Frasier Crane on Cheers and Frasier Crane on Frasier are two completely different characters, and through the years, it’s been a pretty one-sided debate as to which character was “better.” Honestly, it’s an unfair comparison: while the original iteration of Frasier was a secondary character defined by his romantic proximity to integral female characters, Frasier Crane of Frasier is a protagonist, and a man living in a different phase of his life. Neither one is really better than the other; they’re just extremely different, and one’s mileage with each may vary depending on what their comedic sensibilities may be.
“I Hate Frasier Crane” is the first of many early season episodes that explore Frasier’s personality traits, and how they may have changed (or not changed) over the years. Having Marty and Niles around offers a window into the unseen formative years of his life, and allows the tenor of Frasier’s character to completely change from the original show. There’s no denying that spending extended time around our family as adults can bring out the worst in us; and I’ve always viewed Frasier on Frasier as more representative of who Dr. Crane really is, given the clean thoroughline this show always draws between the present and the distant past. That’s not to say the Frasier we saw on Cheers was an inaccurate one; he’s simply a man in a different phase of his life, acting as the social chameleon we all do when we form certain friendships and relationships in life.
It’s important to note this, because the original version of Frasier would never work in a story like “I Hate Frasier Crane.” Frasier 2.0 however, is a much more layered character; even as the comedic approach to his character is fairly broad, the devil is in the details that come to light through Frasier‘s brilliant dialogue. While a newspaper columnist and Frasier are exchanging public barbs, we learn that Frasier emasculated his father at work years ago when he backed away from a fight in middle school, disappointing Marty and fueling the insecurity we see on display during Frasier’s petty attacks at Derek Mann (more like Straw Mann, amirite?) on the radio. Immediately, “I Hate Frasier Crane” offers up Frasier‘s first true external conflict – and yet, it eventually reveals this to be a ruse to again give depth to Frasier and Marty’s relationship, as the episode shifts from a satire of masculinity to another touching bonding story.
The twist at the end is really what pulls the elements of the episode together; to save his son from a public beating, Mary calls his old cop buddies to break up the “fight” about to go down between Frasier and the much larger (but never actually seen on camera) Derek. But he only does this after Frasier pulls up his sleeves and goes out to fight; in other words, Marty didn’t need to see his son fight anyone at all. Ultimately, this wasn’t about masculinity: this was about Marty helping Frasier overcome what was obviously a damaging childhood experience, one that robbed Frasier of potential confidence during a difficult time of his life. This seems like a small moment, but it’s extremely important in the development of their relationship: it shows us that Marty is beginning to understand his son a little bit, and what exactly his son needs to both build their friendship (like having family dinners, which happens for the first time in this episode), and get back on his feet after a horrible couple of years, which have left him without confidence or drive in his life. He doesn’t want Frasier to get hurt or hurt anyone; he’s doing it for motivation, and it displays a stunning amount of empathy to see that reveal, helping us understand just how invested Marty is in fixing this relationship.
That little twist at the end may not seem like much, but it retroactively reforms everything preceding it – like Frasier’s monologue in the booth earlier, telling a caller about being “obsessed with everything [you’re] missing” – and turns it from a loud, broad pissing contest between Frasier and a training dummy into something a little more subtle, adding to the emotional continuity that comes in handy numerous times throughout the first season. Frasier was always adept at finding strong, cathartic moments in odd comedic places, and while “I Hate Frasier Crane” isn’t going to blow anyone away with its final minutes, it’s a telling sign of the show’s growing command of its cast and delivery.
– “I Hate Frasier Crane” opens with another ‘Eddie staring at Frasier’ joke, which is always hilarious.
– There’s a B-story with Marty working on an old case, but this is mainly an excuse for us to watch Daphne get her telepathic “signals crossed.”
– After taking the mic and walking around with it during his monologue, Frasier pulls off a suave little trick pretending his mic is a revolver. Great little physical bit by Kelsey Grammer there.
– “On line two we have Stuart, who is having a problem with delayed gratification.” “Well, he’ll just have to wait!”
– Niles, after forgetting he’s met Roz multiple times: “I’m far too successful to feel awkward!”
– Why are Niles and Frasier wearing the same button-down in that final scene? It was hard to pay attention, because it felt like there was a joke the show was missing there. Maybe it ended up on the cutting room floor?
– Sherry Count: Frasier enjoys the episode’s lone sherry while his father is convincing him to fight Derek. Everyone enjoys a glass of wine during the first family dinner, though.
– Speaking of the family dinner, Marty insisting that Daphne eat dinner with them is just an adorable moment. That‘s how you build an ensemble.
– Who used to hate saying grace growing up? I did – didn’t it feel like forced self-hypnotism? Maybe I’m just really weird – or like Frasier, was too hungry to care about whatever we were supposed to be praying about.
[Photo via NBC]