Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Frasierquest 3.3: Martin Does It His Way

Frasier Crane, choir director
Niles: I don't mean to quibble, but it seems like your heart is always going either hidy-heydy, ringy-dingy, or scooby-dooby.

Martin: Look, I don't need another critic.

Niles: Right. Perhaps a cardiologist.

I try to avoid spoilers, but sometimes they’re unavoidable. Sometimes what makes an episode stand out is what happens at the very end, and that’s the case with “Martin Does It His Way”. It’s a nice change of pace, focusing on the elder Crane for once, and has a good parallel plot structure, but it’s the finale that makes it all come together. In the meantime, the set-up has it tackling two entirely separate themes; one of pursuing our dreams and not letting them fester, and one of finding nice things to say about people who are better off dead.

Frasier’s aunt Louise has died, which is not as sad as it sounds because nobody really liked her (nor she anybody.) It may not be sad but it is annoying, because Louise requested that Frasier deliver the eulogy at her funeral, and asked Niles- with whom she was never satisfied or impressed- to find a suitable site at which to dispose of her ashes. A conversation about all the things Louise said she was going to do but never did leads to the family discovering Martin’s hidden ambition- he wants to write a song for Frank Sinatra. He wrote down quite a few in his spare time, and as Frasier and Niles mull over their own dilemmas, they convince him to pull out the best one, work up a tune, and send it off to Frank’s people. That ends up not quite working out, but Martin figures he at least tried, and Frasier surprises him at Aunt Louise’s funeral by turning Martin’s “Lady of Mine” into a choral tribute to the deceased.

Martin’s songwriting passion is an interesting character detail which, while it doesn’t radically transform our perception of him, does add a layer. Everyone’s gotta have a hobby, and to know that he has a creative side rounds out the character while not really going against the grain of what we know about him already. He doesn’t quite think of himself as a writer, but he loves Sinatra and thinks he knows what the Chairman likes. From what we hear, he’s pretty decent; I don’t know from standards, but “Lady of Mine” ends up being a pretty catchy tune.

The reason I have to spoil the ending on this one is because I think it’s what ties a bow on the whole story. While Martin’s song doesn’t get sung by Ol’ Blue Eyes, it does a lot more good in the context it does get performed in, turning a miserable remembrance of the life of a miserable woman into a genuinely positive experience by having everyone pretend, just for a couple of minutes, that she was indeed a groovy lady. It’s a nod to the power of art, and a perfect up-note on top of twenty minutes of entertaining grumpiness.

Niles adds a good B-story to the mix, even if it’s not developed very much. While Frasier’s struggle with the eulogy is basically a matter of not wanting to lie that horribly, Niles is motivated by a desire to finally do something right for her. He didn’t like her any more than anyone else did, but her constant dissatisfaction with everything he did makes him determined to prove her wrong. It’s an interesting spin on his typical perfectionism, which is usually an end in itself.

It’s all charming stuff, an especially life-affirming installment despite being all about death. It has the nice theme that our dreams, even if not realized in full, can still make our lives better, and enhance others’ as well. Rather than state this explicitly, the show makes the point with a song and leaves us all with a smile. It’s not a classic, but it kind of sticks with you anyway.

Guest Caller: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Eileen

Written by David Lloyd
“Lady of Mine” written by Paul A. Kreiling and David Lloyd
Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie
Aired October 10, 1995

Daphne: Besides, in my family, when there was a funeral everybody went. I remember when Grammy Moon passed on. My brothers had been off on a three-day bender. They couldn't even stand on their own - pissed as newts! But they crawled to that chapel on their hands and knees.

Frasier: Very commendable.

Daphne: Yeah, well, they had an obligation. They were the pallbearers.

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