Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Frasierquest 4.19: Three Dates and a Breakup

Frasier prepares for a date

 Frasier: Niles! I'd offer you a sherry, but I'm fresh out!

We arrive now at a milestone, the first of quite a few hour-long episodes the show would have over the years. These days it's fairly rare for a sitcom to get a bigger-sized slot, but back in NBC's heyday (and yes, such a rare and mythic time existed),  it was common for them to beef up installments of their hit shows by a little or a lot in order to grab more ad revenue. Frasier, being a hit show, got to stretch its legs a few times, and usually with good results; the writers generally used the time to let stories breathe and develop rather than simply cramming in more story. "Three Dates and a Breakup" is an organic use of the format; it doesn't feel padded, or for that matter overstuffed. Rather, it interweaves two storylines that could by themselves make for good episodes, and does so in a way that enhances both.

Martin's relationship with Sherry has gotten more serious, with his ladyfriend staying over more nights, much to Frasier's chagrin. But he's got more important things to focus on, like the fact that in one night he manages to secure three dates for the weekend. This makes him insufferable, especially towards Niles who's in his own bad patch. Sherry and Martin manage to ruin one of Frasier's dates by coming home early, but the next morning they're fighting, and soon enough they've broken up. At first Frasier is ecstatic (as is his brother), and Martin doesn't seem too put out, but Daphne thinks something's wrong and Frasier starts to come around. That doesn't stop Sherry from ruining his dates.

Frasier's storyline focuses on his inability to handle a good thing. That he's now a babe magnet after a drought is all well and good, but rather than simply seek out a relationship with a woman he is attracted to, Frasier gets greedy. What goes wrong on the first date is mostly his fault; he tries to paint himself as a dog lover and vegetarian, and Martin and Sherry simply reveal that he's a liar. The second is undone by the first, when Sherry mistakes his new date for his old, and by the third his carefully calculated seduction routine has become a desperate frenzied dress rehearsal for a play that will never open. There's something downright Aesop-like about the whole thing, and characters trying to overindulge their appetites and ending up starved is a rich comic tradition. And of course, Frasier's smug arrogance  sweetens his fall. It's almost encouraging to think that no matter how many failed dates he has, Frasier is never far from believing he's Casanova.

Meanwhile, Martin and Sherry's story is a more mature one, but they too find ways to act childish. The fight that leads to their breakup is an extremely petty one, over insignificant things like Chinese food for breakfast and the proper use of chopsticks. But arguments like this are always about bigger things, and this ends up being true on two levels. One is a conflict in their personalities; Sherry pushes Martin to try new things and Martin likes to stay in his comfort zone. It's the sort of friction that can go either way, either strengthening a relationship or breaking it up. But we also run into Martin's fear of committing to another woman, and again it's a memory of Hester that Frasier uses to help resolve things.

To fill out the hour there's a fun little story with Roz running into an old Wisconsin friend immediately after a mile jog, and trying later to make sure he knows she normally isn't drenched in sweat. We also see that Niles is having a bad run of luck with women, which is awkward at first but adds to his amusement on hearing about Frasier's dating disasters. Also, Daphne tries on an American accent and horrifies everyone in the process. Despite this being a super-sized episode, these subplots aren't used much; there's quite enough going on with the main stories.

The end of the episode provides an opportunity for Frasier to redeem himself of his schadenfreude over Sherry's departure, and it's also a nice turning point for Martin. He can now not only date, but actually fall in love with another woman after Hester; it's a very important step for the character in later seasons. Frasier's first hour-long outing really works in all the ways it needs to, and it proves that the show's world is expansive enough for the occasional prolonged stay.

No Guest Caller

Written by Rob Greenberg
Directed by Jeff Melman

Aired April 29, 1997

Niles: Yes, and I'd love to stay but I... have my therapy group meeting, and last time I was late the compulsive gamblers were betting the passive aggressives that they couldn't make the over-eaters cry.

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