Friday, April 30, 2010
Frasierquest 2.6: The Botched Language of Cranes
Roz: Frasier, after you left, the station manager stopped by. He's taking a lot of heat from the sponsors and he says if you cannot smooth this over, he
may have to suspend you.
Frasier: Suspend me? Well, what's he going to put in my timeslot?
Roz: He'd have to run "The Best Of Crane."
Martin: What will he do on the second day?
As I’ve said before, vicarious embarassment is something I’m prone to. Sitcom episodes that revolve around characters getting embarassed can be tough, at least when they don’t entirely bring it on themselves (I still watch THE OFFICE every week, after all.) So “The Botched Language of Cranes” is an episode I personally enjoy less than most, but at the same time I can’t say it’s below average. It’s very sharp, and in its unfairness to the character it actually scores a few points about provincialism and manufactured outrage. (Those following the UK press will probably find this relevant.)
On a particularly rainy and miserable day, Frasier advises a caller unsatisfied with her lot that she might try changing things, even moving to a new city. The locals (fuelled by a Derek Mann column, in a nice callback) take his apparent snub of Seattle to heart, and after some angry calls Frasier is moved to apologize. However, he doesn’t realize he’s on air when he gripes about having to appease a bunch of crybabies, and the reparations are quickly undone. So he has to buy some very expensive seats at a benefit for a church hospital, and give some funny remarks at the event. It’s a great idea, but fate intervenes.
One thing I’d forgotten about this episode was the part Derek Mann plays. That Frasier’s little controversy is actually driven by a rival media personality ends up not making much of a difference, since Frasier basically takes the bait; he apologizes insincerely and lets slip his real feelings, because in the end he doesn’t feel he owes Seattle an apology.
And honestly, does he? Frasier’s said nothing wrong, Seattle will not suffer from the loss of one exterminator. It’s just some people in the city being thin-skinned, a phenomenon easily demonstrated by opening any local newspaper to its letters page. I’ve never liked provincial attitudes or the idea that a city/nation/etc. can’t be fair game for criticism or jokes, so I’m biased, but the show’s first act does emphasize how absurd the whole problem is.
Of course, as Martin points out, it doesn’t matter who’s right. Ultimately Frasier has to buckle down. The episode’s final scene veers a little bit from this conflict, in that what undoes Frasier this time has nothing to do with civic pride and everything to do with bad timing. (Having said that, his routine kind of stinks regardless of the circumstances.) In fairness, how often do bishops capsize these days?
It’s increasingly becoming the case that the show’s main plot is buoyed by side-exchanges and material for the supporting cast; there’s a sense of the ensemble becoming tighter. Roz tries to run damage control, Niles attempts to hook up a new TV and watches Maris pounce on new social connections, Daphne gets neurotic about not answering the phone, and Martin is content to say “I told you so.” We’re watching the show for everyone, not just the characters who have the plot ball, and this is something we weren’t seeing so much in the last season, which had a more focused quality. I kind of prefer this approach, and think it creates a sense of the show as a welcoming environment for the viewer.
So, one disc into the season, the show’s already growing and maturing. “The Botched Language of Cranes” is actually a bit better than I recall- my visceral empathy for Frasier’s predicament may have blinded me to the episode’s cleverer bits of writing and acting.
Guest Callers: Alfre Woodard as Edna, Sandra Dee as Connie
Written by Joe Keenan
Directed by David Lee
Aired November 1, 1994
Frasier: [re: the benefit] You really think it's a good idea, Niles?
Niles: Well, worked for Nancy Reagan. After her first year in the White House she was widely criticized for her lavish spending. She responded by appearing at a satirical dinner wearing cheap store clothes and performing "Secondhand Rose."
Daphne: And that made people like her again?
Niles: Yes, briefly.
[Transcript courtesy Nick Hartley at TwizTV.com]