First: it’s been almost a year since I last updated. Because I didn’t know what to do with this project once I finished Frasier’s first season, and because I loved writing about Frasier so much, I simply stopped writing it altogether so it wouldn’t have to be over. Breathtaking logic, no? I realise I could have made a decision to stop, or continue into season two, but I am non-confrontational like that! With New Zealand in lockdown I have significantly more time on my hands and as such finally felt ready and motivated to revisit this blog – by which I mean, my options to do anything else diminished, but I really did miss writing it – and furthermore, Frasier has always been especially comforting to me and in these dark times one’s brain naturally seeks the path of least resistance.
Plus Frasier gets the flu in this episode so it seemed kind of timely, in a weird way, as in it’s so weird not seeing everyone freaking out about their proximity to Frasier (aside from Niles, but he always maintains a healthy fear of everything.)
The penultimate episode of Frasier’s first season is miles removed from the astringent darkness of its pilot – the odd couple theme of finicky Frasier and his blue collar father Martin is shifted slightly to the back burner. The edgy rivalry between Frasier and his brother Niles has now developed significantly – and all the broad comedy to be mined therein.
Sibling rivalry is a standard sitcom trope, but the brilliance of Frasier and Niles’ particular tension is of course borne from their similarity, and in this case, their shared profession – with Niles maintaining his face-to-face therapy is far superior to Frasier’s cheap thrills as a modestly famous call-in radio psychiatrist.
To be honest, this idea was far more successfully executed in the uproarious previous episode, Author Author, where the brothers try to write a book together – as was the physical and cerebral comedy. Frasier Crane’s Day Off feels a trifle forced in comparison. Kelsey Grammar mugging for the camera to convey Frasier being hopped up on flu medication is a little too wild-eyed, Daphne’s outrage at Frasier’s sickbed demands isn’t as fun as her daffy non-sequiturs, and Martin graphically recounting past illnesses isn’t the greatest use of John Mahoney’s easy charm. There’s a joke about an amulet to ward off illness from Niles’ Guatemalan maid Marta which comes across kinda racist and classist, although I guess that’s partly Niles’ characterisation. We are, however, granted some fantastic moments between Roz and Niles, and there’s a welcome lighthearted goofiness pervading the episode. And even the mildest of the Frasier canon is better than most network sitcoms.
Frasier’s neurotic nature is amplified when he comes down with the flu – initially he thinks restaurant review host Gil Chesterton, making his series debut, is angling to take over his spot, and so he convinces Niles to host the show in his absence. Frasier imagines Niles will be so terrible, the network will be desperate for Frasier’s return and his radio slot will be safe. Unfortunately, Niles excels, and much physical comedy ensues, with Frasier making a pseudoephedrine-fuelled break from his bed to try and wield back his microphone. Unlike Author Author there’s no real depths to plumb here – Frasier just doesn’t like that Niles is doing better than him.
Bringing Roz and Niles together in the booth is the one main interesting development – thus far, Frasier’s work and home life have remained fairly separate, with Roz and Niles having little interest in each other beyond some desultory sniping. Eventually – as most long-running sitcoms do – the show’s world will shrink to the point where it’s natural for Roz to appear at all family occasions, but for now, this is the most time the two characters have spent in each other’s company. Roz’s earthy pragmatism and Niles’s milquetoast flutterings are a compelling pairing.
Initially Niles seems a little bumpy on air, to Frasier’s delight as he listens at home in bed, but when it cuts to Niles imploring a couple on the line to finally express their love publicly for each other or pack it in altogether, it’s genuinely stirring stuff.
Lois: [on phone] Howard… I love you.
Niles: Yes! Yes! Howard, she loves you! What about you?
Howard: [on phone] I, uh…
Niles: Howard? Are you going to just pack up your emotional tent and walk away… Howard? Howard, it’s up to you! Can you say it?! Can you?!
Roz: Come on, Howard! Come on, Howard!
Howard: I… I love you too, Lois!
Another pleasing aspect of this episode is it allows Niles to shine without it being in relation to his crush on Daphne, which has had some distinctly creepy moments this season, or his terrible relationship with his pointy wife Maris, incredibly humorous though that is. He’s simply thriving! Much to Frasier’s abject horror! There’s an earnest sweetness to his gung-ho approach to the radio, and it adds a welcome layer of depth to his character.
The episode concludes on a high-spirited note: after Frasier busts into the booth, locking out Niles and Roz and answering calls with increasing incomprehensibility, he’s ambushed by company security and chased down the hall Benny Hill style. He wakes up at home – and since he’s already had one dream sequence this episode (culminating in him exploding, which must have used up considerable budget) we are led to believe that whole prior scene may have also been a dream, until Daphne assures Martin that she’s going to wait until Frasier is properly lucid to wring maximum enjoyment from telling him it certainly happened for real.
The recipe I’ve made to go with this episode has double significancy: firstly, it’s inspired by the soup Gil Chesterton brings to Frasier in the opening scene which Frasier in turn takes as a hint that Gil wants his spot (Gil also gets Lobster Newburg for the station manager’s cat and ladyfingers soaked in rum for Roz, “much like her own,” muses Frasier darkly.) Secondly, it’s just the sort of thing you might want to be eating right now in these uncertain times – it’s comforting, hearty, and easily mucked around with to use what you have. The peanut butter and coconut milk make it rich and creamy, while the fresh ginger and curry powder give it warmth and spice, and you can really add whatever you like to it – just use my ingredients as a starting point.
Curry Noodle Soup
A recipe by myself.
- 2 spring onions, trimmed and chopped roughly
- 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 3 heaped tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil or plain oil such as rice bran
- chilli sauce to taste
- 1 x 400ml tin full fat coconut milk
- 2 carrots, sliced into sticks
- 1-2 packs udon noodles
- 1 tin sweetcorn kernels
- 2 tomatoes
- optional – firm tofu, coated in sesame seeds and baked, to serve
Using a stick blender, or in a small food processor, blend the curry paste ingredients together.
In a good-sized saucepan, cook the curry paste for about two minutes over a medium heat. Slowly stir in two and a half cups of water followed by the coconut milk, and let it come to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, add the carrots to the pan, and let them cook for about five minutes. Then, add the udon noodles – two packs really is better but we only had one in the cupboard and I managed to make it stretch between three people – along with the drained sweetcorn and tomatoes, and let it simmer away until the noodles are separated and tender. Taste to see if it needs anything extra, then serve. This served three people pretty generously. The tofu was an idea I got from the rabbitsandwolves blog – I just brushed the tofu slices with a mixture of soy sauce and cornflour, dredged them in sesame seeds, and baked at 180C/350F for about fifteen minutes, turning once.
In terms of replacements: you could use a Thai curry paste instead of curry powder, or add a blend of individual spices (I would lean towards cumin, cinnamon, fenugreek and turmeric); you can use a regular onion instead of spring onions and ginger and garlic from a jar; you can add whatever fresh or frozen vegetables you like to the mix, just adjusting the timing for how long they might need to cook. You could also use rice stick noodles or those curly 2 minute ramen noodles or leave the noodles out altogether. If you don’t have peanut butter you could try tahini or even a handful of actual nuts blended in with the curry paste. If we’d had coriander I would have added it; fresh spinach leaves, bok choi, or other hearty greens added at the end would be great too.
Em-Maris-ment of Riches: Maris only gets a brief mention this episode, but it’s filled with rich imagery, as Niles tells Frasier about how their 78 year old maid Marta can scale the stairs energetically whenever Maris rings her little bell.
My usual, please: there are no scenes at the Cafe Nervosa in this episode, but Frasier does request his ginger ale from Daphne with shaved ice, not cubed, and complains that his straw wasn’t bendy enough.
Favoured quote: The introduction of Gil Chesterton is intriguing, with his faux-British accent and oily haughty pretentiousness, as he really occupies a lot of the same space as Frasier and Niles. The closeted-in-plain-sight aspect of his character isn’t present yet, but in his brief moments on screen Edward Hibbert stays firmly committed to the bit, and I loved his enunciation when recommending a restaurant’s Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte to a caller.
Louis: (on phone) The… the what?
Gil: The Schwarzwälder… well, maybe you’d better stick with the rainbow sherbet.
There’s also a great moment where Roz informs Niles about the cough button and extra long ad breaks for when he needs to use the bathroom, and he pertly informs her, in that way David Hyde Pierce is so adept at, that he has “no cough reflex, and excellent bladder control,” to which Roz replies drily, in that gorgeous full-bodied hard-R voice: “and they say all the good ones are taken.”
On that note the voice over guest stars playing the parts of callers to the station in this episode are next level – Eydie Gorme, Tommy Hilfiger, Mary Tyler Moore and – literally – Patty Hearst.
But my favourite quote from this episode, the moment that elevates the whole twenty two minutes, goes to Niles:
Next time: the final episode of season one.