Thursday, March 21, 2013

Frasierquest 5.11: Ain't Nobody's Business if "I Do"

Niles: An engagement ring?  Dad must be about to ask Sherry to marry him.  Do you know what that means?

Frasier: Yes, we're going to hear what Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" sounds like on the banjo!

And it's the end of the road, for one character anyway. When "Ain't Nobody's Business if 'I Do'" aired, I don't think anyone really expected that Sherry would be a permanent fixture on the cast, but her departure is laced with more poignancy than expected. Sometimes sitcom relationships end on funny notes, and sometimes it's a little harder than that. This episode isn't short on comedy, but it treats the end of a long relationship as something worth mourning.

Daphne discovers an engagement ring in Martin's underwear drawer, and comes to the logical conclusion that he's about to pop the question to his longtime girlfriend. She shares her discovery with the Crane boys, and they're naturally less than thrilled at the prospect of Sherry becoming their new mom. Niles takes it a little far and hires a private detective (Tucker Smallwood) to look into Sherry's past to see if there's anything really worth worrying about, and while Frasier is apprehensive, the fact that Sherry has been married five times before is something he feels Dad should know. This of course leads to the inevitable Crane family argument.

The story retreads the familiar ground of Martin's sons having problems with his girlfriend, which may be one of the reasons this is the last Sherry episode. The writers may have figured that after all this time they had done all that could be done with the character, though of course Marsha Mason's availability is just as likely to have been an issue. In any case, it's an end that comes organically; Martin wants to find someone to marry again, and Sherry just doesn't want to go through that. It's the sort of final meeting that nobody wants but which seems inevitable.

Since none of this is funny, the humor has to revolve around Frasier and Niles being their usual selves. They don't really dictate the direction of the plot at all; Martin already knows about Sherry's prior marriages, so all they're doing is pissing him off. But they serve a narrative purpose, bringing up the subject of Sherry's past husbands so that the audience knows about that in advance of it being the reason she and Marty have to call it quits. It's a nice bit of plot legerdemain, steering us towards an unexpected conclusion without seeming obvious or contrived. And of course there's the whole business with Frasier embarrassing himself by still thinking Dad is about to propose to her as they're breaking up, but since the episode's not about him the sting fades quickly, and he ends up commiserating and watching basketball with his dad. (The fact that Jordan was still playing when this aired makes me feel very old indeed.)

What's interesting is just how focused this episode is on this storyline. Rare for this far in the series, there are no real subplots, and Daphne and Roz both only get about a scene apiece. It's not an entirely serious episode, with a lot of screentime spent on the "detective" plot which succeeds in making the Crane brothers look like nosy idiots. But knowing in retrospect what happens puts a pall over things, and so this episode isn't the most fun to revisit. (It's worth noting it also carries the show's weirdest end bumper, a sight gag based on a prop- a fish-shaped hors d'oeuvre display stand for a party Martin is hosting- that you'll barely notice in the episode proper.)

Still, it's a good send-off for Sherry, which she deserved; it's possible her presence would have gotten old as a regular, but Mason does an excellent job in the part, and at the end we get a strong picture of what Martin Crane wants out of his autumn years. It's a bittersweet goodbye which, in a way, foreshadows a much bigger change about to happen.

Written by Jay Kogen
Directed by David Lee
Aired January 13, 1998

Daphne: Sherry's never exactly liked me.  You don't think she'll try to make your father get rid of me, do you?

Frasier: Oh, Daphne, of course not.  He'd be lost without you.

 Niles: Yes, and even if by some chance that were to happen, Daphne, I could always use you. I, I would know of a position you could take that you could perform. I would know of an opening...  [takes up the check] This is on me.

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