Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Frasierquest 3.4: Leapin' Lizards

Trouble brewing.
Kate Costas: Are all these callers waiting to tell Bulldog how much they liked the joke he played on Frasier?

Pete: All except the guy on nine, he thinks Bulldog sucks.

Kate Costas: Because of what he did to Frasier?

Pete: No, just in general.

It’s back to KACL again, as Mercedes Ruehl returns for another round as Frasier’s boss. “Leapin’ Lizards” is a bit of an odd duck because it’s basically doing two slightly different plots at once: it’s mostly about Frasier being pranked on-air by Bulldog and wanting to retaliate, but it’s also about Frasier’s relationship with Kate, and the latter trying to tell him what to do, which he resists despite it being her job. The combination isn’t entirely successful, at least near the end where the story fizzles out a little, but there’s great banter and some character development to compensate.

Bulldog first gets one over on Frasier by posing as a caller, which irritates Frasier but really is more a burn on Roz’s call-screening abilities. Frasier really gets frustrated, though, when Bulldog calls him at home on The Gonzo Sports Show, posing as “Dr. Julius Irving” and getting Dr. Crane to sing the Mikado. (Kelsey Grammer characters tend to know a lot of Gilbert & Sullivan. It’s almost a running gag.) Kate not only tolerates this, but encourages it; it’s getting the lines to light up like a Christmas tree, and she thinks Frasier should strike back, maybe creating a Jack Benny/Fred Allen-style feud. After a bad day and being told by Martin that he’s not one for jokes, Frasier decides to go for it. Having heard that Bulldog is afraid of lizards, he puts one in a box used for an on-air contest draw, hoping for shenanigans. Kate shows up in time for the winning entry to be drawn, and things go a little worse than anticipated.

In some ways it’s surprising it took this long for Bulldog to start going after Frasier. The two haven’t really been rivals before this, so it’s possible Bulldog just ignored the guy before him in the booth before finally getting the idea to pull a joke on him. Teasing works best if the subject responds, and since Frasier does not react well to pranks, jibes, or japes (and I am reasonably sure there’s a difference), he’s ideal. It’s a good conflict, and I think the audience is intended to receive it in the same way Kate does- Bulldog’s not doing anything really malicious, and it would be fun to see Frasier toss a few back at his competitor.

That’s why it’s disappointing to me that this angle is cut short by the end of the episode. Frasier attempts one gag and it backfires badly enough that he quickly decides the game’s not for him, and the remainder of the episode (to be fair, only a few minutes) isn’t about the prank war at all but having to apologize to Kate, who had the tip of her finger bitten off by the lizard in the box. It’s a funny scene in and of itself, but it feels like an anticlimax.

On the other hand, the episode is also about Frasier chafing under Kate’s directives, so the focus on her isn’t unwarranted. Again we have an issue where Kate isn’t entirely wrong, but it’s a change from what Frasier normally does. Fortunately we get a twist on the structure in that Frasier doesn’t resist too much, instead deciding that he may as well give it a try. It backfires not so much on him but on Kate, albeit through pure bad luck. Frankly I’m not entirely sure why Frasier chose a lizard that could eat people’s fingers (let alone where he got the damn thing), but he’s not a herpetologist and neither am I. (I can’t actually work out what the lizard is- it was probably unspecified in the script and is visible for a few seconds scurrying away.)

Roz is the third major player in this story; she doesn’t care a whole lot about what Bulldog does to Frasier, but she’ll be on her boss’ side in this because Frasier is a friend and Bulldog is a pig. She’s mostly pretty level-headed during the whole thing, and wants Frasier to have some perspective, but that’s not happening. I also like Michael Whaley as Pete, Bulldog’s producer, who has some very good lines.

“Leapin’ Lizards” doesn’t fully explore the premise it sets up, and for once it was good to see the basic concept repeated several years down the line. Still, it has a lot of great moments, and does work as a look at how Frasier naturally overdramatizes the events of his life. He just doesn’t have the stomach for a prank war, which as it turns out can be a very gory business.

Guest Callers: Billy Crystal as Jack, Ed Harris as Rob

Written by Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett-Giordano
Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie
Aired October 31, 1995 (spooky!)

Martin: You know, we played jokes like this all the time when I was on the force. The day they replaced my bullet proof vest with a big lacey bra, I knew I was one of the guys.

Dr. Frasier Crane: Thank you, Dad. That also clears up a nagging question for me concerning the night you were shot.

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