Saturday, October 19, 2013

Frasierquest 5.15: Room Service

Lilith and Niles, the morning after

Lilith: Stan was a contractor we had hired to extend our master bedroom.  It's ironic, isn't it - no sooner do I get the closet of my dreams than my husband comes out of it.

Three straight classics in a row is rare for any show, even one as good and long-lived as Frasier. "Room Service" is, again, an example of bedroom farce, but not quite as pure a genre riff as "Ski Lodge". Instead it's there to move along some character relationships and get even further mileage out of the story of Lilith Sternin, the one woman Frasier can never keep out of his life. At least here he makes some emotional progress.

Lilith shows up in town, ostensibly for a psychology conference, but she quickly confesses to Frasier that the real reason she's in town is that her husband, Brian, left her for another man. Frasier and Niles take her to the conference anyway, but Frasier isn't sure he'll be able to trust himself when she's dressed to the nines- Niles keeps him away from her, but ends up in bed with her the next morning. They're both hungover and regretful, but any awkwardness they feel is nothing compared to the outright panic that sets in when Frasier arrives at her hotel room, ready to give himself to her.

This is an episode that throws us a few curves, and I'm not just talking about Lilith's party dress. The first act makes it seem the episode will focus entirely on Frasier's inability to resist his ex-wife's ample charms now that they're both single again. Niles is only there as the voice of reason, and while TV viewers who saw the promo for this episode probably knew what to expect,  the episode itself admirably doesn't give anything away.

And there's something weirdly satisfying about this development. It's something Niles and Lilith will instantly try to forget ever happened, of course, but just the awkwardness isn't what makes it entertaining. Part of it may simply be that we haven't seen them interact this much before- Lilith's episodes tend to be about her relationship with Frasier, and everyone else just hides. But here, two smart, sympathetic characters, both capable of acting professional and capable of not doing so, suddenly are thrown into a situation that will take all their intelligence and professionalism to successfully navigate without things getting too weird. They're almost a cute couple, but the two are clear enough on their long term incompatibility that we don't have to worry about how that would work out.

The episode also brings us to a certain closure regarding Frasier's relationship with Lilith. There was never any real danger of the two getting back together- Bebe Neuwirth's devotion to the stage is too- strong- but previous episodes established an on-again off-again pattern for their relationship which made it difficult for Frasier to fully close the book on that chapter of his life. It'd be easy to take Frasier's declaration that he's finally over her as only being sincere in the moment, but it seems to hold up, and it's nicely tied in with the brothers' early discussion about finding disturbing images to temper Frasier's desire. There's something very real about the resolution too, in Frasier's declaration that things aren't all right, but eventually will be.

This is an episode that delivers all the standard door-slammings and poorly chosen hiding places you expect from the genre (as well as a strong performance by John Ducey as a waiter who quickly learns not to say anything), but doesn't allow those aspects to overwhelm the real human feelings at the heart of the story. It's about people making foolish decisions (partly enabled by tequila shooters) and having to live with the results, but also benefiting some from the experience. It's that bit of deeper consideration that really gives "Room Service" its staying power, turning a just plain funny episode into a comedy classic.

Guest Caller: Halle Berry as Betsy

Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Directed by David Lee

Aired March 3, 1998

Niles: If you ask me, you are both off the mark.  Last night was about two people, ruled by very powerful superegos - tortured by them, who found a chance - however misguided - to break through and rediscover their ids together.  Call me an old softie, but that's how I see it.

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