Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): I had friends back in Boston. It's only since I've returned to Seattle that I've been falling back on Niles.
Niles (David Hyde Pierce): [insulted] 'Falling back on Niles?'
Frasier: Oh, Niles, you know what I mean. Settling for what's comfortable and familiar. My God, you and I can go out together and I know what you're thinking before you even say it.
Niles: Well, then I'm sorry you had to hear that, Frasier.
I always thought a couple of the more interesting themes in the Frasier show dealt with relationships and Frasier's tendency to go against convention on just about anything. If there was an easy way to do something, you could be sure that Frasier wouldn't do it that way.
The third season of the series (1995–1996) seemed especially good at exploring those themes, as far as I was concerned. Next month I will be writing about an episode from that season in which Frasier encouraged everyone to "take a leap" in the Leap Year, with hilariously disastrous consequences for everyone, and an episode in which Daphne and Niles went to a dance together — and there were other episodes that explored relationships of all kinds and Frasier's rather unique way of looking at and dealing with things.
In many ways I am tempted to say that the third season of Frasier was its best. It seldom blended those two themes quite as well as it did in "The Friend" on this night in 1996.
Frasier was given two tickets to the race track, but he found himself with no one to join him. He realized that, in two years back in Seattle, he hadn't made any new friends.
He decided that would make a good topic for his radio show — but he felt differently when he started getting phone calls and faxes from Seattle's Dark Side.
Roz (Peri Gilpin) had predicted that would happen, and she grinned from ear to ear as the nuts came out of the woodwork. "I just love it when I'm right," she gloated. "It makes the day so good."
But then Frasier saw a fax from someone who looked and — on paper, at least — sounded normal. His name was Bob (played by Griffin Dunne), and he and Frasier agreed to meet at the cafe.
The conversation started off well, then Bob revealed himself to be obsessed with barbecue — and he was in a wheelchair that made a distinctive squeaking sound whenever it was in motion.
Frasier soon began trying to avoid Bob, ducking into other rooms or under furniture whenever he heard that distinctive squeak. But avoiding Bob, as it turned out, wasn't going to be all that easy. Bob had applied to move in to the vacancy in Frasier's building.
From his hiding place in the control booth, Frasier heard Bob tell the news to Roz. It brought him to tears.
Frasier finally worked up enough nerve to tell Bob that the friendship just wasn't working out. Driven to the edge by dozens of telephone calls and discussions on topics in which Frasier had no interest, he confessed to Bob, "You're suffocating me!"
Bob was shaken and said he wished Frasier had said something sooner. Frasier said he wanted to, but he had been afraid Bob would think it was because of the wheelchair.
"I wish it did have to do with the chair," Bob replied. Frasier asked him to clarify.
"Well, if the chair were your problem, that would make you a jerk," Bob said. "This way I'm the jerk."
Frasier thought he saw a way out in which Bob wouldn't get hurt. So he confessed (falsely) that the chair was the problem, thinking that it would be a clean break for both of them. But it backfired on him.
Bob replied loudly that he couldn't believe Frasier didn't want to be his friend because of the wheelchair — loudly enough for everyone in the cafe to hear.
And several voiced their opinions of Frasier and his alleged bigotry.
Bob wound up leaving with some other customers from the cafe who invited him to join them for dinner. "Do you like barbecue?" he asked.
"Sure," one of them said. "Who doesn't?"
So what lesson — if any — is there to be taken from this episode? I have never really been sure that there is one.
Except maybe that, in spite of his glorified self–image, Frasier probably isn't the best role model to follow.