Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Frasierquest 5.6: Voyage of the Damned

Frasier, Roz, and the Barracuda

Roz: I don't see [Maris], maybe she went back out.  Oh, wait.  I see her coat on a hat rack.

Frasier: Look closer.  Is the hat rack moving?

Roz: Oh my God!

Sending characters off on a cruise is a sitcom staple with two key advantages: it provides a change of scenery and opportunity to mix things up, while at the same time being cheaper than actually going anywhere fancy. After an epic 100th episode, "Voyage of the Damned" is a return to manic setbound farce, and it's strongly written enough to excuse any seeming gimmickry in the premise. As highfalutin' as I can get about this show, it is a traditional sitcom, and it will inevitably indulge in classic sitcom tropes. It just does so very well.

Frasier gets an offer to appear as a celebrity guest speaker on an Alaskan cruise, and after some not-very-persistent prodding from Roz gives in. Martin comes along because he wants to show the buffets who's in charge, and Niles is distraught over missing he and Maris' anniversary dinner since she's off in Zurich for experimental surgery, so he gets dragged along. (Daphne stays home.) Unfortunately Niles runs into lecherous social butterfly Mimi (Stephanie Faracy), and though he tries to fend off her advances, Maris is on board, sees them together, and draws the wrong conclusions, paying waiters to throw drinks in Niles' face as punishment. He begins to suspect even worse things are in store when he sees her flirting with the ship's musical act, sleazy Latin lounge singer Carlos "The Barracuda" Del Gato (Miguel Pérez).

Part of the fun here is seeing Frasier in an unfamiliar, challenging environment. The luxury of a B-list cruise is not the luxury he's used to; it's the budget version, with gaudy decor and tiny cabins you're not supposed to stay in for any length of time. (Never having been on a cruise I can't speak to the accuracy or lack thereof of his experience, but I'm sure it varies.) Carlos, who is not only a sleazeball but a one-hit wonder whose 70s sensation, "Do the Barracuda", is convincingly horrible, epitomizes the run-down, has-been vibe Frasier gets from the whole vacation, and it's a great frission; the set design is appropriately kitschy as well.

The chintzy vibe offsets the plot being another upper-class comedy of manners, one that plays on Niles and Maris' increasingly strained relationship. At this point in the show's run it honestly feels a little odd that they're still technically together- they've been hanging on the brink of reconciliation or divorce for some time now, and while it feels like this could easily have been a plotline from an earlier season, it's also perfectly in character for Maris to be jealous and possessive when she's the one who insisted on separate vacations.

But there they all are, stuck on a boat together, and though the farce doesn't bulid to a climactic explosion of absurdity, we get a lot of funny lines along the way. Roz fits oddly well into a situation that shouldn't even involve her; she's partly bemused by all the insanity going on, as well as thoroughly creeped out by Carlos himself. When she asks Niles is he thinks Maris is going to "do the Barracuda", a wonderful half-smirk breaks across her face; it looks for all the world like Peri Gilpin is corpsing, but it's also in-character. Her natural ease makes a great contrast with Frasier and Niles' usual high-strung antics.

We end with Niles and Maris again seemingly reconciled, or at least together for now. It's clear that this particular status quo can't really hold and we're heading for some kind of resolution, but in the meantime the old standby of sending the characters out to sea does help keep things interesting. It allows the characters to mix with unsavory lounge singers and comedians who have to call themselves "Giggles" to make it clear to the audience that they are in fact comedians, while over in first class the travails of the rich and strange remain as strange as ever. There's a reason the old TV conventions get used so often, and it's not just because it helps save money on sets.

No Guest Caller

Written by Jeffrey Richman
Directed by Pamela Fryman

Aired November 18, 1997

Daphne:  Oh, I could watch the rain for hours.  Of course, when I was a little girl, I hated the rain.  Stuck inside, couldn't go out and play.  But my mum always said, "enjoy it while you can, there'll be no water in hell."  Of course, that was her answer for everything.  "Eat your veggies, there'll be no Brussels sprouts in hell... have a lie-down, there'll be no naps in hell..."

Frasier: Daphne, you know I am a therapist, if you'd like to talk about this sometime.

Daphne: About what?

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