And here we find ourselves greeting another trope: the Christmas episode. I’ve banged on a lot about the comforting nature of sitcoms, their familiar rhythms, the recurring beats upon which to hang your hat, a damn fine status quo. What is the Christmas episode but a doubling down on the comfort – during a time when emotions, pressure, and stakes are higher, sitcoms give you a safe place to explore the meaning of Christmas, either to distract you from the misery of your own lacking situation or to mirror and amplify your existing good feelings. Whether you’re sitting down with your family, your faces softly lit by the warm twinkle of fairy lights, or huddled under your duvet in bed eating a bag of crisps, longing for the 26th, there’s a particular escapism involved in watching someone else endure the season for you.
Roz’s perpetually lustrous hair is the true meaning of Christmas.
Over the course of eleven seasons, Frasier gave us eight Christmas episodes, and this first attempt is not the show’s best, or even close. In Season 6’s Merry Christmas Mrs Moskowitz we get a stunning demonstration of the show’s love of farce; in Season 11’s High Holidays there’s some of the strongest comedy writing of the series and the gaspingly funny set up of Martin and Niles, the former unwittingly stoned and the latter just stone cold sober but quite convinced he’s under the influence. Nevertheless, Miracle on 3rd or 4th Street is a solid go at the genre, and this being still so early on in the scheme of things, it naturally hinges around Frasier and Martin’s tensions.
Basically, Frasier finds himself suddenly lacking Christmas plans, after Lilith last-minutedly whisks their son Freddie off to Austria for some kind of Sound of Music experience. This frustration fuels the bickering between Frasier and his father (the catalyst being the relative tastefulness of Christmas lighting schemes, obviously) and in a huff, he decides that he’s going to cancel everything and go to work on the 25th instead. This means that Roz has to be dragged away from her own cosy plans and the two of them are stuck listening to the saddest of Seattle’s sad-sacks phoning in. Finally, be-trackpanted and unshaven and with his usual fancy haunts either closed or booked out, Frasier goes to a diner on his way home for some food, and realises he’s forgotten his wallet. The diners think he’s as broke and alone as they are – which for now, he is – and rally round to pay for his meal. And that’s the titular miracle, I guess.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a funny episode. It’s nice to get some dedicated Roz-and-Frasier time during their Christmas Day montage of misery, from caller Gladys who’s all “so you see Dr Crane, I’ve fallen in the shower so many times that they can’t fit any more pins in my hip” to Roz eventually just straight up crying in the producer’s booth with her head on the desk.
It ends on a touching note, with one of the diner patrons giving Frasier a quarter and telling him to call his old man; Frasier says he will, and the credits roll – and this is so often the case with the show, isn’t it? There’s not necessarily a grand resolution with lavish gestures of love, just an infinitesimal shift towards the father and son being more understanding and considerate of each other.
The recipe to accompany this is Remoulade Sauce; while there was much mention of Yule Log during the diner scenes I had neither the means nor the inclination to make a rolled up chocolate cake. Instead I lit upon Frasier’s snippy observance while consuming his Christmas platter that “the chef didn’t exactly dally over the Remoulade, did they?” I’m sure they didn’t, and neither shall you, because this recipe is extremely easy to throw together. Remoulade comes from Louisiana cuisine and essentially a flavoured mayonnaise, ideal for dipping like, crab cakes into, or so I imagine. I used it to dress a coleslaw and it was delicious – all spiced and piquant and lip-smackingly salty. I made this recipe up as I went along and it turned out beautifully, but feel free to play with quantities as far as the spices go to suit your own tastes.
I decided to make this from scratch, but don’t feel like you can’t just stir some things into existing mayonnaise if you have it. If you don’t want to use this much olive oil for expense reasons, you could replace up to half the given quantity with something unflavoured and neutral like grapeseed oil.
- half a cup of aquafaba/the brine from a can of chickpeas
- one tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- three quarters of a cup of olive oil
- two dashes hot sauce
- two garlic cloves, crushed
- one teaspoon horseradish
- two tablespoons finely chopped parsely
- one tablespoon smoked paprika
- one tablespoon dijon mustard
- plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
Em-Marisment of Riches: Niles paints an alarming picture while waxing lyrical about the grazing deer at his log cabin, all – “of course, Maris fires off her shotgun from time to time to scare them away from our garbage, but still, it’s enchanting.” It’s the blitheness in David Hyde Pierce’s delivery that really makes it. He also has Daphne try on a dress that he’s thinking of buying for the mysterious Maris, clearly so he can derive some alone time her. “You know Maris and Daphne are the roughly same size!” Niles insists. “Give or take a foot,” retorts Frasier darkly, and it’s unclear whether he means horizontally or vertically but it’s probably a little from column A, a little from column B, knowing Maris.
The other thing worth noting about this episode is that they pulled out all the stops for the guest roles whose voices you hear calling in – Rosemary Clooney as the dicky-hipped Gladys, Mel Brooks, Dominick Dunne (look him up on Wikipedia, he’s fascinating), Eric Stoltz, and a pre-everything Ben Stiller.