Saturday, July 27, 2013

Frasierquest 5.14: The Ski Lodge

Frasier, Niles, Daphne, Annie, and Guy

Daphne: Oh, sounds like heaven!  Skiing all weekend, then warming up with a nice hot rum drink, curled up under a blanket in front of a roaring fire...

Niles: I can feel the steam rising off my toddy already.

It's all about the set-up. "Ski Lodge" is Frasier's purest riff on the bedroom farce, making direct reference to French playwright Georges Feydeau in one of its title captions and placing most of the action in the titular lodge, the kind of cozy space that could easily fit on a theater stage and has enough rooms for doors to constantly be slamming open and closed. Characters run around in robes and underwear, show up in the wrong beds, all that's really missing is a vicar stopping by. It's a welcome dose of pure comedy after last episode's poignant goodbye, and it also expands on the first question raised by Niles and Maris' final split.

Roz wins a ski weekend at a private lodge in a church raffle she was badgered into entering, but she can't make full use of it in her condition, and Frasier convinces her to trade the package for a big-screen TV. Frasier invites the whole family, and Daphne brings along her friend Annie (Cynthia Lamontagne), a buxom model. They're joined by Guy (James Patrick Stuart), a French ski instructor. Niles wants to use the weekend to tell Daphne how he feels, Annie is hot for Niles, Frasier wants Annie, Daphne wants Guy, and Guy… also is hot for Niles. (Martin, his ears stuffed up from a cold, mishears things and plays the role of unintentional mischief maker.) A few rounds of hot buttered rum later, and perhaps inevitably, disaster ensues.

From the summary, it's clear that this episode needs to take a certain amount of time establishing everything before it all goes to Hell. It doesn't actually take a lot to establish each character's interest in another- one scene at a window at the end of Act One manages to sum it all up, and it's even repeated after the break for anyone who came in midway- but it's also necessary to build the comic tension by playing out the overtures and preliminaries as much as can be afforded in the confines of a half-hour time slot. Add to that the playing out of the farce proper and it's clear the writers faced a lot of challengers getting this one to be as tight as it is.

Frasier once again embraces the sitcom's classical and theatrical roots by playing full into genre conventions seemingly as old as theater itself. Martin, in his observationally impaired state, steers people wrong and gets everyone sufficiently drunk so as to make mistakes. At the same time, he's above it all, innocent and blissfully unaffected by the proceedings- a kind of holy fool. Perhaps no Frasier set has looked as, well, set-like as the lodge interior, with everyone's doors in full view of the camera so we know that everyone is going to the wrong place. The rhythm is dead-on; when watching a good farce, we recognize and acknowledge the contrivance necessary to get everyone in trouble, because we're swept along with the tide of their passions and delusions. If we paused we might feel sorry for them, and while many episodes of Frasier have dealt in awkward embarrassment humor, the end product here is more a cathartic train wreck in which everyone is brought equally low.

The regular cast is in great form, so it's to the credit of Lamontagne and Stuart that they're able to keep up. Neither is using their natural accent and it shows (though this didn't prevent Lamontagne from playing a Brit again on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), but Lamontagne captures a recognizable blowsiness that's both natural and totally appropriate for the proceedings, and Stuart's Guy is charming enough that you kinda wish he'd stick around. The episode wouldn't work if any of the main participants rang false, dependent as it is on passions careening out of control.

The show's best farces are each a lesson in how the genre works, and this may be the purest example. While the issue of how Niles will handle his attraction to Daphne now that he's a free man is left up in the air (and the obligatory end reveal carefully keeps this particular secret hidden), there's no doubt that the subplot is in a different place now. In the end it's hard to think about such serious matters, when the real question is how will everyone spend the rest of their weekend.

Written by Joe Keenan
Directed by David Lee
Aired February 24, 1998

Frasier: Let me see if I've got this straight. All the lust coursing through this lodge tonight, all the hormones virtually ricocheting off the walls, and no one... was chasing me?

No comments: