Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Birdman of The Montana

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): [about Martin's chair] Dad, when are you going to stop blighting the environment with this monstrosity? My God, can't you see that it wants to die? Let it go.

Martin (John Mahoney): You know, I keep having this dream where you're saying the same thing only I'm in the hospital and you're slipping the nurse a 20.

Frasier: Dad, that will never happen.

Martin: Thank you.

Frasier: I have medical power of attorney. It won't cost me a thing.

In the episode of Frasier that first aired on this night in 1997 Niles (David Hyde Pierce) had just signed a lease for a new apartment in a snooty building called The Montana. He was anxious to make a good impression on his new neighbors so he arranged to throw a dinner party.

It's important at this point to mention something.

Longtime viewers of Frasier will recall that, prior to this, Niles had acquired a dog, a rather high–strung whippet that, apparently, bore a striking resemblance to Niles' never–seen but frequently described spouse, Maris. But the Montana would not permit dogs or cats. Other pets were allowed, but Niles would not be able to keep his dog.

So Niles gave away his dog and purchased a cockatoo named Baby that had been taught a few words. It said "I love you" a few times, at one point calling Niles Grandma, but mostly it repeated things it heard in Niles' kitchen. For example it picked up the assessment from Martin (John Mahoney) that domestic birds were "cute but stupid."

Baby's problem, though, was not her brains. It was her nerves.

She had a tendency to startle easily, and she would attach her claws firmly to whatever — or whoever — happened to be in the vicinity. Niles learned that the hard way when the doorbell rang. Baby was perched on his shoulder and sank her claws into him hard enough that he could feel it through his shirt and jacket.

(This, by the way, is a real condition that can affect humans as well as animals. My mother was a perfect example. She loved movies, but she had a tendency to grip the arm of whoever was sitting next to her whenever a particularly suspenseful scene occurred. I learned that the hard way when I watched "The Shining" with her.)

Before the evening was over, Niles would have reason to look back on that episode with fondness.

Baby was startled when Frasier began building a fire. She was on Niles' hand, but the sound so scared her that she flew to his head, and she sank her claws into his scalp.

She tightened her grip when the doorbell rang again.

Niles retreated to the kitchen as the guests began to arrive, and Frasier was put in the position of keeping them entertained while Niles tried to free himself of the bird.

Frasier had shown an interest in one of the guests, a neighbor named Stephanie (Patricia Wettig, who is probably best remembered as a star of TV's thirtysomething in the late '80s), but he did a pretty good job of entertaining all six guests, which included Maris' oldest friend. Niles was petrified of what she might tell Maris about his dinner party — and the cockatoo attached to his head — so he remained in the kitchen, trying to find a way to get the bird to relax enough to loosen its grip.

In the end, the bird did break up the dinner party — but not because she was on Niles' head. It was because of phrases she had picked up from Niles and Frasier in other contexts.

For example, Niles told Frasier how rampant gossip was in a building like The Montana. In the short time he had lived there he had heard that one of the guests, Carol (played by Rosemary Murphy, who appeared in "To Kill a Mockingbird," from which the title of the episode was inspired), "is a lush," and another, a Dutch investment banker, "is a lech." He had also cautioned Frasier against counting too much on Stephanie being "as horny as you are."

Baby was prompted to repeat those phrases whenever she heard the names; offended, the guests stormed out. Stephanie, however, stopped long enough on her way out to ring the doorbell.

I'm not sure there was a moral to the story. It was just good funny slapstick.