Friday, February 26, 2010

Frasierquest 1.23: Frasier Crane's Day Off

Frasier in a not entirely lucid state
Roz: Tony, it's Roz. Could you get security up here? Captain Kirk's got control of the bridge and he's gone insane.

Bringing down the big guys is one of the key functions of comedy, and Frasier definitely gets the stool kicked out from under him a lot. On CHEERS he was a fish out of water, and the writers tried not to be too hard on him, but now that he’s the star he’s fair game. “Frasier Crane’s Day Off” sees the good doctor brought low by a combination of illness and paranoia, and though he doesn’t quite deserve all of it, it’s such a glorious flameout that it’s hard to complain. While the episode is notable for introducing the world to food snob Gil Chesterton (Edward Hibbert), his presence and most of the other story elements are really just the set-up to one of Kelsey Grammer’s most gloriously wild takes on the title character.

Gil is KACL’s food critic, who offers to sub in for Frasier when he finds himself battling a vicious flu. From the start, Frasier suspects that Gil is angling for his time slot, and Roz’s report from the station seems to confirm his fears. He convinces Niles to sub for him on the second day; the younger Dr. Crane has an awkward start, but soon manages to deliver some genuinely scintillating radio. By this point Frasier is heady with delirium, and is convinced that not only are Niles and Gil plotting against him, but Daphne, as his present nurse, is in on it. (Oh, she pretends not to know...) After prescribing himself some very powerful drugs, Frasier heads down to the station, and the rest is TV history.

It almost feels a little bad to watch Kelsey Grammer play high for laughs, at least in episodes from before he got his own substance abuse problems under control. Then again, he’s been sober for many many years now, so maybe it’s okay. In any case, the episode is really a showcase for Grammer’s comic skills, from the broad insanity of the climax to the slightly more subtle way he works on Daphne’s nerves with insane sickbed request after insane sickbed request.

It’s ironic that the episode is so focused on Frasier while being about his fear of being usurped. The threats he faces here are temporary- Gil doesn’t continue any pressure for Frasier’s time slot into next season, and Niles could never be lured away from his practice for good- but even a momentary loss of control puts Frasier in a bad state of mind. The virus simply amplifies his natural insecurity.

The way Gil Chesterton is introduced in this episode is so seamless that I had to double-check to make sure that this was, in fact, the first episode in which he appeared. He’s not new to the station, Frasier and Roz have met him before, he’s just showing up now because he’s important to the plot. (It helps that “food critic with an obsequious personality” doesn’t take a lot to establish exposition-wise.) Hibbert is strong from the get go, and it’s interesting to note that though Gil is rarely as manipulative in later episodes, he still maintains his insincere warmth.

Niles has abandoned the “radio persona” he tried out last episode, and it’s arguably a continuity slip that he has to be re-introduced to how things work at the booth, but then again he may have chosen to forget that information given his general contempt for the job. Despite being morally opposed to the whole business of radio psychiatry, Niles is pretty good at it- he’s a good therapist and a natural showman. One stops to wonder what might have been.

Sickness is one of those plot devices that reveals character, or rather brings out its worst sides. A virus knocks Frasier for a loop, and we see that he’s deeply invested in his job to the point of fearing it being taken away. He’s not in full control, and thankfully his little breakdown will have no repercussions, but it’s good to see part of what drives him. We all have our ugly and selfish moments- Frasier’s just happen to be more amusing than most.

Guest Callers: (deep breath) Eydie Gormé as Lois, Patricia Hearst as Janice, Tommy Hilfiger as Robert, Steve Lawrence as Howard, Mary Tyler Moore as Marjorie, Garry Trudeau as Louis, and Steve Young as Blake

Written by Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett-Giordano
Directed by James Burrows
Aired May 12, 1994

Niles: This is Dr. Niles Crane, filling in for my ailing brother, Dr. Frasier Crane. Although I feel perfectly qualified to fill Frasier's radio shoes, I should warn you that while Frasier is a Freudian, I am a Jungian. So there'll be no blaming Mother today.

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