Monday, August 15, 2011

Frasierquest 4.6: Mixed Doubles

Niles in stereo
Martin (on phone): Hello? Oh, I can't talk right now, Duke. I'm in the Twilight Zone!

Ah, so this is what happened with Joe.

I always look forward to handling the Niles/Daphne episodes; they’re invariably sweet, funny, and appeal to the misty-eyed romantic in me. “Mixed Doubles” is no exception, but it skews funnier than most of their episodes; Niles’ longing for the delightful Ms. Moon is turned into the set-up for a punchline that would be cruel if it weren’t so profoundly goofy. As with many other episodes in this saga, we’re teased with the possibility of a major change in the status quo, said status quo ends up being mostly reaffirmed, but we get a sense of how close these two are, and that bond gives us hope for the future. This time around, it happens to be utterly hilarious, arguably one of the show’s funniest episodes.

It begins with Daphne dropping a bombshell one evening; she and Joe, after being on-again-off-again for a while, have finally called it quits. More specifically he did. She’s heartbroken, and Niles is ready and willing to declare his love for her now that they’re both unattached, but Frasier convinces him to wait until she’s in a less fragile state. The next day, however, Daphne has already met someone, courtesy Roz taking her to The Sure Thing. Niles, angry at Frasier, calls Roz and gets her to take him to that same bar in hopes of meeting someone of his own, which he does- the comely Adelle (Allison Mackie). But then one night he and Adelle stop by Frasier’s just as Daphne is coming by with her boyfriend, Rodney (Kevin Farrell)- a small, fussy, immaculately groomed man who loves to smell Daphne’s hair. As traumatizing as it is for Niles, it’s worse for Frasier’s collection of decorated drinking glasses.

So Daphne is dating Niles’ doppleganger and dear God, is this hysterical. The irony is cruel, almost brutally so, but the sheer oddness of the two meeting and not actually recognizing each other for what they are is what makes it work. Farrell doesn’t bear the closest facial resemblance to David Hyde Pierce, but his mannerisms and cadence are incredibly close. Daphne remains happily oblivious to the end, but Frasier and Martin’s reactions sell the bit better than anything (Grammer gets one of the very best line readings, as can be seen below). Nothing too outrageous has happened up until the scene where he’s introduced, so it’s really a sudden burst of visual comedy.

The ramifications for Niles and Daphne are interesting. We get why Niles likes Daphne and we’ve seen them be cute together without really being together, but now we get another interesting hint- Daphne is attracted to someone like him. Perhaps it’s just a rebound thing, and Niles never really has time to consider this angle anyway, but for viewers convinced they’re meant to be it’s another piece in the puzzle. The end, however, does two things. First, it gives us another reason to put off any further development- Daphne says she’d never get involved with a man who’s separated, and suggests that Niles probably still has feelings for his wife. So that has to be resolved, and that’s some time off. But in that same final scene, both of them say “I love you.” As friends, of course- but it’s taking their connection still deeper. They’re closer at the end than they were before.

Let’s not forget Roz’s part in all this. She’s only involved in the first act, but her scene throwing Niles into the scene at the Sure Thing is a highlight. She’s unusually friendly towards him, and willing to help. It could be a sign that their relationship, too, is softening slightly- she doesn’t quite despise him anymore, at least. Or maybe she just loves her work- the idea of finding someone for even Niles presents to her a unique challenge. It’s an adorable scene, and her attempt to make Daphne feel better about her breakup is... well, noble at least.

Poor Niles gets put through the wringer here, denied a clear chance at Daphne and later spurned by Adelle for Rodney (which, to his credit, results in his being angry for Daphne more than anyone else.) But all is redeemed by a drink at the Sure Thing and a moment of honest, tender conversation which affirms just how much these two people care for each other. When I first saw this episode I honestly thought this was the writers’ way of burying the angle for good, as ridiculous as that seems to anyone who knows anything about how TV works. It’s a satisfying episode, but the dance has barely begun.

No Guest Caller

Written by Christopher Lloyd
Directed by Jeff Melman
Aired November 19, 1996

Frasier: Niles, whatever you do, do not engage him in a physical fight. The whole thing would just look too weird!

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