Saturday, November 07, 2009

Frasierquest 1.7: Call Me Irresponsible

Frasier and Catherine discuss things over M&M's
Frasier: How I envy you, Eddie. The biggest questions in your life are, "Who's going to walk me? Who's going to feed me?" I won't know that kind of joy for another forty years.

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken this long to get to the show’s first example of the “Frasier in love” episode. This is really one of FRASIER’s standbys, a tradition of the hero falling for a gorgeous, intelligent, near-perfect woman, but reliably finding a way to ruin everything. In “Call Me Irresponsible” it’s not entirely his fault, and the episode also highlights one of the character’s major complicating factors- his strong sense of ethics. Frasier can stray into cad territory, but he’s not comfortable there, and his gut always keeps him in check. Sometimes in the most direct way possible.

When a caller to the show implies that he’s afraid to commit to his current girlfriend, and is holding out for someone better, Frasier advises him to break up with her rather than string her along. The woman, Catherine (Amanda Donohoe), later shows up at the station upset, but Frasier gets her to understand the situation, and both having recently separated from loved ones, they strike up a relationship. It’s all running smoothly until two things happen; Niles says Frasier can’t possibly get involved with someone who was involved with a patient (though Marco wasn’t a patient so much as a caller), and Marco calls back, having second thoughts about having dumped Catherine. Frasier realizes he’s in a difficult ethical position, and when his ethics are in danger of compromise, his stomach starts to revolt- on the very night that Catherine decides to take the relationship to the next level, no less.

Daphne and Martin step back here, absent but for a hilarious early scene where they rope Frasier into taking the family Christmas photo on October 23. Roz and Niles also have limited roles, leaving the focus on Frasier and his new girlfriend. Obviously it’s not unusual for FRASIER to be about Frasier, but the relationship benefits from this kind of attention. Catherine is in many ways the kind of woman Frasier gets drawn to time and again- sharp, reasonably intelligent, gorgeous, and with a strong personality. Donohoe is sexy in a natural, understated way, and her American accent is astoundingly convincing. The two have a nice rapport, and you get a sense that they could really make it work for a while, which makes what must happen a shame.

It’s interesting to see a little more light shed on Frasier’s character here, specifically to find out that he has such a strong code of ethics that he literally gets queasy if he thinks he’s violating it. I’m not entirely sure how consistently this particular quirk was invoked- I’ll have to watch for it- but Frasier is definitely governed by a strong sense of right and wrong, even beyond the rules he has to follow as a psychiatrist. (I’m not actually sure what the APA would make of this situation- Marco’s already waived confidentiality by calling into a radio show, so it’s possible that this simply isn’t a doctor-patient relationship.)

A lot of sitcom characters, maybe even most, are portrayed as fundamentally good folks so as to keep the sympathy of the audience, but with Frasier- and Niles, who we find out has a similar problem with nosebleeds- we have someone with a very strong conscience, who constantly wonders about what the right thing to do is. He’s constantly introspective, and apart from making the character more sympathetic, this also helps drive stories- the man can rarely run from his problems. Watching this episode again, I noticed that Frasier denying himself Catherine hurts her as well as him, since obviously this would be her second dumping in a short period, and at the hands of the man who caused the first one. That’s the problem with ethics; even if you disregard your own happiness to follow them, you can’t be sure you won’t trod on someone else’s as well.

Again I seem to be taking this all too seriously, when the show itself plays out in its usual light and fluffy manner. It’s hard to convey the humor of a show that doles it out in character beats and banter instead of one-liners and wacky concepts. But there’s a way in which all Frasier’s failed relationships are gloriously funny tragedies, and here it’s rendered a bit more poignant by the fact that it’s not really his fault. Truly, the Marcos of the world do more damage than they know.

Guest Callers: Edward Van Halen as Hank, Bruno Kirby as Marco

Written by Chuck Ranberg & Anne Flett
Directed by James Burrows
Aired October 28, 1993

Frasier: Niles, please don’t try to be hip. You remind me of Bob Hope when he dresses up as the Fonz.

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