Friday, August 06, 2010

Frasierquest 2.16: The Show Where Sam Shows Up

Sam and his fiancee
Frasier: So, you're not in Seattle because of the Mariners?

Sam: Believe me, no ballplayer is in Seattle because of the Mariners.

One of the things I learned when David Lee was posting on the group on Usenet was that the “Cheers alumni” episodes were something of a network obligation. It wasn’t that the staff didn’t like working with people like Ted Danson, but they’d wanted the show to stand on its own. The Lilith episodes are sort of a special case, often being the show’s best, but most of the rest of the time it was a struggle.

“The Show Where Sam Shows Up”, apart from pilfering its title structure from FRIENDS, does feel like an odd change of pace. Sam Malone, a great character in his own right, doesn’t entirely fit with Frasier’s home ensemble, and so the plot comes to revolve around Frasier and the guest stars. Along the way they do get to settle some continuity questions (sort of), and it’s a good episode, but how much you enjoy it is slightly dependent on how much of a CHEERS fan you are.

Fortunately I’ve seen every episode of that too.

Sam surprises Frasier by popping up at KACL during the show. After filling Frasier in on life in Boston, and meeting Frasier’s family, he reveals that he’s come here to ask for help regarding his impending marriage. And by impending, I mean “was scheduled for the day before.” Frasier helps Sam overcome his cold feet, and his fiancee (Téa Leoni) comes to town so they can sort things out. Unfortunately, Frasier recognizes her as a woman he slept with back when she and Sam were supposed to have been engaged. It turns out they’re both sexual compulsives who met in group, and Frasier now has the awkward task of trying to keep the couple together and preventing his tryst from becoming known.

During CHEERS’ run, we understandably didn’t learn much about Frasier’s background, but we were told that Frasier’s father was a scientist, and more importantly, dead. (His mother appeared for one episode as a clingy neurotic who threatened to kill Diane, though in fairness she wasn’t the only one.) In one scene the writers do their best to paper over the discrepancy, attributing Frasier’s misstatements about his father to a fight the two had gotten into over the phone. It’s a nice goofy kludge that acknowledges that it is neither possible nor really worth the time to perfectly line up the continuity of these two shows. So let’s just move on.

As I said there’s really not much room for any of the supporting cast in this episode. Sam flirts with Daphne, offers Niles a tip on how to spice things up with Maris, and Roz tries to bag him, but none of this can be any more than side business. Which is fine, and there have been plenty of episodes before that have just been about Frasier and some other person, but somehow this story feels a little more like it’s been forced into the show’s model.

I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing. The show was well established enough by this point that a tangent like this didn’t threaten its identity; clearly FRASIER could get by without constantly trying to remind the audience of CHEERS, so doing so once in a while was merely an indulgence. In this case the episode’s major punchline does depend a bit on knowledge of the first show’s characters; Paul is described briefly when his name comes up, and Cliff is name-checked earlier, but the jokes involving them are much funnier if you’ve actually seen them.

Téa Leoni is a nice presence in this episode; this was shortly before she was given her own show, THE NAKED TRUTH, and briefly hyped as the next Lucille Ball (this was something networks used to do whenever they had an attractive funny woman.) She is indeed funny and attractive, and her character seems like she’d be a good match for Sam, but then, ending Malone’s bachelorhood is too big an undertaking to be handled in one episode of a spin-off.

The episode isn’t as incongrous as some later CHEERS crossovers, at least in retrospect. Frasier’s still trying to help people and getting in trouble in the process, the difference this time being that we know the history between him and the guest star. If Sam Malone’s journey to Seattle doesn’t entirely stand on its own, well, we do have to allow ourselves some fan indulgences once in a while.

No Guest Caller

Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Directed by James Burrows
Aired February 21, 1995

Martin: Hey, Sam, what'd he tell you about me, the father, the old cop?

Sam: Well, uh, he told me you were dead.

Martin: Dead?

Frasier: Well, we had an argument one day. He called me a stuffed shirt and hung up on me. I was mad.

Sam: [to Martin] You were a cop? [to Frasier] You told me he was a research scientist.

Frasier: [to Martin] You were dead! What did it matter?

(Quote the first taken from the transcript by Andrea Day at

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