Saturday, February 20, 2010

Frasierquest 1.22: Author, Author

Frasier and Niles in creative mode
Frasier: Niles, I would shave my head for you.

Niles: A gesture which grows less significant with each passing year.

As soon as Frasier and Niles first traded quips in “The Good Son”, sibling rivalry started growing to become a crucial FRASIER story engine. Winding down Season One, we find the first episode where it really leaps to the fore; Frasier and Niles go into “Author, Author” as collaborators, but that just makes them worse enemies. Apart from highlighting Frasier and Niles’ inability to work together, the episode also has some fun with the travails of writing, and how collaboration can go terribly wrong. It makes me glad that I usually work alone.

Niles comes to Frasier in a crisis; he had a book deal, but the idea fell through at the last minute. On the spot, he convinces his publishing company rep (the legendary Mako) that he and his brother will write a book on sibling relationships. Frasier is hesitant at first, but starts to enjoy the idea, even collecting anecdotes on the air. However, the publisher wants the first few chapters in a few days, and when the Crane boys lock themselves in a hotel room to try and get them written, they come to understand why they usually don’t spend this much time together.

It needs to be said that beyond anything else, this episode is worth seeing for Niles’ debut on the radio, acting as co-host for Frasier’s show to help collect book anecdotes. I’m not using his opening as one of the quotes because you really have to hear it for yourself, but it’s one of those rare moments of childlike playfulness that adds to Niles’ character. It’s why we like him instead of finding him insufferable.

I’ve done some collaborative work myself, but almost always in a “hand in my stuff and see what the others add” function. I’ve never really sat down and tried with someone to write something line by line, and I’m not sure how professional collaborators- for example, many of the writers on this show- do it.

It probably helps to have a collaborator who is not Frasier or Niles, though. As in life, it’s always people with largely similar personalities who have the hardest time getting along, partly because the little differences become more grating. Niles has a slightly different writing style, he’s a Jungian rather than a Freudian- these things become very important over an evening in a small hotel room. Opposites can always retreat to their corners, but the Crane brothers are determined to accomplish something together, and have no choice but to press forward.

Of course, the other reason similar people find themselves in conflict is because they’re often after the same thing. Niles wants the recognition Frasier gets every day, even if he thinks what he does is unprofessional. He wants his name in the card catalog under “Mental Illness”, which isn’t the most far out dream for a respected psychiatrist, and in the end it feels like a shame that he can’t make it work. Granted, it’s partly his fault, roping his brother in on a whim and promising chapters that haven’t been written yet, but we know why he gets in over his head.

The central joke of the episode is basically that, while Frasier and Niles try to write about sibling relationships, they prove themselves an example of a perfectly dysfunctional one, ultimately resorting to violence and accusations of stealing each other’s mother. It’s not that they can’t get along; throughout the course of the series they spend huge amounts of time with each other with only the occasional meltdown. But every relationship has its breaking point, and with the Crane brothers, this appears to be whenever you give them a common goal.

“Author, Author” is a showcase for the chemistry that Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce established from their first scene together, and it shows how Frasier and Niles’ sibling rivalry would eventually come to equal (and arguably overshadow) the original driving conflict between father and son. The latter never went away, but by adding a crucial second dynamic, the show was able to keep itself fresh for longer. For whatever reason, seeing these two at each other’s throats never really gets old.

Guest Caller: Christine Lahti as Laura

Written by Don Seigel and Larry Perzigian
Directed by James Burrows
Aired May 5, 1994

Frasier and Niles: Some boys run off to college,/ but we think they’re all wussies,/ ‘cause they get all the knowledge,/ and we get all the/ umpta umpta umpta da-da-da...

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