Dr Crane finds himself on a pub quiz team in the latest installment, Trivial Pursuits. Here’s our Frasier season 1 episode 4 review:
Credit to this new incarnation of Frasier for tackling a conceptual horror right off the bad – taking on Dr Crane in a pub quiz!
Imagine the righteousness. Imagine how finicky he would be as a team mate, how competitive, how buried in obscure detail. Granted, you might end up being the classic ‘egghead’ team that every pub quiz always has (don’t they just drive you mad?), but Frasier would be infuriating even if he was on your side. Trivial Pursuits as an episode bears that out, to some degree.
The fourth episode of Frasier’s reboot, written by Bob Daily, continues to find fun and engaging mechanisms to introduce and explore his new Bostonian world. The title is, in the spirit of the series of old, an enjoyable pun. It references on one hand the well-known board game, questions oft used in pub quizzes, while on the other refers to Frasier’s assumed perception of Freddie’s career, which forms the backbone of the episode’s dramatic throughline.
We’ve seen in earlier outings a quiet disdain, or perhaps disapproval, from Frasier toward Freddie dropping out of Harvard to pursue a career as a fireman. From a comedic point of view, this makes complete sense, structurally, to give the series an age-reversed mirror of the Frasier/Martin dynamic of the original show; the blue collar working class guy living with the middle-class snob. It worked in 1993 and it theoretically would work even better in 2023, given the even wider sense of economic inequality today.
Frasier has gilded the lily somewhat in having Freddie living with his rich father in a plush apartment, presumably paying little in rent. The show isn’t going to serve as a fist-shaking diatribe against the wealthy. Kelsey Grammer is a famous conservative who no doubt would have little truck with exploring Frasier’s innate privilege; indeed, the show has been quite honest about his vast wealth. None of that is the point. It boils down to a clash of cultures that is often key to well-played comedy.
Therefore, Trivial Pursuits confronts Freddie’s frustration that his life choices – his working-man aspirations to engage in a ‘simpler’ profession than academia – are looked down on by his father. Frasier has arguably softened over the years as a character, even from the beginning of the original series when he’d already mellowed in the wake of his toxic marriage, but the snob still remains. He still refers to Freddie as “just a fireman.” This allows for the episode to do what Frasier has often done best – throw a fish out of water.
Frasier therefore agrees to spend a day shadowing Freddie at his firehouse, hanging out with his buddies. Daily attacks the comic premise on two levels. Firstly, Freddie finds it almost impossible to prove his job is a breakneck, dangerous and skilled profession (we get a very funny scene of him called out to a man trapped in his oversized cat flap), so he can make the point he wants to about validating his work. And second, his buddies are not the buff, straight-up working men we might imagine – they’re quiz eggheads who carry knowledge and references Frasier feels at home with.
Sidebar – Freddie’s fire buddy Moose (Jimmy Dunn) is surely a nod to the original series’ beloved dog, Eddie, who so tortured Frasier, and who in real life was called Moose. The dog gag is repeated in the firehouse, to my absolute joy given how wonderful all the dog comedy in the original show was, and Frasier once again affirms he’s not a dog person. “I outlived that other mongrel, and I’ll outlive you!” Wonderful. More dogs in Frasier 2023, please!
In the traditions of studio-based sitcom, it all stretches credulity, but it continues to work and be genuinely funny, while simultaneously building character and allowing for moments of development. Frasier and Freddie’s relationship continues to grow here. My favourite scene ends up being with Eve (Jess Salgueiro), shown here in her role as a bartender (which the show should revisit, as it works), and Frasier, as they talk about her boyfriend who died working as a fireman. It’s a sweet scene, with a fun reference to Niles and Frasier’s childhood, only serving to further build a rapport between the two.
Second sidebar, but there is every possibility, as much as I am partly convinced we will get a later revelation Freddie is gay, that Eve could well one day end up Frasier’s daughter in law, should the show choose to pair she and Freddie up, which is also entirely possible. A scene such as this could be laying that track.
Beyond that, Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Olivia (Toks Olagundoye) continue to exist slightly adjacent to the narrative when not focused on Frasier’s work, with the show falling back on Alan’s drunken British schtick or Olivia’s caustic obsessiveness. This episode really forces jokes out of them – some pub quiz pedantry involving Shakespeare – so they can exist in the story, in a way we rarely saw with, say, Ros back in the original show. There isn’t as organic a reason for them to be around in the same way as Freddie or Eve, or even David yet. That said, David (Anders Keith) is also crowbarred in here, he similarly not having as clear a function in the storytelling as he should. He and Alan particularly need more character flesh on the bone.
Once again, though, Frasier continues to impress. This doesn’t quite sparkle as ‘First Class’ did, but it absolutely pulls off the balance of witty high class referencing and traditional studio comedy that worked so well in the original show. It knows what it is, even if not every element is completely in place. New Frasier already feels comforting, charming and funny. And far from just trivial.
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