Saturday, August 14, 2010

Frasierquest 2.17: Daphne's Room

Frasier finds a photo of Daphne and Prince Charles
Niles: It wasn't as bad as all that. It's not like you saw her naked or something.

(No answer from Frasier)

Niles: YOU DID! (beat) Frasier I want to help you with this, so you have to tell me everything, every sight, every sound, unburden yourself before you explode!

Frasier: No!

Niles: (getting out a pencil and paper) All right, I'll show you how I've always imagined her and you tell me where I'm wrong.

It’s not really clear on what this one episode is actually called; the DVD says “Daphne’s Room”, the script book says “A Room With A View”, and I used IMDB as the tie breaker because I am lazy. It’s been a while since we had an episode centering around our dear Daphne, and it’s almost as revealing a look for us as it is for Frasier. (Sadly, there is that “almost”.) His stumble into her room is both his and our first time inside, and we learn a good bit about her. This is one of the season’s classics, and it’s a very basic episode, with no guest stars and a simple plot- a nice return to the fundamentals after last week’s CHEERS crossover.

One day, looking for a book, Frasier strays into Daphne’s room, and though he finds what he’s looking for, he’s distracted by the slightly eccentric decoration and other details. Daphne catches him snooping about, and is a little upset with him; she grew up in a house full of boys, and has come to value her privacy very highly. Things are okay until Frasier realizes he pocketed a bottle of her thyroid medicine during his adventure, and attempts to sneak in again to replace it, only to end up seeing a lot more of her than he ever intended. Frasier wonders what he can do to keep Daphne from quitting after this incident, and everyone around him suggests flat-out bribery (Niles using the example of his smoothing over relations with Maris by buying her a Mercedes.)

Thanks to a rerun of COMMUNITY, I’ve been reminded that “character A sees character B” naked is actually a fairly common sitcom trope. It’s happened on WHO’S THE BOSS, it’s happened on MURPHY BROWN, and on the American OFFICE. One important thing about making this storyline work is that character A really doesn’t want to see character B naked, otherwise it’d just be pervy. Frasier has long since compartmentalized Daphne as “family”, and he instantly regrets overstepping his boundaries.

So why does he get into this mess to start with? Well, because there’s a snoop in all of us. Frasier has an odd woman living under his roof, and though he doesn’t particularly want to know what she looks like without her clothes on, he’s curious enough about her life to want to linger in her room, peruse her knicknacks, and see what kind of medication she’s taking. The second time is a simple error on his part, but through sheer panic he fails to take advantage of opportunities to sneak out (and his bolting into the bathroom is just plain stupid.)

The entire experience does reveal something very important about Daphne; as great a den mother as she is, she has her demands, and first and foremost among them is privacy. This actually stays pretty consistent through the series- we rarely see Daphne’s room afterwards, Frasier and Martin (and even Niles) keeping a respectful distance. She may tell all sorts of embarassing stories about her past, but she does so on her time; she wants a corner of her own, and if we go back to “Space Quest”, that’s something Frasier can certainly empathize with. And it also goes back to Daphne being raised with eight brothers, all of whom also tried to get a look at her in the shower when they reached a certain age. (Well, all of them except Billy, the ballroom dancer.)

The second major thread of this episode is just how to apologize to a woman when you have trespassed this grossly. The answer “with cash” stabs at Frasier’s ethical sense, but it’s something everyone else is used to, and in truth it’s probably as fair an approach as any. But Frasier, bless his heart, tries to spin it in a more positive way; he offers to pay to have Daphne’s room redecorated to get it precisely the way she likes it, so that it can really be hers again. It’s a sweet gesture and the fact that he later has to throw in a new car undermines it only slightly.

Leeves and Grammer do an excellent job playing off each other, something they didn’t get to do too much after the first few episodes. Both actors have to run the gamut from broad physical comedy to heart-to-heart character interaction, but it never feels forced. It’s no surprise by this point that both of them are very good at what they do, but what’s interesting is that I only notice this in retrospect; on screen, it’s just Frasier and Daphne having their troubles.

It’s hard for a show to keep finding new wrinkles in the interactions between its main characters; that’s why we have guest stars and the occasional change in the status quo. But the question of what it’s like for Daphne to live in Frasier’s apartment hadn’t really been dealt with before, and handling it makes for grand farce and a nice insight into both characters. I always like it when Daphne gets the spotlight.

No Guest Caller

Written by Linda Morris & Vic Rauseo
Directed by David Lee
Aired February 28, 1995

Frasier: Maris was upset with Niles so he bought her a Mercedes.

Roz: Woof!

Frasier: And if you're suggesting that I buy my way out of my problem, the answer is no! It's the coward's way out!

Niles: Oh, so I'm a coward?

Frasier: Yes!

Niles: Well, I'm a coward with a hickey!

Roz: (To Niles) Buy me a Mercedes and I'll make your neck look like a relief map of the Andes.

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