Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Five Stages of Grief, Frasier Style

Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer): I am going to get another job. The people of this city need me. I'm a beloved Seattle institution.

Martin Crane (John Mahoney): A couple more days like this, he's gonna be in a beloved Seattle institution.

Followers of the Frasier show undoubtedly would disagree on their favorite episodes.

I understand that. And I wouldn't necessarily pick the episode that made its debut 15 years ago tonight as my personal favorite. But it's one of them.

It's about such a human kind of thing — grief. We all grieve for things — for people, for pets, for a favorite toy, for lost innocence. You name it. Someone grieves its loss.

And, in the episode that aired on this night in 1998, Frasier was grieving his lost job, which is certainly something to which many people can relate in these economic times.

The Frasier show had been on for five years, and I suppose the producers felt it needed a good shaking up. I honestly don't know what inspired them to take this approach in the premiere episode for the series' sixth season. My memory is that the economy of 1998 wasn't terrible, but, compared to the experience of the last five years, I suppose there have been few times in my life that would be considered terrible.

The radio station ultimately abandoned the salsa format in favor of the previous format — and all the regulars returned to the station.

Anyway, the episode introduced many viewers to the stages of grief that were outlined in Elisabeth Kübler–Ross' groundbreaking study on death and dying.

And it opened the door for some interesting story angles.

For example, the loss of a job would create all kinds of issues, primarily (as I say) economic ones, in most households. But the main concern for Frasier wasn't his income — apparently his radio show had paid him well, as had private practice before it, and he had plenty of money to support him through his joblessness.

What really concerned Frasier was the loss of his status — his fame and influence as a radio personality. Accordingly, he went through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — which included binge overeating as he tried to cope with the situation.

Kübler–Ross acknowledged — as do others who have written about the topic since she did — that people grieve in different ways and that not everyone experiences each stage of grief. But Frasier did experience each stage — with hilarious results.

In his denial stage, he undertook all kinds of complicated projects to fill his time because he was sure his hiatus from work would be brief. Anger came when he was hosting a picnic for his former radio station colleagues, whom the audience assumed to be jobless, too, but it turned out nearly everyone had found some other employment. While showing the children how to hit the piñata he brought, Frasier swung at it like he was swinging a baseball bat — and, his father later observed, some candy from the piñata was found all the way across the highway.

While in his bargaining stage, Frasier decided he hadn't been treating his fans well, and, declaring himself a "bad celebrity," he concluded that was the key to restoring his position in the radio community so he arranged to have a party in his home for the members of his fan club. Turned out there were only three members — which propelled Frasier into the depression stage.
Aaron (Fran Kranz): It's cool, isn't it? Your brother having his own club?

Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce): Yeah, well. Seeing all of you, I sort of wish I had a club myself.

In Frasier's case, depression meant binge eating. He gained so much weight that his family and Roz decided to stage an intervention, which finally made him see things as they were.

Niles told his father about the five stages of dying and connected the dots that Frasier was grieving for his lost status.

"People like Frasier's whole identities revolve around their job," Niles said. "The loss of the job is like a death. And they cope with it in the same way they would cope with a death, by going through a series of stages."

The intervention worked. Frasier slimmed down and got back on track — just in time for Niles to descend into the denial stage over the prospects for reconciliation with his estranged wife.