Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Frasierquest 2.11: Seat of Power

John C. McGinley as Danny Kriezel
Frasier: We’ve had a hard day, tangled with a little pipe and porcelain. Now it’s Montrachet time.

Bullying is an odd thing. I am as geeky as you can get, and was super-awkward growing up, and while I was teased, I was never shoved into lockers or held upside down in toilets. Then again, I never showed up at school wearing a tweed blazer and carrying a valise. Frasier and Niles got hit by all the old tricks, from the swirly to the jetpack, and as we see in this episode, the pain still runs deep. Of course, in screwball comedy tradition, “Seat of Power” is also about fixing a toilet, something neither man is really fit for and so which naturally they must do. The result is a minor classic.

When the toilet in Frasier’s bathroom breaks, Martin convinces him in his usual loving manner that he should try to repair it himself. Niles happens to be there too, so the two brothers make a game attempt, and it almost works until the thing starts overflowing. Instead they call a plumber (John C. McGinley), who happens to be Danny Kriezel, who bullied Niles relentlessly at school. Niles wants to confront Danny; Frasier tries to hold him at bay until he’s distracted by the calling in of Billy Kriezel (Mike Starr), who was his school bully. The two pairs of victim and victimizer try to resolve their differences, with varied results.

So the big item of interest here is McGinley’s appearance, long before SCRUBS would make him a star, though he was already a prolific character actor. (In fact, this looks like this was his first sitcom gig.) He isn’t delivering snarky insults, and in fact there’s something engagingly earnest about his character; he’s not the school bully anymore, so Niles’ rage seems almost displaced. Mike Starr, fresh off of appearing on movie screens as B-movie mogul George Weiss in ED WOOD, is great as Billy, who is still pretty much the guy who tortured Frasier as a kid.

Frasier and Niles themselves are as fun out of their element as ever, with Niles inadvertently turning on Maris when talking to her on the phone during his attempt at manual labor. The entire episode could well have been about their attempt at pipesmanship, but instead it takes an inspired direction- one that actually includes a callback to the first season’s “I Hate Frasier Crane”, in which Frasier’s memories of Billy Kriezel haunt him still. Here he pretends to be the more mature man, but that can’t last.

A lot of what makes this episode good is in the payoff, where Niles manages to have a heart to heart with Danny while Frasier takes the more barbaric approach. It’s an obvious plot twist in itself, but by then the story has already taken a few turns, and it’s played so well by Pierce, McGinley, Grammer, and Starr that it feels satisfying instead of hackneyed. A final denoument with Frasier and Martin feels unnecessary, but we do get a good gag about the unusual disadvantages of low-flow toilets.

Roz and Daphne play minor roles this time around, both given some business but nothing really to do with the major plot. Fortunately their scenes are funny enough, and Eddie has some good moments as well. Still, it’s mostly the Frasier and Niles show (with some assists by Martin), with two very good comic actors as their special guests. One of the show’s simple pleasures is watching these two play against each other, and “Seat of Power” keeps the dynamic fresh, a challenge that the show would continue to meet for a surprisingly long time.

Guest Caller: Macaulay Culkin as Elliott

Written by Steven Levitan
Directed by James Burrows
Aired December 13, 1994

Niles: When you think about it, our only mistake today was trying to fix that toilet ourselves.

Frasier: Yes, we tampered with the natural order of things.

Niles: But now, order has been restored. By hiring a plumber, that plumber can now afford, say, a Dolly Parton album. Miss Parton can then finance a national tour which will, of course, come to Seattle, allowing some local promoter to make enough money to send his cross-dressing teenaged son to us for $150- an-hour therapy.

Frasier: [raises his glass] To the circle of life.

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