Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Frasierquest 4.16: The Unnatural

Frasier at the Bat

Roz: All right, there's a guy on second, one guy's out, I drive one to the gap. The throw to the cut-off man is late, our guy's safe at home, and I try to stretch it to a double. I make a beautiful hookslide right under the tag. How can I be out?

Frasier: I'm still trying to understand why you drove to the Gap in the middle of a game.

I think we all pretty much knew Frasier couldn't play softball by now, or really any sport, but it's nice to have confirmation. "The Unnatural" throws a few different balls in the air, but the central premise is that Frasier doesn't have a chance of hitting any of them. It's also an episode that focuses on the ever-developing relationship between father and son, as Frasier sees an unfortunate milestone coming up for him and Frederick. It's the biggest role the younger Crane has had on the show, and we start to see some real development of his character. I can't tell if this is an especially funny script or if I've been suffering from deprivation neglecting this feature for so long, but it's definitely an eventful episode which does a lot with a basic premise.

Frederick's back in town for another visit (still played by Trevor Einhorn), and Frasier's been trying to arrange for a tour of Microsoft. He can't quite make it happen (despite Roz attempting to call in a favor on a clingy ex-boyfriend), but Frederick, while talking to Bulldog, who happens to be coaching the station's softball team, decides he wants to see his dad play in their next game. The problem of course is that Frasier can't play, but he doesn't want Frederick to know this, because he's not quite ready for his little boy to find out that dad isn't perfect. He attempts to take a few lessons, but the automated pitching range proves to be a formidable challenge indeed.

This is the first episode of the series directed by Pamela Fryman, who is responsible for some of the show's best installments and would go on to become an executive producer for The King of Queens and How I Met Your Mother. The premise simplicity itself, but fortunately everyone involved does their part to build on it. One element introduced here is that Frederick has developed a crush on Daphne, which she playfully indulges. This drives Niles insane, and the scenes playing on this manage to strike just the right balance between humor and cuteness (the cuteness coming as much from Daphne's indulgence as from anything Frederick does.)

The fundamental conflict, meanwhile, has more to do with the inevitable passing of time than anything else. There's nothing shocking about the revelation that Frasier can't play softball, nor do we expect him to learn. The scene at the cages is great, though, and a rare opportunity for Kelsey Grammer to indulge in some slapstick. We never actually see the game, but there's really no need to.

The whole episode is really about grown-ups not just trying to look good in front of their children, but to do right by them. It even applies to non parents like Daphne, Roz, and even Bulldog, who lets Frederick think his old man is a great player because he's trying to be polite. (The scene between Freddie and Bulldog is one of the funniest bits of the episode, with Frederick managing to call into question Bulldog's entire world view with a few well placed "why"s.) The converse side of this equation is a cute bit where Frasier recalls Roz's disappointment at her mom not taking her to see Bobby Sherman, and in the under-the-credits gag makes it up to her. It's hard to think of even a young Roz as a screaming teen idol worshiper, but it's kind of adorable too.

One of the things we learn from this episode is that Frederick is a pretty sharp kid. He knows his dad isn't perfect and isn't too surprised that he's actually not very good at sports. (He is appalled at Martin's inability to do math in his head, but this is a guy who was wearing a viking hat for no reason earlier so it shouldn't really be a surprise.) "The Unnatural" is a story where both father and son learn a little from each other, and it's part of a well-realized journey continuing throughout the show's life.

No Guest Caller

Written by Michael B. Kaplan
Directed by Pamela Fryman

Aired April 1, 1997

Daphne: We went to the amusement park, we had a lovely time. Only I think the ferris wheel scared him a bit. Spent the whole ride hugging me for dear life.

Niles: Really.

Frederick: Her hair smells like strawberries.

Niles: It smells like peach blossoms, lavender, and vanilla. (Beat) From here, of course.

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