Monday, August 23, 2010

Frasierquest 2.18: The Club

Niles, Frasier, and Daphne schmoozing.
Frasier: I might as well say this while I can: "If you need me, I'll be at my club."

Frasier and Niles long for privilege. It’s not enough to be rich, respected, and in Frasier’s case famous; they want to drink century-old port, sit in the finest leather chairs, and join the elite that most people only hear about in poorly written political speeches. It’s one part appreciation for the finer things, and one part wanting to be validated. “The Club” shows the two at their best and worst, all over membership in one of those upscale clubs that’s basically a room full of rich old white guys sitting around not doing anything in specific. I’m sure these places still exist, and while their allure eludes me, it’s the sort of thing the Crane boys long for, and when they both long for something, odds are neither of them will get it.

After a long period of networking, aided by Maris, Niles has finally spotted an opening in Seattle’s prestigious Empire Club. Two members have stepped down (one after a stroke, another after an S&L indictment), so Niles invites Frasier along in hopes that the two can buff each other’s Diplomacy checks. Maris comes along (offscreen of course), and Daphne is Frasier’s last-minute date, much to her amusement and Niles’ consternation. Unfortunately, they discover that the departing businessman was acquitted of all charges and is now back in the club, leaving only one slot. The amount of time it takes from this announcement for the Crane brothers to start undercutting each other is not measurable by most watches.

One of the interesting things about Frasier and Niles’ minglings with the upper crust is how almost universally appalling that upper crust is. This episode is a typical example; none of the other club members we see are terribly charming or passionate, they’re just boring old men who set arbitrary standards for whom they mingle with. (One challenge to Frasier’s candidacy is that he is a figure in the entertainment industry, as though this is somehow disreputable.) It’s not so much that Frasier and Niles like these people- Frasier’s initial date is with a woman he considers dull as corn starch- as that they want to be accepted by them, to be seen as worthy. Frasier’s in love with the idea of having a club; they don’t have to do anything, so long as he can tell people he’s there.

Sibling rivalry episodes are, of course, one of the show’s mainstays. Give the two characters a single goal and they’ll go at each other’s throats (even in some cases when it’s not a zero-sum game.) It’s become a ritual to the point where they now keep track of whose turn it is to apologize first after the inevitable blowups. The great irony this time is that, for once, it’s the Cranes’ attempts at virtue that do them in. Frasier attempts to give up the position he thought he won, only to find it was meant for his brother, who storms in and makes a scene just at the wrong moment. Their hearts are in the right place but timing continues to elude them.

This is a one-plot episode, but there’s some funny side material at least. Daphne’s amusement at being Frasier’s “date” is another confirmation of how they’ve put each other clearly into non-romantic boxes. We also get a radio show caller gag after a long drought (well, four episodes), and some business with Eddie learning tricks, which he instantly puts to use getting his paws on Frasier’s imported prosciutto.

Frasier and Niles will have many more opportunities to get in with Seattle’s elite, and we will continue to be mystified at how important it is for them to get in the good graces of what appear to be the most boring people on the planet. It’s an interesting contrast; the Crane brothers are snobs, but they’re funny snobs, interesting snobs. Perhaps the grand irony is, what makes them interesting is their desire to be accepted by people who are so clearly not.

Guest Caller: Gary Sinise as Sid

Written by Elias Davis & David Pollock
Directed by David Lee

Aired March 21, 1995

Frasier: Oh, Daphne, listen, call me Frasier. I don't want people to know that you work for me, all right? If they ask, we've been dating for six months.

Daphne: Alright, Frasier. [she laughs] Anything else, Frasier? Now, are we in love, or is this just a physical thing, Frasier? [she grins]

Quotes from the transcript by Brandon Westerheim at TwizTV.

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