Monday, October 15, 2012

Frasierquest 5.5: The 1000th Show

Frasier and Niles at the fish market

Niles: Happy Frasier Crane Day.  Or is it Merry Frasier Crane Day, I can never remember.

Many shows never last this long. As meaningless as the hundred episodes milestone is, it's one rarely passed, and so it's a good excuse for a bit of celebration and introspection on Frasier's part. But on top of being a meta exercise, "The 1000th Show" takes Frasier and the gang to a place they've never been before- the real world streets of Seattle, in an epic location shoot that provides a nicely realistic backdrop for an unusually complicated Niles and Frasier misadventure.

Frasier's show on KCAL has made it to 1,000 broadcasts. Frasier at first resists the idea of doing anything fancy to mark the occasion, even though Bob and Nipsey at KPXY got a rally below the Space Needle and everything. But he can't help but succumb to vanity and suggest to Roz that she arrange for a celebration, which ends up as an official Frasier Crane Day thanks to the mayor (Seattle's real then-mayor, Norman B. Rice, playing himself), who will also hand Frasier a key to the city. But when Frasier and a resentful Niles walk through the fish market, the latter spills coffee on the former's shoes, setting off a chain reaction of delays and detours that takes Dr. Crane further and further away from his party while Roz tries to kill time.

It all comes back to Frasier and Niles, doesn't it? It makes sense that for this celebratory episode the writers would focus on the show's most powerful dynamic. Niles' passive-aggressive approach to his brother's latest triumph results in some wonderful sniping, and it plays particularly well against Frasier in full pomp mode. This unfolds over nearly the whole episode, as the reason to have the two walking through the real Seattle instead of seeing it from the comfort of a rear-projected car ride.

The location work gives an unusual atmosphere to the episode, a more naturalistic vibe as opposed to the deliberately stage-like status quo. Since the show eschewed using locations for quick establishing shots the way other multi-cam sitcoms do, it's a bigger deal when they're actually out in the open . The location trip makes the episode feel a bit looser, funkier, reflecting parts of Seattle that the Cranes themselves probably ignore a lot. It's a bit of an indulgence, but not an unwelcome one.

To be sure, the writers make sure everyone gets something to do. Daphne gets to talk to the mayor and make herself look crazier than usual, though the climax to this story feels a little contrived. Martin and Roz are kept busy running interference while waiting for the man of the hour to show up. Again, nothing terribly significant for either character, but this way all the cast is on location and it feels a bit more like a proper celebration. (Seattle held an "actual" Frasier Crane day on the now-unfortunate date of September 11, 1997, and footage from it comprises the end credits bumper.)

It's appropriate to end a celebratory episode on something of a positive note, so for once Frasier manages to overcome his ego and spend his honorary day actually helping someone. His nobler side prevails when it really matters, it seems, and this makes the episode a breakdown of the character's worst and best qualities. It's also a tribute of sorts to Seattle, the city that Dr. Crane calls home even if the crew never does. In any case it has substance, of a kind that's not always found in anniversary specials. After a hundred episodes the series shows no sign of losing steam.

No Guest Caller

Written by Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan
Directed by David Lee
Aired November 11, 1997

Daphne: But still, a thousand shows!  That's quite an achievement.

Frasier: Yeah, I suppose, who'd have thought?

Martin: Not me, that's for damn sure.  Yeah, those first two weeks. Peeuw!  Open a window!

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