Saturday, May 25, 2013

Frasierquest 5.12: The Zoo Story

Roz and Bebe

Bebe: When there's a dirty job to be done, you can't go wrong with a Mormon!

After two episodes that didn't offer much to chew on, it's good to run into one this densely packed. "Zoo Story" gives us the glorious return of Bebe Glaser after her sad but inevitable firing, and gives us agents in conflict, a horny and desperate Niles, and one very angry bird. It may be the best Bebe episode, and it helps define her story as Frasier's eternal temptress, the vulgar showbusiness goddess who will stop at nothing to ensnare him.

Contract negotiations are coming up at KACL, and Bebe starts making overtures that she can help get Frasier a good deal if he'll take her on again. But Frasier is determined to find an ethical agent to represent him, despite everyone advising him that an ethical agent is not a thing that, you know, exists. But Frasier finds Ben (Robert Stanton), agent, scout leader, choir singer, and toymaker for disadvantaged children, among many other sterling roles. Ben gets an idea for Frasier to promote both himself and the Mercer Island Zoo, by having them name a new crane after him. But the bird goes berserk and Frasier starts to have other doubts about Ben's ability to promote him, which prompts Bebe- already representing Roz and using her baby to make money- to swoop in. Not helping Frasier is Niles, who is thinking about caving to Maris' latest demands in the hopes of getting some, but who has pledged to hold to Frasier's advice about sticking to principles- unless of course he breaks first.

Of all the recurring characters on this show, Bebe is the one for whom most of her appearances form a kind of story arc. Nearly every time we see Frasier and Bebe there's something different about their relationship, and this time it's the teasing of their reconciliation. This lets Bebe play the temptress again, but also to deliver a challenge to Frasier's ethics. Frasier's ethical dilemmas are a reliable source of conflict, and Bebe externalizes it by actually being the devil on his shoulder. In this case they're not even debating one particular unethical act, just the general idea of having an agent who will stop at nothing to promote your interests.

What makes this really funny is the fact that everyone is encouraging Frasier to give in. Even Roz, who was specifically screwed over by Bebe, goes over to her side because, hey, she gets things done. Everyone else has internalized the idea that there's no such thing as a "good" agent. And Roz and Niles both want the freedom to indulge themselves, adding some decent subplots to flesh out the story. Niles is back to levels of randiness he hasn't displayed since "Look Before You Leap", and there's a wonderful background gag- after asking a waitress to nibble on a biscotti provocatively, he can be seen in one shot holding it up to Roz. Everyone else is giving into sleaze, why not Frasier?

Ben gives Frasier little reason to stay on the side of good. The titular zoo is not actually that central to the story (the one quibble I have with the plot is that having a bird named after you attack people, while embarrassing, isn't really a career killer); it's merely a symbol for good intentions going astray, and Ben's real weakness comes when word arrives that the station's hired a ruthless negotiator, "The Hammer". Ben's primary concern appears to be the Hammer's uncouth language, and it's clear he doesn't have much of a plan to prevent slashed salaries. It's hard for a half-hour sitcom to present the delicate nuances of the bargaining process, so we can't really diagnose Ben's major problem, but he's clearly out of his league.

So what does that, and Frasier's reunion with the Satanic Bebe, end up saying? Is the moral of the story that some jobs just need to be done by sleazy, horrible people? Or does the compromise the two make in allowing her to conceal her skullduggery reflect a need for moderation on both sides? Or is this, in the end, just a bunch of stuff that happened? Maybe all these tensions are for the best, because it's in contradiction and incongruity that humor lies. By refusing to make a firm stand on the ethical issues of contract negotiation, "Zoo Story" lets us laugh at an oversexed Niles, a justifiably unscrupulous Roz, a bird attacking people and later choking to death on a jawbreaker, and of course, Kelsey Grammer and Harriet Sansom Harris trading brutal barbs with aplomb. There's a lot of meat to this episode, just don't ask where it all comes from.

Written by Joe Keenan
Directed by Pamela Fryman
Aired January 20, 1998

Bebe: Frasier, we have to talk.

Frasier: Are you aware that you are in the men's room?

Bebe: Oh, please, if I paid attention to signs with little pictures on them… I'd never get a parking space.

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