Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Frasierquest 5.16: Beware of Greeks
Daphne: I'd like to venture an opinion here. I know this doesn't exactly concern me, but I feel very strongly about this. I like zither music, and I always have!
[She goes to her room. Silence for a moment.]
Frasier: And we're back!
Sitcoms introduce us to families and groups of friends, but inevitably they leave people out. It's a fair bet that if a show runs long enough, we're going to meet long lost cousins who didn't exist before because the writers didn't need them to exist. "Beware of Greeks" basically posits an entire bough of the Crane family tree who we've never seen, all to get Patti LuPone to do a Greek accent and threaten people with violence. It's a silly contrivance and the whole episode is basically an odd excursion into a parallel universe, but it is amusing enough for the duration.
Frasier gets a surprise visit from his heretofore-unmentioned cousin Nikos (Joseph Will), who is getting married and wants him and his family to attend the wedding. Martin would love to see his brother Walt (John Mahon) again, but his wife Zora (LuPone) harbors a grudge against Frasier for persuading Nikos to forsake medical school in pursuit of his true passion, street juggling. To get the family back into Zora's good graces, Frasier promises not to meddle, but when he sees that Nikos' fiancee is primarily interested in mortifying her parents, and that Nikos himself is still nursing feelings for a fellow street performer, he can't help but bend the terms of his agreement.
We've never met any of these people before, and in fact there's a bit of a continuity cheat here; Martin specifically told Niles and Frasier that he never had a brother way back in the first season. (Then again, considering Martin is supposed to be a dead research scientist according to Cheers, we can assume many things change over time.) When a sitcom does something this left field it's hard to avoid wondering if the writers aren't starting to run low on ideas, and there's something weirdly self-contained about the whole affair, as though we know none of these people will be on the show again.
But the contrivance offers a few pleasures, not the least of which is LuPone. Her character is over-the-top, but in a way that's theatrical enough that it fits with the show's overall tone. There's something of a Greek stereotype in this, the fiery hot-tempered Mediterranean woman, but LuPone's performance is good enough to make that aspect worth overlooking. The exotic setting adds some visual interest to the whole affair, with most of the episode set in Zora's restaurant. There's also an amusing subplot involving cousin Yvonne (Lori Harmon), a downright Amazonian- or at least Russ Meyerian- figure with an obsessive crush on Niles. There's a lot to be said for the playful pageantry of the episode overall, even if it feels inconsequential even for a sitcom episode.
At its core the episode is a test of Frasier's ethics, which puts him back at the center of things after a few episodes. He's forced to weigh his promises against his innate desire to do the right thing, and it helps the episode as a whole that the final encounter between Nikos and his lost love Crystal (Heide Karp) is very sweet. The inevitable breakup between him and fiancee Mary Anne (Valerie Dillman) is predicated on her only being interested in him for his ability to annoy her parents, so we don't feel too bad about that.
"Beware of Greeks" is a fall back to the territory of the conventional sitcom, where in-laws and distant cousins can be introduced and forgotten about in the same episode all in the name of creating a funny half-hour. It's not necessarily a bad approach to the genre, even if it's one that continuity-savvy audiences have grown acutely aware- and wary- of. It's hard to argue that the episode doesn't, at the very least, represent a substantial step down from the heights of the last three installments. But it's not exactly bad television either. It's a silly side-step into classical comedy, and offers some pleasant sights and sounds along the way.
Written by David Lloyd
Directed by Jeff Melman
Aired March 17, 1998
Niles: Do you have a death wish? She'll eat you alive!
Frasier: Oh, I'm not afraid of her!
Niles: Everyone is! Have you forgotten the family legend that when Hitler invaded Greece she joined the partisans just so she could strangle Nazis?
Frasier: I have never believed that. She would have to have been five years old at the time!
Niles: Well, that's why the legend says they were strangled with jump ropes.