Saturday, February 06, 2016

A Marvelous Night for a Moondance

I always felt that Frasier's Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) were the most unlikely of couples. Their courtship seemed way too improbable to me. I couldn't figure out why a dweeb like Niles would be able to snag a sexy dish like Daphne.

If I had to narrow it down, that was probably the one plot development in the series that was most responsible for driving me away — and, consequently, preventing me from enjoying some truly entertaining and creative episodes in the second half of Frasier's decade–plus on the air. I did eventually enjoy those episodes — but well after the first times they were shown on the air.

The episode that aired 20 years ago tonight, "Moon Dance," was shown a few years before Niles got up enough nerve to finally tell Daphne how he felt about her. Things hadn't veered into what I regarded as ludicrous territory. Not yet.

So I saw this one when it first aired. And, for a long time, I thought it was the best episode of the series.

It was in the episode that made its debut 20 years ago tonight that Daphne and Niles went on what could be considered (in hindsight) their first date — although Daphne really had no idea that was what it was.

Ultimately, I suppose, the Niles–Daphne relationship was testimony to the belief that many people have that love doesn't care what people look like or how much older one may be than the other or any of that superficial stuff. Love has its own ways, its own rules and its own schedule, which are different for everyone and not easily understood by many (perhaps most, if not all).

Sometimes love is sparked in unlikely ways. I guess it shouldn't be surprising when that leads to the bonding of unlikely couples — as it apparently did 20 years ago tonight.

As the episode began, Niles saw a newspaper picture of his wife, from whom he was now separated, on the arm of another man at a social event. His father (John Mahoney) encouraged Niles to get out as well so Niles decided to invite a yogurt heiress to a society event, a winter dance called the Snow Ball.

She accepted but then had to bow out — which was OK with Niles because he had realized after asking her out that he didn't know how to dance. Daphne offered to teach him, and she had been giving him some lessons just before his cell phone rang.

Daphne was out of the room when the yogurt heiress called so she was unaware that the date was broken. But Martin knew about it, and he watched as Niles agonized over whether to continue with the dance lessons even though they were no longer necessary.

He did, however, want to be alone with Daphne.

Martin encouraged Niles to tell Daphne the date was off, and he wouldn't need her to give him any more lessons. Niles started to dig in his heels. Martin warned him that going ahead with the dancing lessons was asking for trouble.

"You don't think I see the way you look at Daphne?" Martin asked. "You're sticking a fork in a toaster here."

"Well, my muffin's stuck," Niles replied.

But he knew his father was right so he did tell Daphne that the date was off and he didn't need to learn how to dance. He was overjoyed to hear Daphne say that she would like to be his date, if he didn't mind. It would be a rare evening out for her; it would be an answer to a prayer for him, and he accepted her offer without hesitation.

So the date was made, and Niles showed up at the appointed time to pick up Daphne — who really did look stunning in her new red dress. Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) had been out of town and had only just returned, unaware of what was about to happen.

In case you're wondering why Grammer played such a small role in this episode, that was only in front of the camera. He played a rather significant role behind the camera. He was making his debut as director, and I guess he felt a little uncomfortable about directing himself so he kept his on–camera work to a minimum.

This episode gave Niles and Daphne their moment in the spotlight, and the screen practically crackled with the sparks they created. And, together, in this episode, Niles and Daphne altered the course of one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. If they hadn't had such powerful chemistry together, I suppose the folks behind the Frasier series would never have permitted the relationship to bloom.

But they did.

Niles apparently felt the relationship had that kind of potential. He even thought his date with Daphne was the beginning of a different kind of relationship — which, in hindsight, it was, although you couldn't tell it from the way Daphne reacted. She apparently had been motivated to silence those who whispered about "poor Niles" who was all alone now that his wife had left him.

It was a noble gesture on Daphne's part, but Niles could barely conceal his disappointment.

For his part, Niles had gotten carried away by the moment and expressed his true feelings — precisely the thing his father had warned him about. But Daphne didn't seem to realize that his words had been true.

"I knew you were a good dancer," Daphne said triumphantly, "but I had no idea you were such a good actor!"

"Actor?" Niles asked.

"'Daphne, you're a goddess. Daphne, I adore you.' We fooled everyone, didn't we?" Daphne said.

"We certainly did," Niles replied, observing that, under the right circumstances, anyone could be fooled.

In the context of what came later in the series, that moment said so much.