Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Frasierquest 3.17: High Crane Drifter

Frasier about to go off
Frasier: People of Seattle! Listen to me! We are not barbarians! We are not Neanderthals and we are NOT FRENCH!

People, as a rule, are not as good as they should be. When you’re raised to think that there are certain rules of etiquette and ways of doing things, it can be downright infuriating to see jerks go unpunished. Frasier gets to live out many a cultured person’s fantasy in “High Crane Drifter”, but it comes at a price. It’s one of the show’s more memorable episodes, with a panoply of guest callers, an interesting structure, and Daphne using her panties as a weapon.

It begins with Frasier suffering a series of indignities. His traffic spot is stolen, making him late for work. He has trouble renting How Green Was My Valley, which he tried to see at a theater but which the patrons kept talking over. When he finally gets his hands on a tape of it, the man in the upstairs penthouse (a rock star named Freddie Chainsaw) won’t stop blasting his songs at top volume. When a man at the CafĂ© Nervosa steals a table that Frasier and Niles were waiting on, that’s it; he throws him out on his ear, and becomes a local hero in the process. But vigilante justice has its downside, and when callers to his show brag about sending scorpions to enemies through the mail and setting people’s lawns on fire, Frasier decides it’s gone too far and admits that he was wrong to resort to violence. And wouldn’t you know it, the guy he manhandled would love to get that in writing...

Frasier spends most of the first act being beaten down until he can’t take it anymore, but in a light and pleasant way. It’s not so much the actual inconvenience he suffers, as it is the principle (which may be why this works better than the identity theft episode from last season.) Frasier is a person who thinks life has rules, and can’t stand to see them broken, so it’s almost inevitable that he’d become the Batman of the world of etiquette. His retribution on the Nervosa patron (John Cygan, doing a really great job of looking like an utter douche) is a satisfying climax to the episode’s first half.

The second act is all about the downfall, though it’s a slow drop. Daphne gets a little creative with her act of laundry room revenge, and Frasier thinks it’s a bit much, but he lets it go. He’s made local headlines and inspired the populace, though not in the way he hoped. The parade of calls from his increasingly violent followers is inspired, and though it forces Frasier to take an ethical stand against what he just did, that in turn ends up burning him in the form of a lawsuit.

In the final irony, though, it’s in the cynical practice of siccing lawyers on each other for every infraction that Frasier finds his salvation. (Well, that and a truly epic pratfall by Niles.) This is how modern mores are enforced, and though it’s only useful for the major infractions, there’s a sense of justice in the resolution, albeit justice achieved in the most backhanded way. There’s another echo here, this time of “The Crucible”, but in reverse; this time there actually is a civilized solution to the problem of incivility.

This is a very tight episode, with a very strong story that moves breezily along. There’s time for side business, including Daphne remembering a catchy tune from a punk band that I guess is called “Flesh Is Burning (Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh)”, but the plot has great momentum going from scene to scene. It’s an episode that evokes a common sense of frustration and takes it to great extremes. It’s another entry in a solid streak of great TV.

Guest Callers: Joan Allen as Lydia, Billy Barty as Chris, Eric Idle as Chuck, Jerry Orbach as Mitch, Jane Pauley as Rochelle, Katarina Witt as Brenda

Written by Jack Burditt
Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie
Aired March 12, 1996

Daphne: [to Frasier] I want you to know that your assertiveness inspired me. For weeks now, some louse has been removing my wet clothes from the washer and leaving them on the table in a soggy mess. This morning, I decided to get my revenge. So I took off my new red panties and I popped them in with his whites.

Niles: Bravo, Daphne. Good for you. God, I wish I'd been there.

Frasier: Daphne, don't you think you were overreacting just a bit?

Daphne: Absolutely not. Those were my panties and I wasn't afraid to use them!

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