Friday, May 28, 2010

Frasierquest 2.8: Adventures in Paradise, Part I

Frasier and Madeline in Bora-Bora
Frasier: You know, I haven't said this out loud, but here goes: she may very well be the woman I spend the rest of my life with.

Roz: Go. Go do that. Get married, have a couple of kids, move out to the country, buy a puppy, live happily ever after! Just don't tell me about it, I need a boyfriend!

Frasier: Dear Roz. Dear, silly Roz. Dear, silly, horny Roz.

That’s right, it’s FRASIER’s first two-parter, a little November sweeps epic that no doubt indicates the trust the network had in the show by then. Even now multi-parters are kind of rare on sitcoms, and it’s still mostly something that just the hits do. “Adventures in Paradise, Part I” is mostly distinguished by the ingenious cliffhanger at the end, but up until then it’s a sweet, fun romance wherein Frasier finds himself the recipient of some good karma, but comes close to ruining it. Because he can’t help it.

When Seattle Magazine publishes its annual look at notable citizens, Frasier has his eye taken by Madeline Marshall (JoBeth Williams), clothing designer and babe. Roz persuades him to give her a call, and surprisingly the two end up dating. Even more surprisingly, it goes really well, especially when Frasier performs an impromptu therapy session for the family who run the French restaurant where they happen to dine. Two weeks of blissful happiness later, they decide to take a vacation to Bora Bora. Frasier overcomes his initial hesitation on the advice of Martin, Niles, and Daphne (who have, through one of Marty’s pals in customs, gotten hold of some Cuban cigars and turned Frasier’s apartment into something resembling an old time gentleman’s club), but on the island, a dark force awaits. A dark force with very pale skin.

Because this is the first half of a story rather than a complete one in itself, it consists mostly of rising action. For once, things are going well for Frasier Crane; his new relationship is a rousing success, the only dilemma being how fast and how far he wants to take it. (Paradoxically, Roz enters a major dating slump at around the same time, as though romantic success is a zero sum game and someone has to suffer for his success.) Even the B-story, such as it is, is kind of uneventful- no major conflict is whipped up over the box of Havanas that Martin gets his hands on, it’s just an opportunity for Niles and Martin to bond and for Daphne to show off her skill blowing smoke rings.

It’s weird, in modern TV in general but on a 1994 program in specific, to have something like the cigar subplot. Nobody learns a valuable lesson about the dangers of smoking or gets comically leathery a la Cosmo Kramer; Frasier warns that an errant ash might set Dad’s chair on fire, but beyond that it’s basically a goofy little vignette with no moral value whatsoever. I like that, though I wonder if it generated complaints (there is an anti-smoking episode later in the show’s run.) It’s entertaining just to watch the characters having fun with a new situation even when nothing in particular goes wrong.

The main plot also handles its relative lack of drama surprisingly well. The French restaurant scene, where we see that Frasier and Madeline are indeed going to hit it off, is broad, cartoonish, and very funny, stock material elevated by how well it’s played. It lets Frasier play the wise man, and it’s satisfying when that happens. We get a feeling almost like he’s earned this- it’s a break in the suffering of past episodes, which due to the way things ended up being scheduled was pretty acute as of late. JoBeth Williams’ performance is a strong one- she’s thoroughly convincing as a smart, thoughtful career woman who likes her men to have as much substance as she does.

The revelation at episode’s end is a killer. I get the feeling that if the studio audience’s reaction was sweetened (which these things often are), it wasn’t by much- Lilith comes out of nowhere, and it’s easily the most horrible thing you could drop on the character’s lap at that moment in time. And of course, it promises another Lilith episode, and after the triumph of the first one, the next episode promises good times ahead.

There’s not a whole lot more to say about the episode in isolation, and the next installment will obviously let me look at the story as a whole, but “Adventures in Paradise, Part I” is a strong start. Making the rising action of a story work as a story in itself is not the easiest thing to do, but the writers know they have good characters and lots of room for funny bits, and this is enough to pull the viewer through to the hook at the end. I guess this is why the popular shows are the ones that get to do this- you have to be able to trust your audience to follow from the point where things are merely diverting to the point where the fireworks really start.

It’s gonna be a bumpy vacation.

Guest Caller: Art Garfunkel as Chester

Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Directed by James Burrows
Aired November 15, 1994

Niles: If you ask me, Frasier, your trepidation is well-founded. It is possible to move a relationship along too fast, and ultimately marry too hastily. You could find, a few years down the line, that the person isn't really right for you, and then what happens if you meet the right person, someone who really excites you and makes you feel alive, but you can't act upon it because you're trapped in a stale, albeit comfortable Maris! ...marriage.

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