Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tough Love for Heretics

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): Obviously, the station is so pleased with my show that they're looking for more of the same. They could hardly ask me to do another three hours. Imagine how exhausting that would be.

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): And for you as well.

Frasier's call–in radio show was enjoying good ratings in the Frasier timeline on this night in 1999, and KACL, in the finest broadcasting tradition, decided that more of a good thing would be better.

So Frasier was asked to interview prospects to host a second psychiatric advice show, and he was enamored with one applicant, Dr. Nora (played by Christine Baranski and ostensibly modeled after conservative talk–show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger). She got Frasier's endorsement — and, consequently, the job.

Frasier was under the impression that Dr. Nora would be his protege, but he was shocked to discover that Dr. Nora was not at all what he thought.

"This is a woman who thinks the Spanish Inquisition was just tough love for heretics!" Frasier complained after hearing her rigid advice to her callers.

(Well, "advice" really doesn't seem like the right word. What Dr. Nora did was label her callers whore and slut and condemn things like premarital sex and divorce. Nor could her "advice" be regarded as constructive criticism. She berated callers in a manner that could only be seen as abusive.)

Frasier was mortified that he had recommended her and was about to withdraw his recommendation when Kenny the station manager popped in with the news that Dr. Nora's advice had the phones ringing off the hook. Some listeners loved her, some hated her, but, either way, they were listening, and that was what mattered to Kenny.

Dr. Nora even mocked Frasier on the air, and Frasier decided he had to find a way to get her off KACL. So he and Roz (Peri Gilpin) did some research and dug up some dirt they could use on her. They discovered that her doctorate was in physical education — "She's a gym teacher!" Frasier exclaimed with glee — and she had been divorced twice and had an affair with a married man.

But Niles pointed out something he had observed during one of Dr. Nora's broadcasts. Based on things she had said about mothers, he felt there were some issues there — and he was right. Dr. Nora was estranged from her mother, had been for years.

Frasier had been wondering if, by using the dirt against Dr. Nora, he would be sinking to her level, and he decided it would be best if he tried to help her. Naively believing that, as an experienced therapist, he could reunite Dr. Nora with her mother, he contacted her and brought her to Seattle without Dr. Nora's knowledge.

Roz had been personally insulted by what Dr. Nora said about single mothers (Roz challenged her to a fight, saying, "If you want, I'll take it out on the street." Dr Nora replied, "That wouldn't be fair. You'd have the home–field advantage") and wanted to even the score with her — violently. But Frasier insisted that his way was better.

Frasier then met the mother (played by Piper Laurie), who seemed to be precisely what he had imagined in their phone conversation — but once she and her daughter were reunited, her true colors came through.

In the control booth, Roz jumped up and down and clapped her hands. "You were right, Frasier!" she shouted as Dr. Nora pleaded on the air, unsuccessfully, for her mother's forgiveness and acceptance. "Your way *is* better!"

The real Dr. Laura took offense — not because of the parody of her but because her mother was spoofed. That crossed the line, as far as she was concerned, because, while she was a public figure, her mother was not. And any journalist can tell you that commentary about public figures is protected as free speech, but commentary about private citizens is another matter.

The episode was pulled from syndication for a time, but that ban seems to have been lifted. I have seen it on other networks on several occasions.

Both Baranski and Laurie received Emmy nominations for their guest appearances, but they lost to Tracey Ullman.