Friday, July 16, 2010

Frasierquest 2.14: Fool Me Once, Shame On You, Fool Me Twice...

Frasier confronts his impostor
Martin: The world would be a happier place if everybody would remember two little words: people stink.

Years before “identity theft” would become a household term, people were still getting their stuff stolen by folks who would try to use any personal info found to their advantage. Sure, the internet made it easier, but in early 1995 most would-be impostors were doing it the old analog way.

“Fool Me Once, Shame On You, Fool Me Twice...” (hereafter referred to as FMOSOYFMT, or “Tokyo Drift”) is an episode where life dicks Frasier around for no good reason, and his faith in humanity is eroded. I’ve had brushes with this sort of thing myself, possibly owing to my own excessive faith in human nature, but never quite this bad. For one thing I don’t own a car.

It starts with Frasier’s briefcase being stolen from the Cafe Nervosa. In the midst of a long wait on hold to get his credit cards cancelled and replaced, Frasier gets in a debate with Martin over whether this incident proves the latter’s “people stink” philosophy. (Daphne weighs in with an anecdote that... I’m not entirely sure.) Persistent in his belief in the decency of mankind, Frasier gets a phone call from someone who found his briefcase (complete with car keys), agrees to meet them at the Cafe, and has his car stolen. Eventually he tracks down the miscreant, a habitual con artist (played by Nathan Lane), and tries to reason with the man, but is repeatedly confronted with the fact that he’s just a lazy bastard.

FMO...etc. is probably the show at its most cynical, with Frasier continually finding no validation for his view of mankind. Fortunately the stakes are relatively low; the con-man doesn’t want much, just to live easy for a few more days until he has to steal someone else’s belongings. Frasier can take the loss, but as is often the case with crimes like these, it’s more about the distrust engendered. Pretty much none of Frasier’s interactions with strangers go well this time around, and it’s enough to make anyone cynical.

I still think it’s wrong for the episode to end the way it does. Frasier being mistaken for the impostor and arrested is, if not as Hitchcockian as it looks on paper, an unsatisfying resolution. Even if we know that it wouldn’t take very long for the matter to be cleared up offscreen, not having that closure produces a slight dissatisfaction, even with an end-credits gag that establishes Frasier as a free man again. Saying this, I’m not sure there’s an obvious better ending, at least one that wouldn’t undermine the basic theme of the story.

Nathan Lane appears at about the cusp of nationwide stardom; he was already famous on Broadway, and the year prior to this he had been the voice of Timon in THE LION KING (which was probably still playing in dollar theatres when this aired.) He brings, ironically, a lot of energy to the character of a lazy cheating bastard, while dialing down his normal theatricality just a tad to be more convincingly sleazy.

Reinforcing the show’s cynical turn, we have Niles fed up with never being thanked for holding the door for a lady (though there’s the whole issue of whether just holding the door for ladies is kosher- but hey, Niles is a romantic at heart.) Even when faced with attractive women who are not Daphne, he’s a pushover. And speaking of which, as if to counterbalance the not-quite-darkness of the rest of the episode, our Ms. Moon is as chipper as ever. There’s also a nice scene between Niles and Roz, who still don’t like each other, but start to enjoy trading insults.

It occurs to me that I’m still making things look a little more grim than they actually play out, but again this is the disconnect between the story and the execution. In practice things are as frothy as ever, and there’s a sense that Frasier’s experiences don’t so much condemn the whole of humanity as they do certain parts of it. Martin’s advice, perhaps, needs a little clarification: some people stink.

No Guest Caller (technically)

Written by Christopher Lloyd
Directed by Philip Charles MacKenzie
Aired February 7, 1995

Daphne Moon: This whole thing reminds me of when I first moved to London. And I was very mistrusting of people back then. I was convinced, the way to stay out of harms way was to walk the streets with me eyes cast down, never meeting anyone's glance. But, finally, I decided, that was no way to live. So, one day I just lifted up me chin and took it all in. Well, the change was amazing. There were sights I've never seen, sounds I've never heard. A tiny old man came up to me with a note in his hand. He needed help. I took his note, read it, and to this day I can remember just what I said to that man. "That's not how you spell fellatio."

No comments: