Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Niles in the Spotlight

The episode of Frasier that premiered on this night in 1999 is hardly my favorite.

In fact, as its title — "Three Valentines" — suggests, it is actually three vignettes, two of which I don't particularly like.

The one I do like has almost no dialogue. It featured Niles (David Hyde Pierce) in some of the best purely physical comedy I have seen. Good physical comedy needs no dialogue, and Pierce could convey so much about his character in the ways he moved and the things he did. He didn't need words.

I have had the audacity (in the opinion of some) to compare Pierce's performance to the best of Dick Van Dyke or Don Knotts, both of whom I admire very much. I understand where my friends are coming from, but I still think the comparison is justified.

Quite simply, Niles had been given use of his brother's apartment to entertain a Valentine's Day date. He was at his fastidious best, spotting a (mostly imperceptible) wrinkle in his trouser leg and setting about pressing it before his date arrived. But he got distracted by the meal he had cooking in the kitchen, and the trousers began to smolder after being under the iron too long.

The episode's other two vignettes simply weren't very amusing. In one, Frasier kept getting mixed signals from his companion about whether she was open to more than a kiss at the evening's end. In the other, Daphne and Martin were dealing with romance issues while dining together at a restaurant.

But Niles had the stage all to himself — except for Eddie, who watched Niles intently and barked occasionally. And Niles certainly was a sight to see.

He tried to press his trouser leg, but he noticed an errant thread. Distracted by the thread, he put the iron down on his trousers and went off to find scissors to cut the thread. (One of the hilarious touches was how Niles' childhood training kicked in as he retrieved the scissors, deliberately slowing down so as to be sure not to run with scissors and reversing the way he was holding them so the sharp end pointed down — no doubt as his mother had instructed him when he was a little boy.)

He still succeeded in cutting his finger, producing some light bleeding, but, once again, Niles' childhood training kicked in, and he passed out frequently from supposed loss of blood.

Eventually, he accidentally set fire to his brother's couch and tried to put it out — but he just couldn't manage the fire extinguisher.

So he fell back on a pot of pasta from the kitchen, dousing the flames but filling Frasier's apartment with smoke.

Niles tried to get rid of the smoke by opening the door, but he caught a glimpse of his cut finger, remembered his blood loss and collapsed on the floor while Eddie ate the pasta in the couch cushion.

Game over.