Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Crane Boys' Family Tradition

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): We could share a table. There are a couple of seats over there.

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): We can't sit with strange women.

Frasier: Why not? We married strange women.

The writers for Frasier always seemed to strike a solid balance between types of episodes. They never never leaned too heavily in one direction. One episode might deal with Frasier's (Kelsey Grammer) long–distance relationship with his son; the next week's episode might deal with Frasier's sibling rivalry with Niles (David Hyde Pierce); the next episode might deal with Frasier's snobby demeanor.

I guess it was easy with Frasier. He was so flawed that there was always a wealth of material to exploit. The writers didn't have to write the same kind of story every week. They could write many kinds of stories that gave the viewers real insight into Frasier's personality. That is the mark of a truly good sitcom.

The episode that first aired 20 years ago tonight, "Four for the Seesaw," was the latest installation in the story of Frasier's tortured love life. Niles (David Hyde Pierce), recently separated from the frequently mentioned but never seen Maris, was dragged in for good measure.

Actually, Niles was at the center of the episode. Frasier's obsessive behavior was reflected in his younger brother. Like a hormone–crazed teenager, Niles wanted sex, but he also drove himself to lunacy with his obsessiveness. Both would be — in the words of Hank Williams Jr. — a "family tradition."

Niles and Frasier were in the cafe on a particularly busy day. There were no tables to be had. They decided to ask if they could share a table with two unattached women (Lisa Darr, Megan Mullally), who were receptive to the idea.

So the four of them had coffee together. Things worked out so well that they went out to dinner and then to the repertory theater. The audience only heard about those developments when Niles and Frasier brought the girls back to Frasier's apartment, but it was clear they had been hitting it off.

While they were there Martin (John Mahoney) told Frasier that he and his girlfriend had a mountain cabin paid for but they couldn't use so he offered it to Frasier. After a little discussion, the four decided to go away for the weekend.

But once they arrived at the cabin, the Crane boys were driven to madness by the ambiguity of the girls' remarks. Niles and Frasier were eager to bed the girls, but they didn't wish to appear too eager — so they tried to maneuver things so the girls would commit themselves one way or another.

But each thing they said was more ambiguous than the last.

Finally, it seemed that Niles' and Frasier's lustful wishes would come true, but Niles was overcome with guilt. He had to call Maris and find out the ground rules for their separation.

"It occurred to me," Niles said into the phone, "we never laid out the rules about our dating other people. ... I know that we're allowed to see other people. My question is, how much of them are we allowed to see?"

Maris apparently gave Niles permission to fool around.

But Niles' brain was still in ambiguity mode because he began imagining other meanings for what she had said. Then she called him back and told him not to go out with other women.

And he kept interrupting Frasier to discuss it all with him. A person in Niles' shoes most likely won't notice that he is annoying those around him, and Niles failed to pick up on Frasier's increasing irritation.

Finally Frasier had had enough, and he scolded Niles, told him he was overthinking things. While he was having his rant, the girls came to the bedroom doors and were listening when he told Niles, "For tonight they are two live breathing available females who want us!"

"Think again," one of them said, and both returned to the bedrooms — alone.