and tells him that if he acts like a barbarian he will become one, which is a pretty faggy lesson to learn, but then Niles throws the brick through the window because everyone saw him naked in high school. It’s weird.

This should be the time when I give you my rating but I’ve got a bit more to say because I think it should be said: the originally planned series finale my esteemed partner cited in his initial review, he has most of the facts straight but as usual has the context all wrong. The original finale was not some working class salvo but a typical half-hearted attempt from the hackneyed writer Lori Kirkland Baker to shoe-horn actual situational comedy into the Frasier template, where it simply does not belong. The two parter, actually titled "This is Property," was at best a failed attempt at a dramatic ending, at worst it was Baker’s disgusting attempt to poke fun at the anarchist protests in Seattle 1999, no laughing matter I assure you. I would love to use this space to discuss the fact that Alicia Keys self-identifies as an anarchist, and I believe has some tour dates scheduled with Howard Zinn but I'm running out of time. More on the original script, and Alicia "Anarchy" Keys next week when I review the two-part series finale.

The lesson is amazingly stupid and they do make the streets of Seattle look like a set from an off-Broadway musical but the subplot is just Niles’ bizarre Anglophobic skirt-chasing and Roz only gets called a lush one-time. It is pretty fitting that this show is a "reference" to the Arthur Miller play "The Crucible" only in that it is called "The Crucible" and has no other similarities, thematically or otherwise, to Miller's piece, somehow that is just so Frasier.

79/100, better than that '04 shit, but in all the wrong ways.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

S8 E3 “The Bad Son”

This was a halfway tolerable one—though they’re all mostly tolerable, as that’s the very nature of this middle-of-the-bell-curve mediocrity—but let me offer two pieces of perspective: (a) I was fighting some serious jet lag when I switched this on, and thus may have been slightly delirious, and (b) the only thing else I had watched in the previous, oh, 96 hours was a mid-flight double-header of Get Smart and The Devil Wears Prada, with a random episode of “How I Met Your Mother” sandwiched in between. Get stranded in that ocean of sheer humorlessness and you too would welcome Kelsey’s manic mugging like a rescue chopper in shark infested waters.

“The Bad Son,” whose title, I’m told, is a play on series pilot “The Good Son,” is a combo episode. In other words, it combines all three of the Frasier templates into one triple-headed hydra monster of mediocrity. It begins with Dr. Crane on the bus, a first for him and the series, and something of a missed opportunity; I keep waiting and waiting for an episode where the good doctor patronizes some under-privileged youth and then shortly gets his ass handed to him. (Season Six cliffhanger?) Anyway, Frasier spots a beautiful woman on the bus—and this one was genuinely pretty foxy (and British too!) though I preferred her curvy brunette friend—eavesdrops on her conversation, and manages to catch her name and business. Seven minutes later he’s dragging his father into the retirement home she works at, stroking his head and pretending he’s chronically senile, a amazing slight of dignity that Dad shrugs off as business-as-usual from his totally deplorable offspring. The tables seem set for a Frasier Embarrasses Himself In Front of a Beautiful Woman climax, but then, thanks to some masterful plot wrangling by secret-weapon writer Rob Hanning, it takes a dramatic left turn into Frasier Learns A Lesson land. (Apparently, Dad does want to move into the home, and that makes Frasier sad. Awww.)

The B-plot is a Wacky But Easy To Understand Farce wherein Niles and Daphne share a romantic dinner on the roof of Frasier’s apartment, try out prospective terms of endearment, and then get locked out, with Daphne stuck on the roof and Niles caught in the dark stairway leading up to it—what is this, “Mad About You?” It’s both amusing and a little nauseating watching these two awkwardly feign romantic interest in each other, scrunching their faces into artificial expressions of affection, wincing through their contrived scenes together and choking down the bile in their mouths. A whole subplot with just them is a bit insufferable, and the episode literally ends with a sappy slow zoom on Niles’ face as he thinks about how much he loves his Brit Twit of a girlfriend. Still, physically separating the two is a novel solution to their complete and utter lack of chemistry. It’s apparently easier for D.H. Pierce to project his longing into empty darkness then it is for to make mooneyes with his “beloved,” probably because, with a wall of concrete between them, that little smitten smile can be for whoever (‘s penis) he really fancies.

I do like episodes where the Dad seems five seconds away from screaming “My sons are a couple of goddamn queers!” Also, I found the bus scene surprisingly convincing, at least from a technical standpoint—“are they really shooting on an actual moving bus?” I pondered for a moment—but that, again, may have been the jetlag speaking. In fact, it almost surely was.

As any true Frasier connoisseur knows, the value of a given episode does not and cannot really hinge on how often you actually laugh. That being said, I award this particular saga a whopping (3) Genuine Laughs. They are as follows: (1) Frasier spots a billboard of himself, with a graffiti mustache crudely drawn on, and remarks: “Dammit, and after I specifically asked people not to do that on my show!” A cheap laugh, I’ll grant you, but you take em’ where you can get em’ with this series. (2) Frasier makes mention of his father tricking Niles and he into going to summer camp to earn their “Opera badges.” (3) Trapped between doors, Daphne says to Niles: “At least that spider is gone,” to which Niles glances nervously up at the wall and bellows “He’s not in his corner! He’s not in his corner!” Nothing worse than snorting in genuine amusement at a Frasier gag. Just embarrassing.

# of Roz-is-a-slut-or-a-lush references: 1
(Frasier: “She’s a complete stranger.” Roz: “You know her name and where she works. That’s more than I usually have before diving in.” Oh, Roz, you’re such a slut!

Monday, November 10, 2008

S11 E17 "Coots and Ladders"

Opal: The last time I tried, I fell off the ladder, and I lay on my back like…
Frasier: Like a helpless turtle?
Opal: No, like a half hour till the ambulance came.

This is Heidi Perlman penned so you know it’s a fucking gem. Its basically Frasier’s Rashomon episode, in which we are given two differing versions, Niles’ and Frasier’s, of an event via flashback.

This is an old cooz heavy episode centering around Frasier’s 83 year old, sexually active, neighbor and featuring a cameo by Helen Mirren. It also has an old woman who fantasizes about fucking Harry Truman while sleeping on top of Niles’ coat. I don’t want to say this is the most sophisticated 22 minutes of television ever but not only is it the Rashomon episode, it is also the Crime and Punishment ep- as Frasier takes to robbing an old woman for no reason other than that he can (it even has him holding a stone bust menacingly, maybe the critics are right and this is the smartest show ever…), and also because he is jealous or sad or something about Niles and The Dad having totally inexplicable marriages to totally unappealing women. Oh yeah, The Dad and that tall chick from Just Shoot Me are married now or engaged or something, it’s possible that old balls proposed to her after spackling her while Frasier watched-or listened or whatever- but I don’t know-I only missed a few episodes and these bidges are already hitched.

This is an “elaborate but easy to understand farce” episode that centers around Niles and Frasier pretending to participate in an old cooz’s surprise party so they can return her bronze-medal before she is supposed to have her picture taken with it; it ends with Frasier carrying Niles out on his shoulders…Yeah, this shit is advanced. Quite literally nothing funny occurs in this entire episode, unless you count the sight of Kelsey Grammer smashing a car’s windshield with a hammer as funny, which I guess I do, so one funny thing happens in this episode.

The subplot is just Niles, tall chick from Just Shoot Me, The Dad, and preggers teaching Frasier a lesson about being happy and how happiness comes when you least expect it or something, the fact that Frasier is in the subplot feels like cheating. At the end of the episode The Dad keeps trying to get Frasier to go into his bedroom and make the tall chick from Just Shoot Me think it’s him (The Dad) because “she can’t see a thing without her contacts,” The Dad even suggests Frasier put on his robe and Aqua Velva so as to trick the tall chick from Just Shoot Me into letting him into bed with her. I really have no idea what we are supposed to think about all this.

This installment has all of the Perlman staples: no jokes, an elaborate but easy to understand farce, Frasier gesturing randomly-but it also has too much Daphne and Niles time and the tall chick from Just Shoot Me has worn out her fucking welcome-things were so much more fun when The Dad had jungle fever and Daphne’s klepto-mother was chasing him around…8 out of 10.

S11 E6 "I'm Listening"

Martin: D'you want a drink?
Ronee: Oh, I’d better not; I’m working. Just a beer.

As close to classic as you can get with PNDM (Post Niles-Daphne Marriage) Frasier, this episode features a guest spot from the tall chick from Just Shoot Me (if only we could’ve had the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond or a Matt Le Blanc cameo, this ish coulda been major label…). She is dating The Dad in the creepiest hookup since Mini-me tagged that real-sized girl.

There isn’t a subplot, or I can’t remember it if there is, Roz shows up for a second but no one calls her a slut or a lush so it doesn’t really count (if I were a more boring person I might make an issue of the fact that of the two female leads one is essentially a helper-monkey with a gross accent and the other is just a drunken whore who is somehow also a nag…but I guess I’ll just leave that to Alex, our resident bore), the episode is mercifully free of pregnant Daphne.

This is a “Frasier learns a lesson” episode but to make up for the missing subplot the show also includes 3 elaborate but easy to understand farces (!)-including a farce within a farce in which Roz pretends Frasier’s dad is her dad while Frasier’s dad pretends Roz is his g/f to make the tall chick from Just Shoot Me jealous (this is all much simpler and less interesting than it sounds). Also, Frasier keeps eavesdropping and for some reason when he eavesdrops he gesticulates wildly.

Of course Frasier does eventually learn his lesson-Don’t eavesdrop!-when he contrives to find himself hiding in the tall chick from Just Shoot Me’s car and is consequently forced to listen to his dad make it rain on her rather than reveal himself and confirm that he is a compulsive eavesdropper.

So…this episode involves Frasier hiding behind a counter crouching on the ground and inexplicably waving his arms about, no pregnant Brits, and the suggestion of the white-haired cripple moistening some box in a classic convertible while his son listens from just inches away…5 of 5 stars, don’t be stupid.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A SECOND OPINION: S11 E5: "The Placeholder"

S11 E5 “The Placeholder”

Dorothy Parker once wrote, “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” She might well have been writing of the Brothers Crane. The best episodes of Frasier—the ones that plumb the hollow heart of high society, the sickening rot at the center of our fat and complacent bourgeoisie—recognize that the titular doctor, his persnickety brother, and the rest of that dead-eyed extended family are figures to be pitied, scorned, and eventually destroyed by the less fortunate souls they daintily (and obliviously) tread upon. No small wonder that the series was originally to end with Seattle consumed by violent labor riots, the family trapped by raging fires within Frasier’s ivory-tower radio-booth, the good doctor taking to the airwaves to futilely plead for a rescue party that would never arrive. (NBC got cold feet and the unspeakably bleak but amusingly titled “I’m Not Listening” never aired. Pity.)

Lori Kirkland Baker was one of the brainchilds of that fiery, open-ended downer of a finale. Her fiercely feminine voice—almost maternal in its rage, protective of the real heroes of Frasier, the marginalized, working-class stiffs the series dedicates its shrieking outrage to—informs this gem from Season 11. Like some lost collaboration between Todd Solondz, Bret Easton Ellis, and Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Placeholder” exposes Frasier as the callous, selfish, hedonistic monster that society has made of him, the rampaging id incarnate. His family, meanwhile, are simply ignorant racists, children of a post-colonial Western world, wracked with liberal guilt but devoid of any traces of genuine empathy or self-reflection.

Frasier spends the better part of the episode—by which I mean the second half, so laceratingly honest that seeing the first seems both unnecessary and too demanding to the fragile human spirit—suffering through a blind date with a socially-awkward (forgivable) and plainly Jewish (unforgivable) stranger. (The poor girl is played by Julia Sweeney, who proves herself as adept at satirical culture clash as she was at smashing gender-bender taboos on SNL.) But when some hot piece of ass catches his eye, alluring him with her delicate passiveness and Aryan good looks, Frasier crudely attempts to ditch his Hebrew dud and seduce himself a new Anonymous Fuck Puppet.

It’s a cruelly effective gag, as damning in its critique of gender politics as a Neil LaBute one act, but it pales in comparison to the B storyline. Here, an Eastern European maid—played, in a sly nod to Baker’s humanistic forbearers, by a distant relative of Dostoevsky—is suspected of stealing from Niles and Daphne. Any episode featuring that ersatz romance, with its winking nod to repressed homosexuality in the American elite and its metaphoric, crackled-mirror reflection of U.S.-British relations, is bound to be a keeper. But “The Placeholder” cuts deeper, initially inviting us to denounce the Crane Couple for their foolish assumptions and prejudices, to self-righteously revel in their inevitable comeuppance. Then, just as we’re ready to wag our fingers in scorn at them—Daphne’s fumbling attempts at securing a confession have a Hitchcockian suspense to them—the episode seduces us into finally believing that maybe this penniless wage slave really is guilty. But wait! A last reversal, suggesting the bastard love child of a Michael Haneke prank and a didactic Lars Von Trier lecture, pulls the rug out from under us yet again. Is the joke now on the audience, too? Are we as guilty of stereotyping and unwarranted assumptions as Niles and Daphne? Like a corrective to Paul Haggis’ spot-a-racist hectoring, “The Placeholder” makes us question not just our own fears and biases, but our readiness to deflect them upon others to ease our aching cultural consciences. “They blunder, therefore we are,” asserts Baker. Not even a too-convenient MacGuffin—a videotape that proves handy as both Daphne’s phony coercion tool and the Dues Ex Machina expose of the real culprit behind the thefts—can dull the edge of this biting comedy of (t)errors. Imagine how profound it would be if seen in its entirety. A

Number of Roz-is-a-slut-or-lush references in the second half: 0
Number of Roz-is-a-slut-or-lush references in the first half: 3 (presumably)

S11 E5 "The Placeholder"

Frasier: I have standards. Haven’t you ever heard of waiting for Miss Right?
Roz: Yeah, well Miss Right has standards too, and she’s not looking to meet Mr Mothball.

I only watched half of this epic but that’s never really a problem with Frasier. It’s hard to guess what could have possibly transpired in the first 15 minutes as the plot seemed to be just kicking in when I turned this ish on at 11:17.
There are 3 and a half templates for a Frasier episode; I picture the writers just plugging the names and locations into an already programmed outline, like making your resume with Microsoft Word. The templates are: Frasier learns a lesson, Frasier embarrasses himself in front of a “beautiful” woman, an elaborate but easy to understand farce, or; the half-template; Frasier embarrasses himself in front of a “beautiful” woman and subsequently learns a lesson. “Beautiful” is in quotations because beautiful is a term widely used but totally meaningless in Frasier-world. Sometimes, as in this episode, the “beautiful” woman is legitimately striking, but most of the time “beautiful,” to Frasier, means simply a thin woman with long hair.
The construction of an episode of Frasier is much simpler than the concept of beauty: if Frasier is involved in one the template then the subplot is the other principles in one of the other templates, ie; if Frasier and Niles are occupied with Frasier learning a lesson, then Daphne and The Dad will participate in an elaborate but easy to understand farce-the other characters are almost always perpetrating an elaborate but easy to understand farce although occasionally Niles learns a lesson or The Dad embarrasses himself in front of a “beautiful” woman (stretching the term even further in the process). Daphne never does anything, her and the dog serve the same basic function which is to be obnoxious in a slightly amusing way and to occasionally make Frasier sigh in exasperation.
In this episode Frasier embarrasses himself in front of a beautiful woman, because, even though he spends a good amount of his time lying to women (in a way we can all relate to humorously) he is terrible at it. Frasier so embarrasses himself that the beautiful woman decides to leave Seattle forever which seems an odd reaction to someone who you’ve never met before making a fool of himself.
Since Frasier is embarrassing himself Niles, Daphne and The Dad are involved in an elaborate but easy to understand farce (they are also kind of learning a lesson, even Daphne! but it’s hard to tell what the lesson is, it may be: don’t hate eastern Europeans but it also may be: don’t assume poor people are all thieves) in which they try to trick the new maid into admitting she is stealing and end up stumbling across an amazing videotape of Daphne’s birthday party (who videotapes a birthday party for an adult?) that reveals Daphne’s meddling mother to be the actual thief!
The whole thing is quite a disappointment. The depiction of Frasier’s date with Julia Sweeney (Pat of It’s Pat, and the eponymous placeholder) is effectively horrible but his moment of embarrassment is too brief and awkwardly staged. It is void even of any attempts at humor, opting for Kelsey Grammer’s odd mumbling and antic gesturing instead of actual jokes. The farce, while quite easy to understand, is not actually elaborate and is resolved happily in less than 5 minutes, 2 of which are spent with a static shot of people watching a television and narrating the action of a tape we, the audience, are never allowed to see.
Still, the love-interest was a legitimate dime and I only had to watch half of the episode so…C+

F is for Frasier

The existence of this blog can be traced to one incredible man...Brian Turner. If it werent for my manager's bizarre propensity for describing in awful detail the plot points of Frasier, for relating line by line the utterly unhumorous farces, or for enumerating every instance of a cameo from a former Cheers cast member this blog would never have come to be. But don't let the blog's frivoulous genesis fool you, Frasier is a fascinating topic. It is the most critically lauded and one of the most popular shows in the history of television and this is nearly unfathomable. It is also your dad's favorite show, which makes a lot more sense...this is format entertainment, which doesn't make it unique at all but it does make it worth exploring, essentially Frasier is what TV execs think the majority of us want to see without any unnecessary trappings of artistry or originality. If such a thing is possible Frasier is the height of is also legitimately next level.

We have a rule at my house-if Frasier is on, you have to watch it so this blog will be reviews of whatever random episodes are on the box when my roommate Alex or I are at the crib and watching TV, no idea when that fool is going to start contributing on the regular.

The quotes featured at the top of each review are from the wikipedia page of that particular episode so they are the lines some Frasier fan found the funniest...keep that in mind.

So the point of this is to explore mediocrity, the point is to watch Frasier and tell the world about it, mainly the point is to amuse.

To paraphrase Young Martian-Tha Frasier Blog, welcome-have fun. Ya dig?