Saturday, December 12, 2009

Frasierquest 1.14: Can't Buy Me Love

Frasier and Bulldog on the block
Frasier: I may surprise you, you know. I'm probably more “with it” than you think I am...

We come to another episode that I wasn’t exactly looking forward to. Vicarious embarassment is something I can be prone to, which makes you wonder why I’m blogging about a sitcom, and in the course of “Can’t Buy Me Love” Frasier probably has one of his least-good hours. It’s not entirely his fault, which perhaps makes it worse: I can enjoy a character getting just comuppance for hubris or some other personal flaw, but when a character just gets outright screwed by circumstance it’s less fun. The main trouble is, going into detail about all this requires the use of spoilers. I’m not really sure why I hold to spoilers regarding a show that’s been out of production for over 5 years now, but it’s just the style I picked up, so I’ll do the normal summary and THEN reveal the rest of the story.

Martin’s old precinct is holding a charity benefit, and he ropes Frasier and Bulldog into offering themselves up at the bachelor auction. Frasier gets snatched up for five hundred by a lovely model Kristina Harper (Claire Stansfield), while Daphne, shill-bidding near the end, accidentally purchases Bulldog for a c-note. Unfortunately, Frasier’s date is postponed when Kristina gets a last-minute modelling assignment, and leaves him looking after her 12-year-old daughter Renata (Ashley Bank), who isn’t thrilled about the situation either. Over the course of the evening, Renata tells Frasier that her mother is vain and neglectful, leaving her daughter in the car to get tattoos and constantly lying about both their ages.

The big twist to all this is that Renata is lying- Kristina spends lots of time with her daughter and at the very least doesn’t have a tattoo in any place that shows. Frasier takes the girl at her word and confronts Kristina when she comes back, which needless to say pisses her off and kills whatever relationship may have come into being. It still seems a little unbelievable to me that Frasier leaps right into his accusation without questioning what he’s just been told, even though he admits that adolescent psychology is not his strong point. (There’s the old adage that you shouldn’t use adult psychiatric evaluations on adolescents because they’ll all test as narcissistic sociopaths.) Of course, knowing this beforehand, you start to REALLY hate Renata, who sabotages a potential relationship for her mother- with a guy she finds out is not entirely uncool, no less- on the basis that she wasn’t allowed to stay home alone that night. Then again, she’s 12.

If all of this is a little wince-inducing, the episode is still more or less salvaged by the utterly brilliant scene depicting the end of Bulldog’s date, in which a sloshed Daphne manages to insult him several times and start a fight in the middle of a traffic jam. Jane Leeves owns this sequence, establishing Daphne as a hilarious, dangerous, yet still kind of adorable drunk. I love this side of her character, and when it resurfaces in a few later episodes it’s still hilarious. (Roz probably gets the episode’s second funniest moment, homing in on her own bachelor with an eye towards getting value for money.)

The denoument definitely helps take some of the sting off, as Frasier starts to dread what his own son will be like when he reaches that age. Overall it’s mostly the middle I have a problem with; Renata’s stories probably work on the viewer the first time through, but rewatchability suffers. But there’s always something to love, and if the A story is weak, it’s still worth watching to see how Daphne handles her champagne.

Guest Caller: Ken Levine as M.C.
(Note: M.C.’s actually a caller on Bulldog’s show)

Written by Chuck Ranberg & Anne Flett-Giordano
Directed by James Burrows
Aired January 20, 1994

Daphne: Oh, you are a naughty boy. Now don't go getting any ideas. Oh, look who I'm saying this to. You don't have an idea in your head!

(Quotes again are from John Masson's transcript at Careful of all the ads on that site- it's annoying, but, well, IMDB is slacking in this department.)

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