Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Frasierquest 1.6: The Crucible

Frasier is embarrassed at a party. Film at Eleven.
Philip: Dr. Crane, if you ever find justice in this world, let me know, will you?

Even though I’ve seen every episode of this show more than once, it took me a little while to remember which one “The Crucible” was. The title’s fairly obtuse; on the face of it, it looks like an Arthur Miller reference, but since this is a story about Frasier buying a forged painting and not being able to get a refund, that doesn’t quite fit. Rather, I think they’re going with the definition “a severe test” (thanks Mirriam-Webster), because in this situation Frasier finds his ethics heated to a breaking point. Sounds like serious business, but thankfully it isn’t, much.

It starts when Frasier lets it slip on air that he’s bought a painting by Seattle artist Martha Paxton. Paxton (Rachel Rosenthal) gives him a call and agrees to appear at a soiree at his apartment, only to drop the bombshell that the painting’s not even hers. Frasier takes the phony art back to the gallery where he bought it, but the owner, Philip (John Rubinstein), refuses to take it back, let alone give a refund. A call to the police yields no results when it turns out they don’t have a “Fine Arts Forgery Department”, and Frasier is tempted to take the law into his own hands.

Taking this series far too seriously is what we do around here, and “The Crucible” introduces a number of themes and ideas that would pop up now and again. The conflict is basically Frasier vs. the world, and when this happens the world tends to win. Frasier is at heart an idealist, and he tends to take violations of principle very seriously indeed, which is why he can’t let it go, even though the painting is as good a piece after the forgery is revealed as it was before. In this case, the wrong also encroaches on Frasier’s love of art and culture, which he expounds on to a caller at the episode’s opening.

It falls to Martin to play the realist and make Frasier understand that sometimes life is just going to suck, and this will happen again, but the way Niles steps in at the end of the episode is particularly clever. Again, as with “I Hate Frasier Crane”, the conflict parallels the troubles the Crane boys had as youths, though perhaps we could do without hearing how Niles earned the nickname “Peachfuzz”.

I imagine you’re sick of firsts by now, but it still must be noted that this is the very first instance of Frasier throwing a classy dinner party. He will do this often, and in accordance with the laws of comedy, we know it will never work. But here we get some fun character bits- Martin drags out his crime scene photos, Frasier notices that Roz has a neck, and Niles gets a whiff of Daphne’s hair while Maris sleeps under the guests’ coats. It’s fun to see everyone get thrown into a scene like this, and that it’s starting to happen more frequently is a sign that the show’s settled into a groove.

Guest Caller: Robert Klein as Gary

Written by Sy Dukane and Denise Moss
Directed by James Burrows
Aired 21 October, 1993

Niles: Remember what you said? “If you act like a barbarian, you will become a barbarian.”

Frasier: I said that?

Niles: Yes. Well, actually you were more verbose at the time. I had to listen, you were sitting on my chest.

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