Thursday, January 24, 2013
Frasierquest 5.10: Where Every Bloke Knows Your Name
Frasier: You've got to be careful what you bring down to the pub with you.
Daphne: Tell me about it!
I was slow to jump into "Where Every Bloke Knows Your Name", since I recalled it being a gimmicky episode without a lot of substance to it. The episode revolves around a faux-British pub that Frasier takes over, and with that you get all the phony accents and broad stereotypes you'd expect. But amidst the wackiness there are a few good emotional beats, and it's really only nearabouts the end that the story gets too shaky. It's definitely a step down after a great Christmas, but still decent television.
Frasier decides that too much of his social life revolves around him and Niles doing things, and he starts looking for new circles to move in. A night with Martin's poker buddies lasts for less than one hand, despite his strong opinions on the Angie Dickison/Ursula Andress debate. Daphne tries to remedy his loneliness by fixing him up with an attractive friend of hers at the Fox & Whistle, a UK-themed pub for Seattle's apparently numerous British expatriates. The girl, as it turns out, is engaged, but Frasier does fall in love with the pub's chummy atmosphere and piano singalongs, and he makes it a second home, much to Daphne's consternation. She can't get away from her boss anymore, and she's scared to confront him about it, at least until Martin encourages her to put her foot down so that he can have the apartment to himself once in a while.
The portrayal of foreign cultures (or foreign expatriate cultures) on television is always a delicate thing, because nobody ever gets it right. Weekly television does not allow the kind of time it would take to research every nuance of British expat life, and as much as we sometimes hate to admit it, a shorthand is necessary for the average viewer to understand they're looking at something different. What I'm trying to say with this is that the Fox and Whistle is almost certainly not an accurate portrayal of how British expatriates in Seattle live, but does it matter? To be sure, the piano singalong seems a bit of a stretch (nowadays Brits are more likely to sing along to campy pop songs on the jukebox), but just how British the people are really is not the point. It's a context in which Frasier and Daphne can come into conflict, and while the portrayal is a tad cartoony it's not overemphasized. The theme of the episode is less about culture clash and more about the need for people to have personal space, or at least space that's isolated from specific other people. Daphne needs her life apart from Frasier, but of course Frasier needs one apart from Niles as well.
The strongest sequences in the episode don't involve the Fox & Whistle at all, but Martin's poker buddies; the writers are on firmer ground here, and they get to have fun both with Frasier's inability to fit in and the odd way a pregnant Roz ends up altering the group dynamic. It makes sense that she's able to be "one of the guys", and it ties into the episode's overall theme of people exploring different social circles. Of course this sometimes means abandoning those you travel in already, and there's also some mileage in Niles' outrage over being left in the lurch by his brother. The episode actually starts with a young Frasier and Niles at the school cafeteria acting much as they do now, underscoring the eternal rut Frasier finds himself in.
Maybe it's the ending that brings things down a bit; Frasier being tricked into trash-talking the UK as he's trying to win exclusive rights to a UK pub plays out as contrived. To be sure, he has done dumber things, but we can see the joke coming and it feels like a quick sketch comedy blackout more than actual plot resolution. Of course, the stakes are low to start with given that this is a location we never end up seeing again. It's easy to empathize with Daphne's predicament in a general sense, but because the place is so ephemeral the whole thing seems trivial.
Triviality isn't necessarily a bad thing in a sitcom, but it's easy to see why this episode slips from memory the way it does. The poker scenes are notable but not a lot else is, which is a bit of a shame because Daphne rarely gets a lot of focus on herself. Still, the episode does rise above the gimmicky bits just a little, showing off the problems of moving between social circles in a way that isn't often examined. I'm mostly damning this with faint praise, but it's still worth watching, as just about every episode of this show is.
Written by Rob Hanning
Directed by Jeff Melman
Aired January 6, 1998
Niles: You're passing up "Orpheus & Eurydice" to shoot pool at some sticky-bear salon?!
Frasier: Yeah well, my partner, Terrence has agreed to skip a familywedding just to participate - I can't leave him in the lurch. Isn't there somebody else who could take my place?
Niles: At this point I just so need to be by myself. My brother has abandoned me, my wife is cursing my name. Tonight when Orpheus descends into hell, I'll be there waiting for him with a fruit basket!