Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Frasierquest 2.20: Breaking the Ice

Frasier, Martin, and Niles on the lake

Frasier: So you're suggesting that I go along, pretend I'm enjoying myself doing something that gives me absolutely no pleasure at all, just to hear the words "I love you"?

Daphne: Why not? Women have been doing it for centuries.

Looking back at the season so far, it’s been a while since we just threw some of the main characters in a room and let them have at each other. It’s something every sitcom just has to do now and again, and given FRASIER’s stage-y nature it’s well overdue. So, we have Frasier, Niles, and Martin setting out for some dysfunctional male bonding at an icy fishing lodge, and it’s pretty much an instant classic. It develops the relationship between Martin and sons to what’s actually a pretty significant degree, thawing it out if you will. Or not. That was a really bad pun, I’m sorry.

Every year, Martin and his friend Duke go up to a cabin on the lake to do some ice fishing. (This episode aired in the spring, but bear with me.) This year, however, Duke is sick and can’t make it, and Martin doesn’t want to go along. Niles volunteers to come along when he hears Daphne wax rhapsodic about rugged men coming home with kippers to pan-fry, and Frasier decides to accompany them as a way of getting closer to his father; he’s just realized that he’s never heard Martin say “I love you,” except to Eddie and sometimes Duke. Of course, things start to fall apart as soon as they get to the cabin; Niles has gone on a binge of sporting goods shopping and memorized every fact about the lake imaginable in an attempt to make conversation, it’s cold and boring, and Niles drops the car keys in the ice hole. It’s gonna be a long night.

Niles’ apparent enthusiasm for the trip adds an interesting dynamic. We’ve seen Frasier and Niles both grumble and snipe their way through an evening with Dad, but now Frasier is on his own in open misery. The balance of Martin’s enjoyment of a favorite pasttime, Niles’ chirpy enthusiasm, and Frasier’s sheer boredom offers a lot of potential, and as the night wears on and everyone moves a little from their initial perspective, a real camaraderie develops.

Frasier came on this trip to hear his father say that he loves him, and getting Martin to the point where he’s willing to do so is really the main thrust of the episode. It’s not that he doesn’t want to say it, but it’s hard for him, while with Eddie and Duke there are certain rules. (Sadly, syndication cuts one of the better passages, where he explains the difference between “I love you” and “I love ya”.) While actually going on a fishing trip was probably unnecessary to achieve this end, the bonding is worth it; Martin joins the boys in a drinking song from La Traviata, Frasier starts to loosen up, and even when Niles admits that he hates ice fishing as much as his brother, Martin just sort of accepts it, by this point honored that they’d go through the experience just to be with him.

I think we see a change from this point on. For once Frasier and Niles are willing to do a “dad” thing on dad’s terms, and not ruin it by being, well, them; the contrast between this and “Dinner at Eight” is noticeable. After this we see the relationship between Martin and sons as a give and take; they’re more willing to give a little. Granted, their relationship was already softening, and there will be arguments in the future, and I’m not sure that the writers planned any specific shift to take place at any given time. Nonetheless, I think this episode provides a marker point.

It’s also a great locked-room farce, with some of the season’s sharpest writing and most quotable dialogue. It’s hard to describe what makes FRASIER’s classic episodes stand out from the pack; the show has a lot of very good elements and sometimes they just come together. This run up to the end of the season contains some absolute masterpieces, so it may just be that they were saving their best for sweeps. But whatever it is, I’m really looking forward to the next few write-ups.

No Guest Caller

Written by Steven Levitan
Directed by Philip Charles MacKenzie

Aired April 18, 1995

Frasier: By morning we’ll be Stouffer’s frozen entrees for wolves!

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