Season 1, Episode 1 — The Good Son
“That’s a Wassily!”
Well well, welcome to the fold, my children. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Synopsis: Frasier moves back to his hometown of Seattle, and starts the new job as a radio psychiatrist at KACL. He meets his brother, Niles, at Café Nervosa. After a perfunctory catch-up that belies a tenuous kinship, they talk about their father, Martin.
We see Frasier’s Elliot Bay Towers apartment (“on the Counterbalance!”) for the first time. With a lamp by Corbusier, a chair by Eames, and a couch that’s a replica of one in Coco Chanel’s Paris atelier, the decor is “eclectic”. Martin moves in, and for the rest of the 11 seasons, we get the main situational prop joke: his easy chair. Fun fact: The same actor delivers it in the first episode, and wheels it out in the last episode. Martin and Frasier go through the angst of being mismatched, begrudging housemates.
We meet Martin’s Jack Russell Terrier, Eddie. Fun fact, deux: the dog who played Eddie, Moose, received more fan mail than any of his human counterparts.
We meet Daphne. She’s from Manchester, believes herself to be psychic, and charms her way into becoming Martin’s home healthcare specialist taking up the room Frasier meant to be his study. She is also the unwitting object of Niles’s affection for the next six years.
Gravy: The main contention in this episode is this very fraught role reversal of a parent requiring a child’s care. As we all age, we face the possibility that our parents might someday need our support: support not unlike what they provided for us during those rearing years, only switched, and both parties must assume personas that feel psychologically unnatural. Having seen one parent become enfeebled, then incapacitated by disease, and finally in need of palliative hospice care, it struck me that aging with dignity, when 1%-privilege is not available, is incredibly difficult and barely within grasp. Frasier, if not in the 1% (I’ve not tried that hard to figure out his income ballpark), is almost definitely right below it.
Frasier’s taking in of Martin is not their last option; he could afford to set up his father in a home. From this decision, it’s understandable that all the little incongruities of another person’s habits could rile up the self-righteousness of the person possessing this “largesse”. Imagine a house guest of yours who has overstayed his welcome. There are few scenarios where an interloper’s actions are not up to more minute scrutiny, where every mundane behavior could transform into an encroachment, an idiosyncrasy (that does not have to be suffered). On the flip-side, how ingratiating should a recipient of someone’s good grace be? How much should Martin suffer the quirks of his son without checking them: the delicate morning routine, the dietary restrictions, the class-based affectations of a man who’s outgrown the salt-of-the-earth sensibilities of a cop-father.
The tone of the first episode is relatively dark. You see the characters contend with shifts in their lifestyles that introduce little that uplifts. What amazes is that the writers maintain these personas throughout the series, and slowly, from Season 1 to Season 11, the characters unfurl consistently in this vein. Frasier remains fussy, Martin ornery, Niles a cluster of neuroses and gentle charm (can you tell he’s my favorite??), Daphne quirky, and the whole supporting cast trucking along their narratives from beginning to end. The consistency is rare, and suggests, if not a richly drawn character storyboard, then at least a nimble writing staff capable of extending the personas in a natural way.
Ephemera: The introduction of Eames, Corbusier, Wassily, Chanel as design stalwarts opened a world of standards and taste that few other shows provided.
The play “The Dining Room” by A. R. Gurney details the dying breed of the American WASP. Emotionally reticent, behaviorally rarified, it is kin to some world that Frasier and Niles try to inhabit and maintain.
The multitude of organizations that try to imbue aging with dignity are few and underfunded. How could we contend with this system where we will find our loved ones and ourselves in time?