Sunday, May 07, 2017

Taking Spokane

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) was always a fascinating character study. Maybe that is why Grammer had to play the character for 20 years — and even that wasn't enough to peel away all the layers of his personality.

He was always an elitist, and he reveled in that knowledge. He enjoyed being part of the upper crust, of being (as he once put it) "unapproachable."

But Frasier was also a psychiatrist, and a psychiatrist must have a certain amount of empathy for his patients. To his credit, Frasier did have his principles, his ethics. He enjoyed the lifestyle his profession brought him, but he was also motivated by a sincere desire to help those he treated, regardless of their stations in life or whether (as was sometimes the case) the advice he gave could have repercussions in his own life.

That, I suppose, can create something of a conflict for someone like Frasier — who, in addition to his elitist inclinations, also had great ambitions to be a prominent radio psychiatrist with a large and loyal national audience.

He seemed to be about to take a step in that direction in the episode of Frasier that aired on this night in 2002, "Frasier Has Spokane." Frasier and his producer Roz (Peri Gilpin) were going to be broadcasting their show from a remote location — Spokane. It wasn't really all that remote. Spokane is about as far from Seattle as Kansas City is from St. Louis, roughly a four–hour drive, but on the "Frasier Crane Radio Network," as Frasier called it, it was his immediate listening universe. Frasier had been added as an on–air personality for the radio station in Spokane, and he believed that if he could demonstrate that his radio program traveled well, it could lead to bigger things.

Things got off to a rocky start when, at an introductory press conference, Frasier found the local media were not receptive to him but all warm and fuzzy for his predecessor, a fellow affectionately known by the locals as Sully, who interrupted the press conference ostensibly to wish Frasier luck. Sully had been part of Spokane's radio community for three decades, and he was clearly leaving extraordinarily large shoes to fill.

The Spokane listeners weren't too helpful in the transition, either. They actively resisted Frasier as Sully's successor.

Callers from Seattle supposedly were being routed to Spokane, and Frasier thought they could show the Spokane listeners what he and Roz did, but there was a problem with the transmitting equipment. No calls from Seattle were getting through.

So Frasier asked Roz to to pose as a caller. She could give him any problem she wanted, he told her. He just needed to take a call that did not express an opinion about his predecessor. Roz agreed to do that and, posing as Roberta, told Frasier she was afraid of the dark.

That seemed like a rather elementary problem for Frasier, whose degrees from Harvard and Oxford fueled his elitist self–image, but he began to explore it with Roz on the air.

And, in the process, Frasier uncovered what he had been unable to uncover previously — an idea of what Roz had been going through since breaking up with her boyfriend — who, by the way, had been a rather likable fellow with the decidedly blue–collar job of garbage collector.

Frasier told a teary Roz that relationships can be painful, and love can be risky, but it's a chance that has to be taken. While the pain was fresh, he advised her to seek the comfort of friends who loved her and cared for her.

The on–air conversation had the desired effect on Spokane's listeners. They responded with supportive suggestions for Roberta and breakup stories of their own — and Sully was forgotten for the time being.