Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Angel of Death

Norman (James Earl Jones): Are you here visiting somebody?

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): Oh, no. I'm just here with a friend of mine, Roz. She's here doing some community service.

Norman: Ah, the Angel of Death. Nice girl.

It isn't easy to pick a single favorite episode from the Frasier series.

That is the way it is with any really good TV series, isn't it? If you can only think of one truly good episode during a series' run, my guess is that would be the exception, not the rule.

But, almost by definition, a truly good series must have generated several episodes that could qualify as the series' best. In such a case, usually the series' average episodes are better than most.

Frasier was such a series, and I can name several episodes that I would consider worthy of being the series' best. But ultimately I think I would always pick the episode that aired on this night in 1997 — "Roz's Krantz and Gouldenstein Are Dead" — as the cream of the crop.

When the episode began, Roz (Peri Gilpin) was performing some community service picking up trash along the road. She had been stopped for speeding and her options for punishment were to pay a fine or perform community service. She chose the latter but didn't like gathering trash along the road.

It just wasn't right for her so Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) recommended that she perform her community service at a retirement home. Roz was reluctant — like many people she had a fear of aging — but she did it, anyway.

What happened next didn't help.

Roz had the misfortune of being with a couple of the residents when they died. She was playing checkers with one and reading to another. As a result, the other residents started calling her "the Angel of Death." When they encountered Roz in hallways, they would turn around and go the other way.

Roz didn't want to go back, but Frasier insisted, and he went with her to provide moral support.

Roz went into a room where an elderly woman named Moira (Lois Smith) was sitting up in her bed. She told Roz to come in.

"How do you feel?" Roz asked.

"Fine," Moira replied. "Now hand me those cigarettes."

Roz did so but couldn't resist saying, "These things do come with a warning."

"So do you, darlin'," Moira replied. "I let you in."

The two went on to have a heart–to–heart conversation about growing old.
"Nobody likes to get older, but it doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself."

Moira (Lois Smith)

Meanwhile, Frasier met a blind resident played by James Earl Jones, who knew Roz by reputation. They had a nice conversation, too, about how Frasier's advice to a caller had helped him. It was at a time when Jones' character had lost his wife and had been experiencing some problems. The caller had been having similar trouble adjusting to life after his wife died, and Frasier suggested that the caller keep pictures of his wife all over the house to help him through the transition.

Pictures, obviously, would be of no use to a blind man, but Jones explained that, when he and his wife were dating, she had made a life mask of herself for art class. He asked his daughter to look for it and she found it. He told Frasier that every night before he went to sleep he ran his fingers over the mask and was reminded of the old days.

"You really helped me," he told Frasier and showed him the mask.

Then while Jones was in the bathroom to take some medication, Frasier ran his fingers over the mask and lost his grip. The mask fell to the floor, and the nose was broken off. Unfortunately the last few minutes of the show were about Frasier trying to mend the mask without Jones finding out what had happened.

The rest of the episode was a bit slapstick, to be honest. In general, though, it was a nice commentary on aging.

That's not a bad cue to turn our attention to Smith, who probably isn't familiar to most people but has had an extensive career in movies and television and on the stage.

Among her movie credits are "East of Eden," "Five Easy Pieces" and "Fatal Attraction." There have been many others in more than 60 years — although you might not recognize her in her earlier movies if all you have seen are her later ones, like "Twister," for example, in which she played Helen Hunt's aunt.

Her television credits include, in addition to Frasier, appearances on ER and Route 66 as well as several made–for–TV movies.

Now 86, Smith is still active. She will appear in a documentary on the Gettysburg Address later this year.

Now that is how one should grow old.