Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Frasierquest 3.16: Look Before You Leap

Daphne Moon in her punk phase.
Roz: After watching me crash and burn like that you’re gonna go out and sing this very difficult song, in a foreign language, under these unflattering lights, with your clothes soaked with sweat, on live television...

Frasier: How long are you going to stay mad at me?

Roz: Until the day I get married.

Every once in a while Frasier gets an idea in his head. He’ll develop a philosophical conceit or principle that he tries to apply to his entire life and those of the people around him, and it inevitably causes disaster. “Look Before You Leap” is a tale of good intentions gone wrong, as a piece of advice that would be taken as positive in 95% of all situations ends up being just the wrong thing for its characters to do. It’s also a seasonal episode of sorts, and as such is a good indicator of how far behind I’ve gotten.

On an unseasonably warm and sunny Leap Day, Frasier ponders the benefit of a “free day” drifting around every four years, and decides the best way to commemorate it is to take a leap, to do something daring and shake up one’s routine. Daphne decides to get her hair restyled, Martin heads off to celebrate an old friend’s birthday, Roz is encouraged to give an on-air greeting to a cute guy she met on a bus, and Frasier decides that during the local PBS pledge drive he’ll sing an aria from Rigoletto as opposed to his usual rendition of “Buttons and Bows”. Niles, meanwhile, is tempted by an offer from Maris to have some meaningless marital relations, but Frasier convinces him to take his own leap of willpower and resist her charms (such as they are.) This grows harder to do as the other characters’ leaps backfire on them one after another, and Frasier himself starts thinking he should back out of his own dare.

This episode is structured as a cosmic farce. None of the characters’ stories are directly related to each other, but they’re all examples of Murphy’s Law in action. They’re all simple in structure, with what goes wrong being fairly simple too- Daphne just happens to get a very bad perm, Martin has plane trouble, and Roz’s guy is married. It’s the cumulative effect of them all going down in flames that makes each successive story funnier, as well as the pressure their failures put on Niles (who really wants to get some) and Frasier (who really can’t sing the aria he chose.) The pacing of the episode is great, the disasters growing more random and ridiculous as time goes by.

I particularly like Roz’s story in this, because it throws an interesting light on her character. She has an authentic schoolgirl crush on this guy she’s just met, and she betrays a little more of her romantic side; most of her relationships are just for fun, but she’s open to the idea of falling in love. That she won’t get involved with a married man (as he turns out to be) is not exactly unexpected, but it does establish her as having some limits. Of course, Frasier’s own flameout is one for the ages, a brilliant sputtering out of a half-remembered song which includes the immortal improv, “Let’s all go to a taco show.” (Thankfully, this song ended up on the Frasier soundtrack CD.)

Is the message of this episode not to take chances? Well, no- Frasier tries to back out, and he crashes so spectacularly it makes everyone else feel a little better. Maybe the cosmos is punishing him for trying to push everyone else into something when he himself didn’t have the guts. Or, perhaps, as the Simpsons once put it, maybe there is no moral, and it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.

Either way, this is a lot of fun. The show gets to mess around with various silly things, all the characters get some spotlight time, and it ends on a great song number. “Look Before You Leap” is an episode about a day that’s not really a holiday and only exists to correct a timekeeping problem, but damn if the show doesn’t run that ball all the way to the end zone.

No Guest Caller

Written by Chuck Ranberg and Anne Flett-Giordano
Directed by James Burrows
Aired February 27, 1996

Frasier: You will rue the day!

Niles: I don't care! Niles gotta have it!

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