Sunday, October 25, 2009

Frasierquest 1.5: Here's Looking At You

Frasier, Daphne, and Martin search the Seattle skyline
Frasier: There are a million stories in the naked city... now if we could just find a naked one.

One of the nicer things about FRASIER is that it can be heartwarming without being saccharine; it honestly respects its characters, so we can follow them through romantic or even sometimes dramatic situations without feeling like it’s a betrayal of the premise. I’ve often thought of the show as being similar to a romantic comedy, and this is the first episode to explore the idea. Ironically, it does so not by focusing on Frasier, but on his dad.

Frasier thinks Martin needs a hobby to keep him occupied during retirement, and decides to buy him a telescope. After some entirely innocent surveying of the Seattle skyline, they catch sight of a woman doing some surveying of her own. Martin and the woman, Irene, start exchanging notes. Frasier and Daphne are delighted, but Martin is nervous about jumping into the dating scene again. His nervousness is not helped when Niles tries to fix her up with Maris’ “lovable” aunt Patrice (Kathleen Noone).

By necessity this episode moves pretty quickly- in fact this is probably the most fast-paced installment since the pilot. We go right from Frasier discussing getting Martin a hobby with Roz to the telescope set up in his apartment, the obvious REAR WINDOW possibilities are dismissed in a couple of lines, to Martin meeting Irene, to the two using up a small forest telling each other their family histories. Each scene has its own rhythm and is entertaining in its own way, from how quickly Martin and Daphne get engrossed in the details of Irene’s life to the outright traumatic visit by Patrice. You could take some of these vignettes and make them into entire episodes, but the short treatment is no less satisfying.

There are a few firsts and interesting character revelations to be had. For one thing, this is the first time Martin even considers dating and moving on after his wife’s death; in the coming years, he’d be courting often enough that it’s easy to forget he was ever reluctant. We never actually see Irene, either here or in other episodes, but she’s the necessary push to get him out of the door. We also learn that Roz’s mother is the Attorney General of Wisconsin, which doesn’t come into play that often but is still good to know. (In fact, I think this is the first time we learn that Roz hails from the Dairy State.) And Patrice, in her high-strung chirpiness, does reflect a little on our image of what Maris must be like.

Kathleen Noone, the first non-voice-only guest star, almost steals the entire episode, as a matter of fact. Her one-scene appearance is brilliant, capped off by her masterful use of “G-speak”; I can only imagine that Noone, a daytime drama vet, had demonstrated some mastery of tongue-twisting dialogue before, or else writer Brad Hall (of SNL fame) decided to torture whatever poor actress got the part. But I think it’s Jane Leeves who gets the best material this time around; Daphne has several just plain adorable moments, and actually gets to be the one to solve the problem of Martin’s hesitance.

It’s a good sign that a show has settled in when it can do an episode that isn’t even about the protagonist. Frasier has his part in “Here’s Looking At You”, but we get to focus on Martin a little bit, and the change is smooth enough that it’s hard to notice. It’s an important step in establishing FRASIER as an ensemble program, not on the same scale as CHEERS but still giving everyone their due.

Guest Caller: Jeff Daniels as Doug

Written by Brad Hall
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Aired October 14, 1993

Daphne: I found some pizza rolls in the freezer, but the expiration date was yesterday. Are we game?

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