Monday, December 24, 2012

Frasierquest 5.7: My Fair Frasier

Frasier shows off his latest gift

Frasier: Thank you, Niles, but I am not some dewey-eyed teenager. But she did say the cutest thing… she said that murderers often show no remorse for their actions because they have no moral center. (beat) It was cute the way she said it.

For a while now we've seen Frasier desperately in pursuit of love, but not as much about what he does when he has it. The first half of an informal two-parter, "My Fair Frasier" largely disposes with the messy chase to dive into the tricky business of being in a relationship, and of the power relations therein. It plays around with gender roles and expectations in a way that's of its time, but will probably still be relevant for a while. In the meantime it's fun TV, more grounded than last week's episode but only by a little.

Frasier has trouble returning a gift he bought for Roz, until dashing lawyer Samantha Pierce (Lindsay Frost) comes to his rescue. He asks her on a date, she says yes, and on the first date she asks to skip the dinner course and just have sex. So things are going well for Frasier, until he discovers that his girlfriend is in fact a bigger celebrity than he is, currently defending the unimaginatively named Butcher Knife Killer (hey, the media has off days sometimes) and talking to Larry King about the various hot male stars she's been rumored to be attached to. It doesn't help that Samantha's job means she has to keep canceling dates and trying to keep Frasier happy with expensive gifts. Frasier worries that he's taking the submissive role in the relationship, or as Daphne puts it, that he's the girl. Frasier's not used to this position.

Of course in these enlightened times we shouldn't hold to such things. Men can be submissive and women can be dominant, though we're now experiencing a rather pouty backlash to the whole idea in the form of the "Men's Rights Movement" and people arguing a crisis in masculinity which seems to have its roots in the simple fact that people are no longer conforming to preconceived gender roles. While it doesn't always seem like a lot of social progress has been made from 1997, the concept of Samantha being dominant is treated with a novelty that would be absent now. (Even not terribly enlightened shows like Last Man Standing start from the position that of course women are in charge and that they've taken over, which is bad for some reason.) A similar sign of the times is an exchange about lesbian couples being "in" now, Ellen DeGeneres' public coming-out having taken place earlier that year.

This is not to say that this is an overtly misogynistic (or homophobic) episode; Frasier the person may have trouble with taking the secondary role in a relationship, but Frasier the show is not really opposed to it. The episode is not dated because of the positions it takes on such issues, but that they are presented as at all new. But the real issue for Frasier is not so much that he is losing control to a woman (though that may be part of it), but that he is losing any kind of control at all. To take a secondary role in anything is simply not in his nature, and as far as celebrity status goes, he's happy being a big fish in a small pond.

Still, what we see here is a functional relationship. Frasier doesn't screw anything up just yet, so what we have is a low-level psychological story, based on the natural tensions that exist in almost any relationship- there may be, somewhere, some couple in which neither partner is more dominant than the other, a true partnership of equals, but it's sort of a platonic ideal. Of course there's still plenty of humor derived from the characters simply being, well, themselves; the cast's reactions to Frasier being in an unusual situation are a way of letting us touch base with each of them. Niles ventures a theory, Martin is put out by the break with tradition, and Daphne has a silly story that relates, but reveals more about her than anything else. (I would be amiss if I didn't note that Daphne's especially cute with her hair flipped up. I'm not sure why.)

Overall it's a somewhat inconsequential episode, but it's an interesting glimpse into what happens with Frasier's relationships when he's not actively sabotaging them. Frost gives a good performance as a character who is at very least Frasier's intellectual equal, and though her guest turn is a brief one, it's memorable. There's something wonderfully satisfying in Frasier embracing being a trophy boyfriend at the end, as though it feels appropriate- he may not surrender control easily, but he does love the good life. Perhaps a little too much.

Written by Jay Kogen
Directed by Jeff Melman

Aired November 25, 1997

Daphne: No, all I'm saying is, I once dated a man who'd gone out with several of the top British actresses but got sick of their vanity and insecurity.

Frasier: So there, you see, it does happen.

 Daphne: Course, after he got through slumming, he dumped me and went
 back to actresses. But he did get me an autographed picture of Helena Bonham Carter. She's riding a pony!

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