Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Frasierquest 5.18: Bad Dog

Bulldog strikes a heroic pose

Daphne: My life suddenly seems long, measured in muffins.

After a couple of undercooked episodes, Season 5 returns to form with "Bad Dog", which as its title suggests revolves around the exploits of Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe. Of all the show's major character, Bulldog is probably the biggest contrast to Frasier himself. Martin is a slob and a curmudgeon, but he shares his son's strong ethical sense; Roz is more worldly, but she's his closest friend. Bulldog, at least much of the time, is just a jerk; he has his moments of decency (especially later on), but for the most part he pops up because he makes a good adversary, without the scruples that restrict the rest of the group.  "Bad Dog" shows him at his most shameless, presenting a formidable challenge to Frasier's ideas about human decency, and wraps this around the SeaBees, the writers' annual opportunity to mock the awards shows which have been so very good to them.

When a man shows up with a gun to Cafe Nervosa, seemingly with ill intent, Bulldog is seen throwing coffee on the assailant and spinning a pregnant Roz out of danger. He's instantly feted as a hero by the people of Seattle, and he's selected to win a special humanitarian award at the upcoming Seabees. But Frasier saw a little more than everyone else; Bulldog thought somebody else was the gunman, hid behind Roz, and accidentally spilled coffee on the real culprit. Frasier believes that Bulldog's guilty conscience will eventually force him to confess, but is continually flustered by his refusal to do so. However, Frasier is acting as M.C. for the Seabees and presenting Bulldog's award, so he hopes to use the opportunity to push him over the brink.

There's a certain naiveté in Fraiser's position here. Bulldog has always been shameless in his behavior, and Frasier expecting him to behave differently just because this situation is more shameful is almost hard to believe. We're expecting Bulldog to take full advantage of his temporary hero status, and so he does, which sounds like it would be boring in its predictability. But the story's driving force is the conflict between the two characters. When Frasier's high-minded convictions meet Bulldog's absolute lack thereof, it's the irresistible force against the immovable object, and while it's funny that Frasier gets flustered, we want to see Bulldog's wrongdoing meet with its proper comeuppance.

I haven't written enough about Dan Butler on this show, although by this point he was now one of the main cast. As the show's most overtly unlikable character, Bulldog is a tough role to play, and Butler often has to walk a thin line in order to keep him amusing rather than irritating. Butler brings a kind of nervous energy to the role that suggests that Bulldog is always overcompensating for something; he's the guy who has to prove himself to everyone in the room. So not only does it make sense that Bulldog milks his hero status for all the sex and adulation it can bring him, we anticipate that he's being set up for a fall. A guy like him simply can't fool everyone for that long; Bulldog isn't just hiding his specific shameful actions at the Cafe, but his true nature.

The Seabees aren't as prominent in this episode as they are in other seasons, and in theory they could have been removed with only a few alterations needed to the major plot. But the awards show setup does give some of the other characters a few moments to shine; Niles has an amusing subplot wherein his own pride at an awards nomination is deflated when he realizes he's been relegated to the technical awards (which are kept offscreen, though we can imagine the squalor.) Roz, meanwhile, struggles with finding a formal maternity dress, leading to a couple of moments I felt slightly guilty for laughing at.

Frasier gets a kind of victory in the end, when Martin tricks Bulldog into repeating his earlier human shield tactic with his own mother; it doesn't really prove him right about the greater point, since Bulldog would happily have kept up the lie as long as possible, but sometimes you just have to take the win. The whole story proves right an assertion Martin made back in 2.14- some people just stink. If Frasier's faith in humanity is shaken a little, he can at least take comfort in the fact that the truth eventually gets out, one way or another.

Written by Suzanne Martin
Directed by Pamela Fryman

Aired April 7, 1998

Roz: I'm fine. It's just that my hair is huge and my dress is a joke.

Frasier: No, nonsense, Roz. You look divine.

Roz: No, I look
like Divine.

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