Five episodes in, and the new season of Frasier continues to be a warm blanket of comedy. Our review of Frasier season 1 episode 5, The Founders Club:
We shouldn’t love Frasier as much as we do, should we? The character that is. He’s a perennial snob. He’s staggeringly competitive. He’s enormously gatekeeping and elitist. If only he wasn’t so damn charming.
The Founders Society continues modern Frasier’s exploration of the various aspects of his character and life, as we are reintroduced to the man and his world. We’ve examined the dynamic with his son in Moving On, looked at his fame and career aspiration in First Class, and Trivial Pursuits explored the cultural divide between he and Freddie. This time, Frasier’s work and his social status collide, as they often did in the original show.
In this case, Frasier seeks admittance to a prestigious Harvard club, the titular Founders Society, which often admits future Deans and academic leaders in their fields. It also sounds vaguely secret society-esque, the kind of group who might be unmasked in a Dan Brown novel planning to destroy the world with alien antimatter from Jesus’ grandchild, or something equally nuts. Nothing so grandiose in Frasier. Their greatest esoterica appears to be a bottle of scotch from Ernest Shackleton’s polar voyage which, understandably, ends up tasting awful!
Comedy always comes together when conflict arises, so it makes complete sense to pitch Frasier, in this context, against both his old friend Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and new colleague Olivia (Toks Olagundoye). Already, the trio have a fun balance of fraternal, nerdy academia and self-centred ambition between them, but being Frasier this is always tapered off with a charming sentimentality. Friendships always recover. It’s what we expect. Writer Farhan Arshad never strays too far away from these principles.
In some respects, The Founders Society could be seen as a little throwaway in the context of Frasier, unless the group end up playing a bigger part in our protagonist’s story, though I suspect they won’t beyond this outing. It’s mainly here to give Frasier and Alan’s friendship a little focus, with Lyndhurst as always bringing more to his character than exists on the page. I challenge you not to find him walking around with a metal gauntlet he gets stuck on his arm funny. With his comic delivery, it’s nigh on impossible.
I’m less sure that we truly know Alan any better by the end of The Founders Society, mind, and that’s a touch disappointing. We learn he and Frasier had plenty of japes at Oxford as lads (one of the five stories they constantly retell), and it amused me to hear a reference to the Bullingdon Club, a preserve of ex-Prime Ministers including David Cameron and Boris Johnson that has been in the news in recent years for their own elitist practices and breeding two of 21st century British politics’ most self-destructive figures. Back to Alan, I wish we left this episode knowing more about who he is beyond his friendship with Frasier and his penchant for alcohol. That never happens.
Don’t get me wrong, I could watch Lyndhurst and Kelsey Grammer swapping one-liners, exchanging awkward looks and making buffoons of themselves by chatting up a waiter they believe is the Harvard Dean all day, and they clearly love working together (sporting genuine comic chemistry to boot), but the original series had already begun to sketch out at its comparable point in the first season who people such as Daphne or Ros were. This plot uses Alan more to explore Frasier’s own relationship to his friends, his sense of finding a place (allowing for a fun Cheers wink). I have a growing sense of Olivia (a bit devious, competitive with her sister, eccentric) but Alan still feels shaded in rather than fully sketched.
Speaking of shaded in, I’ve mentioned a similar issue with David (Anders Keith) in previous reviews, and The Founders Society at least goes some way to begin that process as the B-plot focuses on how hapless he is chatting up women, getting coaching from Freddie (Jack Cutmore-Scott) and Eve (Jess Salguerido). I found this side-plot good fun, with David and Freddie bouncing off one another in a similar manner to how Niles interacted with Marty in the original show – though David also boasts Daphne’s eccentricity and slight delusion. “Why am I so bad at this when my father was such a ladies man?” got a big laugh from me. These kind of links to the past where the audience are one step ahead of the characters are working well so far.
I’m also increasingly convinced Frasier is laying track for a revelation that Freddie is gay. It feels like Freddie’s apparent smooth charm when attracting women, and his clear frisson with Eve as they role play a pick up, are red herrings. He’s disturbed reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a point noted by Eve, and this strikes me as a whopping clue. I’m not saying red blooded heterosexual men can’t enjoy reading some Alcott, and while Marty never would have done it, Freddie is a product of two very erudite, intelligent people. He might just enjoy classic literature, as someone originally destined for Harvard.
I say this because I’d quite like Freddie being gay to become a factor, as it would allow for some added representation on Frasier, allow for some interesting (though hopefully tasteful) gender-sexuality based comedy, and subvert expectations people might have that Freddie and Eve will end up together as Niles and Daphne did. I just don’t see their chemistry going that way. I could be wrong. We may know by the point the season is out. Either way, this was a fun plot for the younger characters, with an enjoyable (if predictable, Big Bang Theory-ish) comic payoff for David, that establishes him essentially as a larger than life comic creation, perhaps the only one in this ensemble.
Even with the odd slight misgiving here and there, Frasier continues to serve as a warm blanket in chilly times, literally and metaphorically. Or perhaps a burning 100 year old scotch served in a gauntlet. Take your pick.
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