Saturday, November 12, 2016

An Unusual Bonding Experience

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): Do people really care this much about a basketball game?

Roz (Peri Gilpin): Are you kidding? This is Seattle; it rains nine months out of the year. We take our indoor sports very seriously.

Niles: Well, I know you always have.

The classic father–son bonding experience has something to do with sports.

Much of the time, it is the experience of playing catch — or some variation on that — in the yard. Fathers who aren't particularly athletically inclined may still bond with their sons over sports by watching games on TV — or, better still, at the ballpark.

My relationship with my father was one of the latter. He wasn't into playing catch, as I recall. We probably played catch a few times when I was a child, but it isn't a vivid memory for me. But I can remember watching football games with him on TV. In fact, it is something we still do to this day.

There are some fathers and sons who, for any number of reasons, don't bond over sports at all. The relationships that Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce) had with their father Martin (John Mahoney) were in that category. Martin loved sports, especially the local Seattle teams, but Niles and Frasier weren't interested in sports.

But in the episode of Frasier that aired on this night in 1996, "Head Game," Niles and Martin bonded over sports in an unexpected way.

The episode began with Frasier asking Niles to fill in for him on his radio show while he was away — ostensibly to attend a convention of radio psychiatrists (in reality, Grammer was checking in to the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse treatment).

Thus, Niles' presence on his brother's radio show was explained.

As Niles concluded his first day's program, Bulldog (Dan Butler) came in to do his show and told Niles and Roz (Peri Gilpin) that the guest on his show would be a player for Seattle's basketball team. The player had been capable of great things at one time but had hit a skid.

When they were introduced, the player recognized Niles as the psychiatrist he had just heard on the radio and sought some advice to help with his slump. They stepped out into the hallway where they could talk. Niles suggested a few mental exercises, but it was obvious that he was clueless about sports. Bulldog called him back to the studio. The amused player rubbed Niles' head as they parted.

That night the player broke out of his slump and hit a game–winning shot. In the postgame interview, he gave Niles the credit.

That made Niles a local hero — and perhaps nowhere was that more true than in Frasier's apartment, where both Martin and Daphne (Jane Leeves) carried on about his achievement.

At the radio station, everyone was patting him on the back and giving him a thumb's up. Roz had a bunch of faxes waiting for him praising him for helping Seattle's star player get back on track.

And the player sent over courtside tickets to that night's game. Niles took Martin and Daphne to the game, but the player seemed to have fallen back into his slump. He came to Niles for advice during a break in the action and confided that he had followed all of Niles' suggestions, but nothing worked. The only thing different was that he hadn't rubbed Niles' head as he had done in the radio studio. So he did, and then his luck changed.

Niles had a dilemma. He didn't feel right about taking credit for the player's turnaround when his psychiatric advice had nothing to do with it. He was simply, in his own words, "a rabbit's foot."

So he told Martin they would not go to games anymore. Martin didn't take that too well. He had just been bragging on the phone about how he was "living large" with courtside seats and VIP parking. Now it was taken away from him. He would be going to no more basketball games.

However, Niles did go to the arena to talk to the player.

It seemed that Niles had persuaded the player that he could not continue to be a good–luck charm.

But as the episode drew to a close, the audience knew the player was planning to cut some of Niles' hair, presumably to keep handy for those times when he lapsed back into a slump. The last thing the audience saw was the player holding some scissors behind his back.

I've heard that the episode was originally written for Grammer — but, as I say, he was elsewhere and the episode was used to showcase Niles instead.