Friday, December 24, 2010

Frasierquest 3.9: Frasier Grinch

Frasier with Frederick on Christmas Eve
Frasier: Oh, God... it's my childhood Christmases all over again. Only now Mom isn't here to say, "Shut up, you'll hurt his feelings."

It’s Christmas time! Though I haven’t been able to do much holiday related stuff (compared to some other bloggers, at least), I couldn’t let the time pass without at least one bit of well-timed holiday cheer. Nowhere near as dark or Capra-esque as the show’s prior Christmas episode, “Frasier Grinch” is misleadingly titled. Frasier doesn’t hate Christmas, but like many of us, he has a hard time enjoying the holiday, as both fate and singlemindedness intervene to make him take it a little more seriously than he should.

Frederick’s finally coming to Seattle, and Frasier, after escaping the KACL Christmas party despite the best efforts of Bulldog, Gil, and a stripper named Kandy Kane (sadly uncredited), is ready to host his son for the holidays. However, the educational toys he ordered got sent to the wrong address, and while Martin tries to convince him that the kid would be much happier with an Outlaw Laser Robo Geek, Frasier rushes with Niles to a mall on Christmas Eve to try to find replacements.

The title is tricky. Frasier doesn’t share the Grinch’s abject hatred of the whole Christmas season, and even reads on his show an inspirational parable about a peasant boy and his flute that’s supposed to teach the true meaning of Christmas or somesuch. But there is a subtler humbuggery at work, where Frasier starts to let his perception and anticipation of how this Christmas needs to go turn him into a grouch. All around him, people are having fun, from the party revelers, to Martin decorating the apartment in Early American Oh My God Did A Gingerbread House Explode, to Niles fooling around with a stupid helmet at a crowded toy store. (That last one is probably my favorite part of the episode, both for the sheer unexpectedness of it and Niles’ childlike glee at having discovered the most useless and awesome thing on the planet.) Martin has to remind him that Frederick is still a kid, he’s going to want to have fun, and maybe he shouldn’t try so hard to positively shape his mind this one particular day of the year. (The traditional use of the toy fad as a plot hook is well executed here, as it’s less about materialism and more about letting loose.)

I was surprised to rediscover how Niles’s recent estrangement was worked into the story. Seeing as this happened last week, it only makes sense, and there’s a similar nod to continuity with Daphne leaving to meet Joe’s parents for Christmas. Niles’ subplot also sets the tone for how this divorce is going to go, by which I mean “unpleasantly.” Maris, in what’s either a desperation bid or sheer pettiness, freezes Niles out of access to their accounts, cutting off his credit and phone service in the process. This isn’t actually resolved onscreen, and while it’s not a major part of the next few episodes I will look to see if it’s fixed at all; it’s treated as an inconvenience, something that we don’t have to waste time on solving, so we may simply be able to assume that he has a good lawyer.

The episode marks the first FRASIER appearance of Frederick Gaylord Crane, and yes, his parents have some explaining to do. He’s played here by Luke Tarsitano, who hadn’t played him before and would not again; I don’t want to be too critical of an actor who was all of five when he had this part, but he does come off as a little stiff and doesn’t seem to have been working out. These things happen when you’re young and have not had the time to absorb the lessons of Stanislavsky. Luck Hari appears at the Cafe Nervosa again, a welcome sight.

“Frasier Grinch” isn’t an episode where the main plot is important enough to overshadow everything else; some of the fun of a Christmas episode is in seeing what these familiar characters are up to during the holidays, and while Roz and Daphne aren’t involved in the main story, the writers make sure to clue us in on what their plans are. Christmas episodes also inevitably end up making some statement on the holiday itself, be it religious or secular, and I think “Frasier Grinch” says a couple of interesting and valuable things. One, that it is really the thought that counts, and we don’t have to kill ourselves trying to make the holidays as perfect as we think they should be; two, that embracing Christmas is about embracing at least some of the kitschiness, the craziness, and the downright stupidity. Only then can we truly appreciate the magic of it all.

Guest Caller: Ray Liotta as Bob

Written by David Lloyd
Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie
Aired December 19, 1995

Frasier: This is for a Franklin Crane from Kennebunkport. God, you realize what this means?

Niles: Yes. The Cranes of Maine have got your Living Brain.

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