Saturday, January 14, 2017

It's a Sin to Tell a Lie ...

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): I hope you remembered to tell him I was an expatriate.

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): I told him you're an ex–something.

I know many Frasier fans who didn't care for the episode that first aired on this night 20 years ago — "Liar! Liar!" — but I liked it. It was a perfect reminder of how obsessive Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) could be.

I say "reminder" because viewers who had been watching Frasier for any length of time in the previous 12 or 13 years already knew he could be obsessive about, well, just about anything. After all his years on "Cheers!" it was a given that Frasier was obsessive. It was an element of his personality, and it was a running joke in his own sitcom.

It was a quality the writers gleefully exploited. In the history of TV broadcasting, few character quirks have been mined as successfully and as long as Frasier's obsessiveness.

In "Liar! Liar!" the episode began with something of an examination of the old question, are there good lies? In the course of the conversation, it was revealed that, to get out of a dreaded physical fitness exam, Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Frasier had triggered a fire alarm — and a classmate had been falsely blamed for it. Frasier learned that the classmate had been expelled from prep school as a result.

Frasier felt bad, but Niles didn't. He had bad memories of being tormented by that classmate, who apparently had been an overbearing bully in his youth.

Frasier wanted to make amends and tried to contact the classmate — only to learn he was serving time in prison.

That was a terrible burden for Frasier. Had he been responsible for the classmate's downward spiral? He had to know.

So he went to visit the classmate in prison.

Their meeting began with some amiable chitchat. The classmate asked what Niles was doing. Niles had specifically told Frasier to tell the classmate that he was in Italy so Frasier said, "He's abroad now."

"Really?" the classmate asked. "That must have hurt."

"No, I mean ..." Frasier began, then he said, "Yes, I suppose it did."

Frasier told the classmate he was doing a study on men in prison and how they ended up there. In the course of their discussion, the classmate realized that being expelled as a teenager had put him on the wrong path.

Frasier decided he might be able to compensate by helping the classmate resolve some marital problems he had been having so he went to see the classmate's wife (Carlene Watkins). They had a conversation in which the wife confessed to a sexual fetish — she could only be aroused when there was an element of risk, primarily of being caught in the act.

That was when she jumped into Frasier's lap and told him that her husband had been released from prison and could walk in on them at any time. While funny, I thought that part was a bit contrived. After all, it was the first mention that the classmate was being released. Surely, if he had been granted parole or was about to be released because he had served his sentence, he would have said something when he met with Frasier.

But nothing was said until the last minutes of the episode.

The rest of the episode was slapstick comedy in which Frasier and the ex–classmate barely avoided crossing paths.

You would have thought that such a narrow escape would have taught Frasier not to be so obsessive.

But obviously it didn't. The series remained on the air for another seven years.