Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Frasierquest 3.11: The Friend

Frasier's new BFF
Bob: Of course all Texans think they invented barbecue. Arrogant bastards!

Making friends is supposed to be something automatic. We enter a new environment, we make connections, and on those occasions where we don’t it’s a sign that something’s wrong. Frasier has lived in Seattle for years, but he suddenly finds himself very alone, and in trying to remedy that, opens himself up to some very uncomfortable situations. “The Friend” is an episode based around the humor of embarrassment, which can be a dealbreaker for many viewers and has never been my favorite. Still, despite some dated aspects, it speaks to some of the more difficult parts of this necessary human ritual.

When Frasier finds himself in possession of two tickets to a major event, and no-one to share them with, he suddenly realizes that he barely has any friends in Seattle. Against Roz’s advice he puts out a plea for friendship on the air, and after fielding some of the more terrifying responses, decides to meet with a man named Bob (Griffin Dunne). Bob is a genial enough fellow at first, but Frasier doesn’t share his love of barbecue and of long lectures on the proper way to prepare it, nor does he appreciate Bob’s love of bizarre hats or tendency to put finger quotes over everything. They’re just not clicking, and Frasier is about to break things off, as it were, when he sees that Bob is in a wheelchair. In a swoon of excessive liberal guilt he decides to try and tough it out, but as friends go, Bob is clingy.

It’s a sign of progress that Frasier’s trepidation at “breaking up” with Bob solely because he’s in a wheelchair seems odd to most viewers. Daphne, for one, is more enlightened on the subject, having experience working with the handicapped, but Frasier’s just too spineless to risk any insensitivity. His inaction makes things worse, making it harder and harder to disengage. Normally, if you strike up an acquaintance with someone and you find you don’t have a lot in common, it’s easy not to see them very often. But Frasier made this a project and he’s committed to it.

Which is not to say that Bob doesn’t bear any of the blame for how things go wrong. He doesn’t know when to stop, and while that kind of effusive personality can be endearing, it’s no doubt part of what makes it hard for Frasier to connect to him. It’s a good performance by Dunne (who was nominated for an Emmy), which illustrates a certain kind of person we all know, and sometimes we get along with that kind of person and sometimes we find them insufferable. He doesn’t seem to ever pick up on the fact that Frasier isn’t interested in barbecue or funny hats, and perhaps wants to be best buddies right away instead of letting a friendship grow over time. For the most part Frasier is the one in the wrong, as he had a responsibility to end things more gracefully than he does, but there’s a nice complication to the scenario.

Inevitably, the ending is an unhappy one. But Frasier makes an odd sacrifice in trying to spare Bob’s feelings, one which makes the scene much more awkward for the viewer but fits his own conscience. The climax also brings the story’s other major conflict to the fore, which is that Frasier is essentially “dumping” Niles in an attempt to find a best friend who is not his brother. Niles’ jealousy doesn’t directly affect Frasier and Bob’s attempted friendship, but his attempt to “get back” at his brother is amusing.

This is one of those episodes where the humor comes from a fairly painful place, so it’s not one I watch frequently. Still, both the hurt and the humor are rooted in truth; friendship is a difficult business, or at least it can be if we take it seriously. Frasier learns the hard way that you can’t force it, but there’s a nobility in his attempts, as spineless as they are. As bad as loneliness is, there are worse situations. Ones involving hats.

Guest Caller: Armisted Maupin as Gerard

Written by Jack Burditt
Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie
Aired January 16, 1996

Frasier: Oh, for God's sake, Niles. When we go out to dinner I always know exactly what you're going to say before you say it.

Niles: Well, then I'm sorry you had to hear that, Frasier.

(Quote assistance from Iain McCallum’s transcript at

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