Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Flim-Flam Man

"He's Lilith's half–brother, the curse of the family. What does it say when Lilith is the good one?"

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer)

I usually enjoy Michael Keaton movies. I can't say I have liked them all, but I have liked many of them.

I also enjoy his guest appearances on TV, and the best of those may have been the one that aired 15 years ago tonight on Frasier. Keaton played the half–brother of Frasier's ex–wife, a con man who had scammed Frasier on many occasions, in "Wheels of Fortune."

When the episode began, Roz (Peri Gilpin) gave Frasier a telephone message from Blaine at the end of Frasier's radio show one day. Frasier observed that the telephone number was local. "The beast walks among us," he said.

It turned out Frasier was nursing a couple of grudges. Apparently Blaine had taken Frasier's valuable antique salt server, and he had sold Frasier some kelp futures. Frasier was determined not to be taken in again.

But when Blaine came to visit he was in a wheelchair, claiming to be paralyzed from the waist down and professing to be a changed man.

Just prior to his visit, a package from Blaine had arrived. In it was Frasier's salt server. He and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) were overcome by the sight.

"I've heard you speak of it," Niles said, "but I had no idea it was so magnificent."

A note that came with the salt server explained that Blaine wanted to make amends and hoped for Frasier's forgiveness. But Frasier was resolute in his belief that Blaine was up to no good.

When Blaine arrived, Frasier wanted to know how much it would cost to get him out of there. Blaine admitted that he was there because he wanted something from Frasier, but what he wanted was for Frasier to pray with him.

He had been in a terrible automobile accident, Blaine said, and he had had a religious experience. Now he was on a ministry "to save souls the way the Lord saved mine."

Frasier remained skeptical.

"What genius!" he said. "The Lord — a credible partner who doesn't take a cut."

Daphne (Jane Leeves) protested that Blaine's was an inspirational story.

Blaine invited the Cranes to come hear him preach the following Sunday in a facility he had rented for the occasion. Everyone but Frasier liked the idea. Then Blaine mentioned that the advertising had been more expensive than he had expected, and he was about $1,000 short of what he needed.

Frasier pounced. "Aha! The other shoe comes cascading from the sky!" But Blaine insisted that what he was going to say was "the Lord will provide."

In the end, though, it was Daphne who provided, which made Frasier even more determined to expose Blaine so he began trying to contact the doctor who had treated him after his accident to confirm whether Blaine really was paralyzed. But multiple attempts to reach him failed.

When the family attended Blaine's service, Frasier was fuming. He didn't believe the doctor existed, and he was frustrated by what he saw as the sheep mentality of the audience.

Frasier threw Blaine from the wheelchair, told the onlookers not to help him up, then told Blaine to get up on his own. At that point, Frasier's phone rang. It was the doctor, and he confirmed Blaine's story.

The humbled Frasier urged the onlookers to help Blaine into his chair and pledged to match all contributions that were made that day dollar for dollar.

Frasier couldn't stop doing things for Blaine. He even gave him the antique salt server — right after he gave him the promised contribution in cash.

"Well," Frasier said after Blaine left the apartment and, when last seen, was rolling to the elevators, "that's a lesson learned."

"Yeah," Martin (John Mahoney) replied. "Don't throw a guy out of a wheelchair. Who knew?"

Then, as Martin and Frasier talked, Frasier heard things he had said to Blaine coming from Martin's mouth, and he realized that Blaine had, indeed, been up to his old tricks. Dashing to the door, Frasier found Blaine's empty wheelchair.

As Frasier so presciently observed earlier in the episode when he spoke of the Blaine Sternin long con: "He sets you up, sucks you in and then bam! Kelp futures!"