Saturday, February 13, 2016

Clearing the Air

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): She's back. The scourge of my existence!

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): Strange, I usually get some sign when Lilith is in town: Dogs forming into packs, blood weeping down the wall.

Frasier: I'm talking about ... Diane Chambers!

Niles: (to the intercom) Lucille, send Mr. Carr home.

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) could be very philosophical, capable of deep thoughts. It was one of his better traits.

I always thought he proved that when, in the first season of the Frasier series, he tried to console a young widow who couldn't come to terms with the sudden death of her husband at a young age. After agreeing that it wasn't fair that some people who are in excellent physical shape nevertheless die young while others who smoke and never eat appropriately live into their 80s and 90s, Frasier told her that all one can do is live for the little joys that life affords us.

That was one of those moments when Frasier was wise and articulate. His words were poignant, and they seemed to explain the unexplainable. As a psychiatrist, I'm sure he was proud of his words. They were words he probably should have applied to his own life more often — like, for example, in the episode that aired for the first time on this night in 1996, "The Show Where Diane Comes Back."

Diane, of course, was played by Shelley Long — as she was originally in the series Cheers! that launched Frasier in 1993. Frasier was a character on Cheers! I believe he was originally intended to be a guest on a few episodes, but he was so well received that the producers made him a regular. That didn't set well with Long. She didn't like the Frasier character and lobbied to have him removed. Obviously, she didn't succeed.

Allow me to digress for a moment — but not entirely because this relates to Frasier's observation about living for the little joys that life affords us.

One of the little joys that life affords me is the work I do with journalism students who staff the weekly newspaper at the local community college. This semester I have been talking with one of the reporters who is discovering the Frasier series because of things I have told him about it. I don't know if he has seen the episode that made its debut 20 years ago tonight, but I know he is familiar with the image you can see at the top of this post. It was the moment when Frasier first saw Diane at the radio station.

He went racing across town to his brother's office — where Niles was in the middle of a session. Niles tried to help Frasier confront some of the demons that had tormented him since Diane left him at the altar many seasons before — but Frasier could only obsess about how he was going to rub his success in Diane's face when he had her over to his apartment for dinner.

But Diane threw him a curve. No matter how Frasier tried to impress Diane — with the fabulous view from his apartment or the expensive wine he served — she managed to top him in an almost casual manner.

When Frasier offered her a glass of an expensive (and, therefore, exclusive) bottle of wine, her response was, "Oh, good, I always keep a bottle of that around myself."

If you have seen many of the Cheers! episodes, Diane and Frasier were never really on the same page even though they liked to tell each other that they were. They had many of the same tastes, liked many of the same things. But they were seldom truly in harmony.

Nothing had really changed when they were reunited in Seattle. Diane came to Seattle not to rekindle the relationship but to seek Frasier's financial assistance with the production of a play she had written. Frasier, on the other hand, was obsessed with the past, having several unresolved issues, many of which stemmed from times when he jumped to false conclusions — and anyone with any familiarity with Frasier's character knows how prone he was to jumping to conclusions.

I guess that was always a problem for Diane and Frasier. They always assumed things about each other and, in the grand tradition of assumptions, were almost always wrong in their assumptions. It was that way in Boston, and it was still that way in Seattle. They never seemed to be direct with each other; on the rare occasions when they were direct with each other, they were direct long after they should have been.

In this episode — which Kelsey Grammer says allowed him to mend some fences with Shelley Long — Diane was pretty direct, considering that she didn't think (or said she didn't) of their romantic history — or what Frasier might have been thinking when she popped up out of the blue.

I guess Diane and Frasier really weren't any different from most people. It has been my observation that most misunderstandings, most assumptions could be avoided if people took a few minutes to mentally put themselves in the place of the other person. What would I do if I found myself in his/her shoes? Situations aren't the same for everyone. Nor are motivations. Or perspectives.

That is one of the first lessons one learns in the newspaper business. It's probably the same for police officers and judges — heck, anyone who has to deal with people, I suppose, which means just about everyone.

More often than not, there are more than two sides to a story.

And folks who were familiar with Cheers! story lines knew how many sides there were in Diane's life's stories. In fact, the play she wanted to produce in Seattle was autobiographical, based on her experiences at the bar in Boston. And in Diane's eyes, she was the center of everything in the bar.

In most ways, the play was more than a little literal. All the characters were duplicates of the characters at the bar in Boston, but their names had been altered. They were still recognizable, though. The character who was modeled after Frasier was named Franklin. The character modeled after Sam the bartender was named Stan. Norm was named Ned. Carla was named Darla. Diane's character was named Mary Anne.

But there were some obvious things that demonstrated vividly how Diane falsely perceived her relationship with her environment. For example, Norm was the one who was greeted by a unanimous "Norm!" from everyone in the bar when he came in. In Diane's play, Ned received no such greeting. In fact, Mary Anne was the one who was greeted with a resounding "Mary Anne!"

Whether in real life or on the stage, Diane falsely perceived herself to be at the center of everything.

Frasier could barely contain himself when he watched a dress rehearsal of the play.

Especially when he saw the on–stage reference to Diane's decision to leave him at the altar.

Mary Anne mentioned it to Franklin, who told her, "You know I hold no ill will toward you for that."

At that point, the actor playing Franklin told Diane he felt awkward with that part of the dialogue. How was he supposed to feel about being left at the altar?

Frasier stood up and attempted to enlighten him, wrapping up by telling Franklin that his character had "made a pact with Beelzebub — and her name is Mary Anne!" Frasier turned and strode resolutely toward the exit with the sound of the cast's applause ringing in his ears and a chastened Diane watching

Frasier returned to the theater later and had a rare heart–to–heart conversation with Diane in which she tried to apologize for misleading him, and he told her that wasn't necessary, that he had misled himself.

"The things I said just needed to be said," he told her. "In retrospect, I'm reasonably sure that you are not the devil — although he does have the power to assume pleasing shapes."

It was another great episode in a season that was filled with great episodes. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I am inclined to believe that Frasier's third season was its absolute best.