Thursday, December 03, 2009

Frasierquest 1.11: Death Becomes Him

Frasier at Dr. Newman's wakeAunt Bobbie: We always cover mirrors at a Shiva, so those grieving don't have to be concerned with their own appearances.

Frasier: Ah. Oh well, you look very nice.

Aunt Bobbie: Oh, thank you. It's been driving me crazy!

The next couple of episodes here go in a grim direction. Relatively speaking, of course, but darker than you’d expect a sitcom to go, especially one in its freshman year. As one might expect from the title, “Death Becomes Him” is about mortality, and Frasier’s increasing awareness of it. But in between the short bursts of serious business is some very sharp comedy writing, and the episode manages to be funny without being glib.

When Martin misses a doctor’s appointment, Frasier takes it upon himself to drag him to a physical at an office in Niles’ building. However, after a long wait, they find that the doctor- a man of Frasier’s age (41), in good health- died suddenly of a heart attack. Frasier is troubled by the thought that the same might happen to him, and goes about setting his affairs in order, but even that doesn’t put his mind at ease.

I don’t recall if CHEERS ever gave Frasier’s age, but now we know he’s just about ripe for various midlife crises, and this is one he’d have to face up to sooner or later. To his credit, he handles his fear in an at-first sensible manner, making sure his relatives could access all his personal information, bank accounts, etc. in the event of his death. But then he brings out the stickers to try and pre-distribute his worldly belongings, and we realize that he’s taking rationality to irrational extremes.

I guess that’s why this episode is as funny as it is- the humor is drawn not from death itself, but from the panic response it evokes. Frasier goes into defensive mode because of the death of someone he never even knew, to the extent that he ends up attending the man’s wake and trying to pretend he has some legitimate reason to be there.

The other regulars, unaffected by what’s happened, give us some great light moments in between Frasier’s broodings. Niles is really starting to consciously try to impress Daphne, who, while apparently not understanding why he’s trying to open jars and talking about pumping iron, still humors him with a smile. (Part of the fun of rewatching FRASIER is looking at the reaction shots, and seeing how the actors subtly convey their characters’ attitudes towards each other.) Roz, in her one scene, firmly gets established as a woman with a very active sex life, and she is apparently very good at what she does.

The final lesson that Frasier has to learn here is no surprise: life is fleeting, and we have to learn to treasure it rather than focus on its inevitable end. But even when we know that consciously, we can still be thrown for a loop by the instinctive realization of, and fear of, our own mortality. But since we can’t actually do anything in response but draw up some documents and maybe talk to an insurance representative, our fear can be pretty damn funny.

No Guest Caller

Written by Leslie Eberhard
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Aired December 2, 1993

Martin: Look son, let me tell you something. There was this time, a while back, seven or eight of us were on this drug bust. We get the order to go through the front door, and the first guy took one. He was dead before he hit the ground. When you're a cop, you've got to be able to handle things like that, but I... I just couldn't get over it. Every time I had to go in a blind alley, or in a dark building, I just froze. And I knew if I kept being afraid to die, I'd never be able to do my job.

Frasier: So what did you do?

Martin: I just forced myself to forget about it.

Frasier: Just like that?

Martin: Just like that. Next time I came across one of those doors, I went right through it... The fact that I got shot in the hip was purely coincidental.

Frasier: You were this close to helping me there, Dad.

No comments: