Saturday, February 13, 2010

Frasierquest 1.21: Travels With Martin

Frasier and the gang on the road
Daphne: How’s it feel behind that wheel, Dr. Crane?

Frasier: Manly! This is mine and it’s big!

A road trip was inevitable. You don’t see them every week, but as any sitcom progresses, the probability of their doing a road trip episode approaches 1. They’re great for throwing characters together, and you don’t need that many sets. “Travels With Martin” is an episode that trades a lot off of the rapport its ensemble has built up over most of the season, and with good results; arguably it shows the series’ first tenative steps towards the outright farces which highlighted later seasons. It’s not quite there yet, but the fun is in the journey.

Roz suggests Frasier use his vacation time to take his dad somewhere, just like she’s doing with her mom. Martin elects to see some of America’s sights in a Winnebago, but goads Daphne into coming along to act as a cushion between him and Frasier. Needless to say, this results in Niles coming along as well. Martin wants to head straight out to Mount Rushmore and straight back, but Frasier wants to ramble, so they compromise and ramble across the countryside at top speed, not stopping for anything. While Daphne takes a nap, they speed over to Canada, but this poses a problem; she doesn’t have her green card and isn’t supposed to be out of the country. The gang have no choice but to try and sneak her back across the border. This goes about as smoothly as you would imagine.

This is a story you can really only do when you’re confident the audience knows who everybody is. Sure, you’ll get some casual viewers tuning in for the first time, but “Travels of Martin” takes some character beats as a given, most notably “Frasier and Martin don’t get along”, with a dollop of “Niles has a thing for Daphne.” Someone who’s never seen FRASIER before could probably pick these elements up by implication- the curse of series television is that you always have to assume somebody’s coming in late- but the episode also benefits from the characters themselves knowing where they stand.

One thing I noticed rewatching this episode is that the relationship between Frasier and Martin has already softened considerably in comparison to where it was early in the season. They’ve had the big arguments, Frasier has learned to live with the chair, etc.; now, they bicker, but the actual hostility has ebbed. Instead the major conflict is more philosophical. Martin wants to cover ground and see the landmarks, while Frasier wants to follow Jack Kerouac (to say nothing of Buzz and Tod) and enjoy the journey more.

The gang’s attempt at getting back across the Canadian border without giving away the presence of a foreigner on board is probably the episode’s comic high point. It’s probably the silliest thing any of them have had to do so far (Frasier’s performance in a school play in “Give Him The Chair” not counting, as it’s offscreen), and it’s the kind of elaborate misunderstanding that epic farce is based on. It’s not really the central story of the episode, even though it’s the most pressing problem. In fact, the more I think about it, the less a story-driven episode this is.

The real point is just to shake everyone up a little by putting them in a different environment. The normally adventurous and high spirited Daphne gets a fright put into her, Niles puts on a baseball cap (backwards, even), Frasier drives an RV, and Martin puts away his itenerary. This is what makes comedy happen, and though it’s a shame Roz can’t join in on the craziness, this is still a memorable and eminently rewatchable episode.

No Guest Caller

Written by Linda Morris & Vic Rauseo
DIrected by James Burrows
Aired April 14, 1994

Roz: Listen, there is nothing wrong with pampering yourself on your vacation. After all, you
do work three hours a day.
(Pause) I’m sorry, that one even surprised me!

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