Saturday, September 10, 2011

Frasierquest 4.8: Our Father Whose Art Ain't Heaven

If you can't see this painting, you're lucky
Frasier: Honestly, Niles, by calling her so many times you've given her all the power. You're much better off coming from a position of strength.

Niles: Don't pour that sherry on your shirt - it will stain.

Frasier: What?

Niles: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought this was the portion of the afternoon where we gave each other patently obvious advice.

Episodes revolving around Frasier's relationship with his dad inevitably are about how fundamentally different the two are, and artistic taste is one particularly rich area of distance. As strong as family bonds and inherited traits may be, nothing's trickier to figure than what other people like. In this episode Martin learns the hard way that he doesn't know his sons' tastes, but it's an opportunity for him and for Frasier to discover what values they actually share.

When Daphne says she's ready to try her hand at sheep's head stew, the Crane men suddenly realize they have reservations at Le Cigar Volant, the local classy French bistro. Martin wants to pay for dinner since it's his turn, which prompts the Crane boys to order light- he notices and an argument erupts. Later, Martin tries to make amends by actually buying them something he's sure they'll like- a painting from the restaurant that Frasier had complimented earlier. Of course, Frasier had only done so in order to get a table, and wants nothing to do with this garish rendition of bovine violence, but he doesn't want to tell Dad that.

First things first, I have to congratulate the show's art department on the works of Cordoba. The painting Martin buys is garish and ugly, but just polished enough that you can see why he's convinced Frasier actually likes it. If I knew a little more about art I might be able to confirm my suspicion that they're lampooning a certain artist or style, but you see art like this in a lot of places. (Though what's a French restaurant doing with a bunch of bullfighting pictures? No wonder Martin was able to buy one the next day.)

The episode gives us a good opportunity to look at how far Frasier and Martin's relationship has developed. Martin clearly wants his sons to be happy and to do right by them, but he's so insistent on doing the right thing that he becomes belligerent about it. Frasier, meanwhile, thinks he's walking on eggshells, probably because he's already offended his father by not letting him pay for dinner. They're not really opposed to each other in this story, but they don't feel easy being honest and open with each other and that creates conflict where none should exist.

A subplot revolving around people deserting Niles' party for one Maris is holding that same date is an indicator of how things are going for him, i.e. poorly. Niles isn't entirely disentangled from her, and the power she has over his social circles is yet another snare she uses to keep him close. Meanwhile, Daphne is dating again- someone named Marshall, whom I'm not sure we ever meet- and Roz is on hand to offer her own story of unwanted gifts, this time in hippo form.

This is a fairly straightforward episode, as most of the ones revolving around the show's father/son dynamic are; the conflict is easy to see, and it's a question of getting two very stubborn people to come around. But it's still rewarding to see how well Martin and Frasier's relationship is handled after all these years, and how it addresses the relatively normal, low-key problems families have. The resolution is especially sweet, and shows how silly fussing over the details of reciprocation can be. This is an episode that goes back to the show's roots, and finds there's still plenty there.

Guest Caller: John Cusack as Greg

Written by Michael B. Kaplan
Directed by Jeff Melman
Aired December 9, 1996

Martin: You're eating light? All the way over here you had the same look on your face that Eddie gets when he hears the can opener.

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