Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Frasierquest 4.9: Dad Loves Sherry, The Boys Just Whine

Marsha Mason as Sherry

Niles: I didn't know Mae West had children!

And now things really get interesting for Martin Crane. He got a girlfriend last season, but not one we saw very much of. It's a shame that Jane Kaczmarek never got a lot to do on the series, but the arrival of Marsha Mason as Sherry Dempsey is something of a big deal. She looms large in this and next season as a force in the lives of the characters, becoming sort of a marker for this particular part of the show's history. In retrospect it's remarkable that the character worked at all, let alone was a welcome presence for as long as she was.

Frasier gets some bad news from Maureen (Kaczmarek again), who is planning to finally break it off with Martin and wants to do it as gently as possible. Martin, however, is secretly relieved when she dumps him, since he can now start dating Sherry (Mason), a waitress at McGinty's. Sherry is brassy, loud, and bawdy, and Frasier and Niles are more terrified by her than anything else. They don't want to tell Dad that they don't like her, but they don't want to spend time with her either, and with Niles having an awards dinner coming up, it seems like they can't keep their irritation bottled up forever.

One of the hardest things to do in fiction is to write an annoying character. People do it accidentally all the time, but if you're making a character irritating on purpose you have to balance how loud and in-your-face they are with what the audience will actually withstand. Sherry is helped by only having to be really annoying to Frasier and Niles- who are, shall we say, sensitive- while for the rest of us she's merely this side of a bit much. Marsha Mason manages to play her as larger than life without being shrill, and we get her in small enough doses that she isn't tiresome. Well, to me, anyway- it's a subjective area.

The episode repeats some of the themes of the last episode, as it again plays on how Frasier and Martin are men of very different tastes. That in itself isn't enough conflict for comedy, but Frasier and Niles not knowing how to tell their dad that they don't like his girlfriend (assuming they even should) turns it from simple disagreement to full awkwardness. Pretty soon we're headed towards more arguments and hurt feelings, and though Frasier and Niles may be unnecessarily harsh on Sherry, Martin's been guilty of the same thing when it comes to their loves.

Martin getting a girlfriend points up Niles and Frasier's lonesomeness (as well as Daphne's- apparently Marshall didn't quite work out, and she's still mooning over Joe.) The climactic argument leads inevitably to talk of Lilith and Maris, and then of the one Crane woman they could all agree on- Hester. It may simply be an issue of her death making them remember her at her best, but she's practically saintlike in their invocations of her.

As you might expect, the episode ends with the three making a promise to try a little harder to get used to each other's significant others. They pretty much don't succeed, judging by subsequent episodes, but it's a reminder of the difficulties of having friends and family. We all want to get along with people who are close to people who are close to us, but it's partly up to luck, and sometimes you just have to sit and listen to a few banjo solos.

No Guest Caller

Written by Joe Keenan
Directed by James Burrows
Aired January 7, 1997

Martin: Ah, spare me the Ivy League bull. There ain't a dame alive who wouldn't rather break a guy's heart than think she hadn't even made a dent in it. I may not have been to Harvard, but I have been to the College of Love.

Frasier: Apparently on a Spillane Fellowship!

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