Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Frasierquest 1.4: I Hate Frasier Crane

Martin, Niles, and Daphne prepare for carnage.
Frasier: Must he stare at me all day?
Martin: I don't know, I'll ask him. Eddie, must you? (Pause) Apparently, he must.

“I Hate Frasier Crane” is the kind of episode that signifies a series has landed; all the main characters have been set up and their basic relationships established, we know the situation, it’s time to introduce an outside element. This is the first show to deal with Frasier as a public figure, and the inevitable downsides of celebrity (even local celebrity). Of course, it leads back to Frasier’s relationship with his father, but that’s almost a subplot. The main event is as much about Frasier’s difficulty with criticism, and the realization that when you’re big, not everyone will like you.

Niles, out of the purest intentions to be sure, shows Frasier a column by Seattle newspaper gadfly Derek Mann, in which the titular four words are uttered. Delivering a long-winded albeit witty response on the air, Frasier prompts Mann to deliver a more detailed criticism, followed by a challenge over the phone to a fight outside the Café Nervosa. Frasier thinks it’s just talking tough, but Martin is disappointed when he learns that his son doesn’t plan to follow through.

Frasier having a showbusiness feud is a concept that would pop up now and again, and it’s a good story model. He’s a character who responds well to a nemesis, because of his penchant to over-dramatize everything in his life, and when it’s a public feud he just gets angrier. There’s also an angle of wounded anger in Frasier’s response to Mann’s criticism- he’s a therapist, someone who helps people, and who would object to that? Frasier is not used to this level of vitriol (which I can only assume means he never spent much time in academic publishing.) It’s amost certain that if he had let this matter lie, Derek Mann would have moved on to something else and things would quickly have been forgotten. As is often the case, Frasier brings this on himself.

But we still kinda root for him, not in the least because Derek Mann comes off as a bullying figure. Voiced via telephone by veteran Hollywood tough guy Joe Mantegna, and described as being so large “you could show a movie on his back”, Mann picks on Frasier precisely because he gets a reaction (and it’s good for circulation, no doubt.) Martin’s disappointment in Frasier not wanting to fight is linked back to his backing out of a similiar confrontation with bully Billy Creezel (great name, by the way) years ago, and Niles wonders what the Crane boys do to attract such attention as he buffs his nails.

This episode also contains a bunch of interesting side bits. We’re introduced to Martin’s hobby, which is trying to solve a grisly murder case from his time back on the force. This would actually end up paying off next season as the focus of the episode “Retirement is Murder”, and popped up occasionally in between. The scene which introduces this also lets Daphne show off her psychic ability, which seems eerily dead-on; one of the nice things about being a sitcom is that you never have to resolve the issue of whether or not someone has supernatural powers, it’s just a way to show that it’s a funny old world we live in. Another first is Roz and Niles’ on-screen meeting, though Roz says they’ve met before and Niles can’t remember when. The dislike between them is particularly pronounced in the early years, but it’s had some interesting variations.

The climax at the Café Nervosa is wonderfully satisfying, and I’m not even entirely sure why; Frasier gets to stand up for himself while being saved by a traditional sitcom plot device. Perhaps it’s just the scene itself, which has some great bits, but there’s a genuine feeling that things are just working. The cast is comfortable, the writing and direction are smooth, and wacky antics are free to ensue. Perhaps Frasier should have realized from the start that sometimes when people make fun of you, it’s because you’re doing something right.

Guest Callers: Judith Ivey as Lorraine, Joe Mantegna as Derek Mann

Written by Christopher Lloyd (not the one you’re thinking of)
Directed by David Lee
Aired October 7, 1993

Frasier: As some of you may know, yesterday I was mentioned in Derek Mann's "Mann About Town" column. He said, and I quote, "I Hate Frasier Crane"..."I Hate Frasier Crane". What trenchant criticism. Move aside Voltaire, step back in the shadows H.L. Mencken, there's a new kid in town. One can only wonder how many hours Derek Mann sat in the glow of his computer screen before his trembling fingers sprang to life and pecked out this chef d'oeuvre: "I... *hate*... Frasier Crane". A lesser critic would've wasted our time by presenting a well thought-out point-by-point constructive critique of this show. But no-ho-ho, not our Mr. Mann. So, dear listeners, when Mr. Mann's column arrives on your doorstep, read it, enjoy it, but above all, treasure it. For one day, this man will be joining the Pantheon of the Immortals. And if we're lucky, it will be one day soon.

(Full quote from

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