Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Frasierquest 2.22: Agents in America, Part III

Frasier and Bebe: the morning after
Frasier: Bebe, I don’t think there are any words to describe what we shared last night...

Bebe: It was like Greco-Roman wrestling on a trampoline!

I wasn’t quite sure which episode this was before I started watching it; the Bebe Glaser story has many twists and turns. Bebe’s episodes are fun just because of the actress and the character; it doesn’t matter so much what she does, because her very presence is entertaining. Harriet Sansom Harris gets quite a workout in this episode, with Bebe playing evil, sexy, suicidal, and a few other beats in between. In so doing she leads Frasier into some very sketchy ethical areas, both as an employee of KACL and as a man. She’s always a figure of temptation, but here she’s a little more direct than usual.

Frasier is due for a raise, as his contract called for when he first signed on to the station. Bebe convinces him that the original 8% promised is not enough for a breakaway talent, so she recommends that he take a prolonged “sick” leave until the station agrees to renegotiate. It smacks of a bad work ethic to Martin, but what worries Frasier is that the station starts to play hardball, painting over his space on the parking lot and clearing out some of his supplies. Bebe comes over to his apartment to convince him to hold out, and gives the station a midnight deadline. With five minutes to go, the station caves and agrees to open negotiations. Frasier and Bebe celebrate into the night, and that celebration continues into next morning. Now Frasier is in an uncomfortable position with his agent, and there are still negotiations coming up.

Bebe is usually in the role of the Temptress when she shows up, so it makes sense that she’d take that one step further. But the episode is not really so much about their night of passion, as the larger temptation Bebe drags Frasier into. There’s no indication that Frasier feels underpaid or underappreciated at the station until Bebe plants the idea in his head, and Martin probably speaks for more than a few viewers when he points out the ethical dubiousness of Frasier’s “sick day” ploy. Of course, Frasier is not a salaried worker doing a job with a fairly steady value, but a media personality, and frequent renegotiations based on popularity and prestige are par for the course in this particular game. Frasier’s not wrong to want more money, necessarily, but in following Bebe down this path he puts himself in a compromising situation or two; she’s really in control the whole time.

It’s a tour-de-force for Harris, who gets some wonderful dialogue. She’s an actress I’d like to see in more regular roles, though I’m sure I’m just not looking in the right places; her brief parts in NURSE BETTY and MEMENTO were similarly strong. You can tell that in this episode the writers are starting to get comfortable with Bebe as a recurring character, developing her personality and showing just how cunning and dangerous she really is.

Speaking of returning characters, this episode also has Eric Lutes showing up as Tom Duran, the station manager, in a nice bit of continuity from earlier in the season. Meanwhile, of the regulars, David Hyde Pierce has some memorable moments, but it’s mostly Kelsey Grammer and Harris’ show, the two displaying great comic chemistry. (This is the challenge about the recurring actors; they can’t just be funny in and of themselves, they have to play well off the main cast.)

In the long run, Frasier’s temptation has no consequences apart from some awkward moments and a certain existential dread on realizing how far Bebe will go to get what she wants. He even gets his raise, presumably. It’s not so much bad behavior with no consequences as it is vaguely questionable behavior with vaguely unsettling consequences; a quite subtle model for a sitcom episode, and one that you don’t normally find as part of the standard formula. Bebe never openly tries to jump Frasier’s bones again, which is probably for the best, but there’s little doubt she could do it again if her plans called for it. Her game is deep.

No Guest Caller

Written by Joe Keenan
Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie
Aired May 9, 1995

Frasier: Once a woman has dipped her toe into Crane Lake, dry land is never the same again.

Niles: Yes, she's probably sitting at home writing "Mrs. Bebe Crane" over and over again in her Algebra book.

1 comment:

JonM said...

I'm slowly belatedly working my way through Frasier episodes, and this one was very entertaining.
Towards the end, I noticed in Bebe's voice something familiar - and I reckon she is imitating Katherine Hepburn: that sort of commanding, slightly haughty lilt. I wonder if anyone else noticed or thought this too....?
Anyway, it is a great performance by Harriet Sansom Harris.
(PS, there is also one moment where Kelsey Grammer sounds like Cary Grant, and I just wonder if they were indulging in a spoof..?