“Frasier and Niles work together” stories are often a staple of Frasier‘s slapstick-heavy episodes. The conflict baked into their relationship as sibling psychiatrists makes for an easy avenue into shouting matches, playing heavily off the physical comedy of both performers, as well as the swelling chorus of ironies driving the comedy behind them. Being the first of such episodes, “Author, Author” is in an enviable position to tell a Niles/Frasier story, and while it doesn’t quite reach as deeply as it has with Marty and Frasier-centric episodes, it’s a fine example of how Frasier could explore the psychology of two brothers within the parameters of a sitcom.
Understandably, Marty and Frasier episodes are easier to get ‘deep’ with: Frasier and Marty’s relationship has a very defined break in it, the utter incapability of either man to understand each other through life providing a neat thoroughline through their stories. With Frasier and Niles, things are understandably more complex, and complex is not necessarily the best friend of a sitcom, which by definition requires a certain broadness and superficiality. Smartly, “Author, Author” doesn’t try to dig too deep; it simply places Niles and Frasier in a room with a common goal – write a book about sibling relationships – and watches as things descend into chaos.
Again, with Marty and Frasier, the conflict is clean and defined, but when Niles and Frasier begin poking holes in each other’s theories and ideas, it reveals just how messy sibling relationships can be. Envy and jealousy are not emotions children feel towards parents, but rather what children feel towards other children and strangers, and those are two difficult things to reconcile with people who share the same DNA. Put those siblings on the same career path, and those problems become amplified; as the two struggle, as a team, to form two coherent sentences to open the book, eventually descending into them half-dressed and drunk, wrestling around the bedroom trying to strangle each other.
Unlike later episodes built around similar ideas, “Author, Author” uses its slapstick humor as a prism for exploration. While the two are choking each other, their deepest, most Freudian thoughts become coming to the surface (Frasier strangles his brother, yelling “You stole my mommy!!!”). It’s a goofy moment played for humor, yes, but the underlying truth of that sentence remains throughout most of the series, a consistent character thread that always provided an easy, familiar avenue to a throwaway story (albeit to lesser and lesser returns, but that’s a given), and a simple resolution. “Author, Author” once again benefits from being the first of its kind: Marty dropping a fake anecdote to get the brothers Crane to reconcile after days of bickering is a touching moment, one that only gets more endearing when Marty reveals to Roz (who is bawling her eyes out at Marty’s story) that it was fake, and that he just didn’t want to see his sons fighting anymore.
That final moment is so subtle, so easy to miss, but it’s an important moment in returning the focus to the bond between generational triad of the Crane family, and how strong it remains, even after decades of bickering. When three very different people are able to find a tenuous, loving peace between them, it is to be maintained at all costs, even with a little white lie. That strong sense of family is fundamental to Frasier as a show (even as it branches out beyond the Crane family in later seasons), and one that drives the resolution of a very entertaining episode in heartening fashion.
– “We’re not pugilists, we’re psychiatrists!”
– Frasier pouring a shot into his mouth upside down with Niles in the foreground is one of Frasier‘s finest cinematic moments. What a shot.
– Niles in suspenders: always hilarious.
– Ahh, laptops in 1994. That image pairs well with the VCR camcorder we saw in “Travels with Martin.”
– Another sign it’s 1994: the publishing executive Niles meets with uses a pay phone to make a business call. A pay phone!
– “Niles, I would shave my head for you.” “A gesture that grows less significant with each passing year.”
[Photo via NBC]