Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Frasierquest 3.2: Shrink Rap

Frasier and Niles get help
Martin: The restaurant you bought together, that was a bad idea! The book you tried to write together, that was a bad idea! But this.... [thinks] No, that restaurant was still the stupidest one.

It seems like not too long ago I was detailing Frasier and Niles’ last failed attempt to work together. It was the penultimate episode of Season 2, and so there’s an unintended symmetry here. But while “The Innkeepers” was a sprawling disaster epic, “Shrink Rap” is much more focused on the fundamentals of Frasier and Niles’ sibling rivalry. It works primarily as an excuse to have the two at each other’s throats for almost the entire show, and also lets Frasier act as a more traditional psychiatrist for a change. All that plus a flashback-driven story makes this a worthy bout in a series-long grudge match.

The episode starts with the two brothers in therapy, as couples specialist Dr. Schacter (Milo O’ Shea) helps the two recount their latest conflict. Frasier was getting bored at the station, and decided to do some private practice work on the side; Niles wanted an excuse to kick out a primal scream therapy group disrupting his building, and so we see the two happily embark on a joint group therapy venture. We’re just a little into Day One when Niles starts condescending to Frasier, Frasier starts interrupting his brother’s diagnoses with his own thoughts, and neither can agree where the potted plant should go. The two brothers start engaging in their own primal scream therapy, and that’s when Dr. Schacter offers to help.

Despite the flashback structure of the story, there isn’t a lot of Rashomon-esque manipulation of events; there are a few times when the brothers try to puff up their own egos or score points off each other, and Niles’ flashback provides us with a particularly entertaining monologue from Daphne, but the conflict between their versions of events isn’t central to the episode. I expect this framing device was more a way to start the story off in an unusual place, beginning with everything having failed and then showing us how.

The how of it is no big surprise; Frasier and Niles are innately competitive, and in this case Niles sees Frasier as intruding on his territory, even though he invited him in. Daphne gets to the heart of it when she observes that Niles gave Frasier a smaller name on the door; he probably expected to somehow be in charge, not just because Frasier would be working part-time, but because he doesn’t see Frasier as a genuine psychiatrist. He’s a celebrity and needs to be reminded of how real therapy works, preferably with a lot of books (though Frasier’s memory may be exaggerating just how much reading material Niles gave him.)

It’s not like Frasier makes much of an effort to get along either. He tries to dominate the group discussion and give every individual advice, since that’s what he’s used to and it’s his personality. He makes no concessions when his brother calls him out, and gives no ground in the argument that results. When the Crane boys fight, they go big; they don’t concede points and are loath to compromise. Dr. Schacter inevitably pronounces them a helpless case, since it’s almost a rule that sitcom character dysfunction be irreparable. It’s the same reason Jack Benny’s violin teacher never held out any hope of him improving.* But Frasier and Niles quickly find an excuse to ignore his advice, and though the cooperative practice never resurfaces, it is an experience from which they refuse to learn.

*(I am well aware that Jack Benny could actually play the violin quite well.)

If I have one complaint about this episode it’s that it really only has the central story, and nobody else has much to do, but I’m not even sure that’s an actual flaw. “Shrink Rap” sets out to do one thing and does it very, very well, with some of the best quipping in Frasier and Niles’ storied history, and O’ Shea makes a great counterpoint. It’s quick and to the point, that point being polished to a razor sheen.

Guest Caller: Blair Brown as Jill

Written by Christopher Lloyd
Directed by David Lee
Aired September 26, 1995

Frasier: I am so tired of your exaggeration, you always make things fifteen thousand times worse than they are!

Transcript by Nicholas Hartley at TWIZTV.com

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