Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Crane Boys Plan a Dinner Party

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): Dad, do you think we're odd?

Martin (John Mahoney): No, you're not odd. You're just ... special! Your mother told me that when you were kids, and I still believe it.

I always enjoy the episode of Frasier that first aired 15 years ago tonight.

I'm not sure why. Maybe it is because just about the only words that were spoken were by the core cast members — Grammer, Mahoney, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin and Jane Leeves. (The exceptions were a few lines that were spoken by voice–only actors who were allegedly overheard on the answering machine.)

Gilpin's and Leeves' roles were rather diminished, though, and Martin's was slightly less so. The episode was largely about Niles and Frasier and their sibling relationship, which was always fertile ground for a sitcom episode.

It also had the feel of a stage play, with the only set being Frasier's apartment. In "Dinner Party," Frasier never spoke to any of the listeners on his radio show nor did he meet anyone for coffee at Cafe Nervosa.

Instead, Frasier and Niles were planning — in what was, essentially, real time — a dinner party with the objective of getting to know an unseen couple, the Ashbys. Most of the episode was devoted to their conflicts over first which night to have their gathering, then the selection of caterer, then whom to invite and whom not to invite.

In the process, they began to examine their own relationship, particularly after they overheard one of the invitees speaking disparagingly of them, unaware that the phone line was still open.

And they began to wonder if they spent too much time together — which gave writer Jeffrey Richman the opoening to introduce a little historical tidbit.

Of course, ex–cop Martin (Mahoney) brought it up — the eccentric Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley, who lived together in New York.

Niles and Frasier had no idea who the Collyer brothers were so Martin filled them in.

"A couple of nutsos shared an apartment together in New York their whole lives," he said. "They even built a maze out of newspapers in there that only they knew how to get through. Then it collapsed on one of them, and the other one just sat there with the dead body until the neighbors complained about the smell."

It wasn't exactly that way.

For one thing, the Collyers lived in a large house, not an apartment. They purchased the property across the street from their house with the intention of turning it into an apartment building, but they never followed through on their plan.

The main reason the property was not developed was because the older brother lost his eyesight.

Anyway, as the older brother's health worsened, the younger brother tended to his needs, carrying food to him through the maze. Then, one day, as Martin said, a portion of the maze collapsed on him, crushing him to death. The older brother, blind and paralyzed, died of starvation several days later.

Both brothers were found dead in the house in the spring of 1947.

The Crane boys decided that they liked spending time together, and they weren't going to be deterred by what others thought. Even if the Cranes were thought to be a lot like the Collyers.