Monday, May 05, 2014

The Write Brothers

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): Niles, I would shave my head for you.

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): A gesture which becomes less significant with each passing year.

There were several themes that the writers of Frasier explored repeatedly during the series' 11 seasons on the air.

One of the funniest — and, in my opinion, the most fertile when it came to inspiring comedic material — was the theme of the sibling rivalry between Frasier and Niles.

Through most of the series, the Crane brothers were exceptionally close. They shared the same tastes, the same interests. At times, they even finished each other's sentences. But they were also very competitive.

That had been implied in other episodes during Frasier's first season on the air, but the episode that aired 20 years ago tonight, "Author, Author," was the first to bring the message home.

In that first season of Frasier, the audience learned a lot more about Frasier than it had known during his Cheers! days — and became acquainted with his father and brother and his father's physical therapist.

By this point in the 1993–94 broadcast season, the audience knew of the tension between the elitist brothers and their blue–collar father. They had witnessed episodes in which the brothers pulled back the curtain and revealed an often turbulent relationship.

That relationship was the source of much humor over the next decade, but it truly was in "Author, Author" that the seeds were sown. The spotlight had never shone so brightly on the Cranes' sibling relationship as it did on this night in 1994.

Niles was trying to achieve a goal of writing a mental health book, but he had trouble coming up with a topic. He was about to tell his publisher that he had nothing when the publisher posed the idea of two psychiatrist brothers writing a book about sibling relationships — and Niles jumped at the idea without consulting Frasier.

That meant Niles had to persuade Frasier to write the book with him. Frasier didn't want to do it, but Niles talked him into it, reminding him of the success of their last collaboration in prep school.

And they embarked on a voyage of self–discovery — discovering in the process that they couldn't work together. (Turned out their father could have told them that and spared them a lot of grief.)

They conveniently forgot (or overlooked) that lesson in later episodes, and it was always funny, but it was never quite as funny as it was 20 years ago tonight, in my opinion.

Frasier: Oh, so that's what this little tantrum is all about? You're jealous of my celebrity?

Niles: It's not a tantrum, and I'm not jealous. I'm just FED UP! I'm fed up with being second all the time. You know, I wanted to be a psychiatrist like Mom way before you did, but because you were older you got there first. You were first to get married. You were first to give Dad the grandchild he always wanted. By the time I get around to doing anything, it's all chewed meat!

Frasier: You're crying about something that we can't change.

Niles: Oh, you wouldn't change it if you could. You love it!

Frasier: Oh, let it go, Niles!

Niles: I can't let it go! My nose is rubbed in it every day! I'm the one on the board of the Psychiatric Association, my research is well–respected in academic circles, four of my patients have been elected to political office, but it's your big fat face they put on the side of buses!

Later in the series, Niles and Frasier would try to work together as practicing psychiatrists and fledgling restaurant owners with disastrous (and hilarious) results. They were adversaries in the courtroom and competitors for corkmaster of their snooty wine club. A few times they were rivals for the affections of the same woman (or believed they were).

It was all funny — and it was all set up by the episode that premiered 20 years ago tonight.