Our pilot episode introduces the central characters in swift fashion, but also announces another prevalent plot – the relationship between Frasier and his father.
I should begin by giving a little personal background onto my relationship with Frasier. It has been an institution in my house for as long as I can remember, and there were many Friday nights where I was allowed to stay up late and watch it on Channel 4. Although I was too young to take in The Good Son, being around one-and-a-half at the time of its 1994 airing, I have grown up with the show, with my mother frequently comparing me to Niles (owe it to my svelte build, sandy hair and slightly persnickety demeanour).
What I always remember about Frasier, though, was that it was an arc that, over time, focused on each character’s journey. However, the characters that are arguably given the most airtime are Frasier and Martin. Over time, Roz, Daphne and Niles would each be given room to develop and evolve, but from the very start it’s clear that Martin’s role is just as integral as the titular character’s. If anything, Martin’s is more vital, seeing him grow from a bitter curmudgeon to a content father happy with his lot in life.
In The Good Son, it’s strange to see Martin quite so belligerent, but it starts an emotional heft that would propel a lot of the early shows. His relationship with both his sons is, politely, strained – Niles and Frasier are haughty and obsessed with high culture, while Martin enjoys nothing more than a sports game, a beer and a hot dog. On Frasier‘s opening episode, it’s those differences that form the show’s catalyst.
Before that, though, we see Frasier at the start of the show wrapping up his radio programme, something that would introduce most episodes. Here, he helps push the story along by providing an adrift caller of his reasons for relocating, getting in a classic quip about ex-wife Lilith (“my wife left me, which was painful. Then she came back to me, which was excruciating”). Roz, his bolshy but brilliant producer, is introduced, showing her wisecracking fearlessness by informing Frasier of his on-air blunders. Her character, though, is yet to be truly fleshed out, and while the Lupe Valez reference wraps up our story, I never really found it particularly inspiring.
We segue from one Frasier institution/character to another, as the immortal title card announces the arrival of Niles. Of course, originally the writers didn’t intend for Frasier to have a brother, but upon seeing David Hyde Pierce perform in a play, they realised there was a likeness to Kelsey Grammar that had a certain sibling similarity. Throughout the show, Hyde Pierce is a tour de force as Niles, exaggerating his elitism with farcical overtones, physical flair and some exquisite line delivery. His relationship with his brother is the perfect mix of co-dependence and sneaky superiority, and in our first glimpse of their Cafe Nervosa sessions it’s almost there, the back-and-forth banter foreshadowing the sharpness that would come (the choice cut being Frasier remarking “since when do you have an unexpressed thought?”, to which Niles responds “I’m having one now”).
Martin and Frasier’s relationship, unsurprisingly, does not get off to a smooth start. Martin’s two prized possessions, a repulsively retro armchair and his terrier Eddie (who freaks Frasier out with his incredibly focused staring), are enough to drive Frasier to fury, but the last straw comes when Martin favours hiring an eccentric English woman, Daphne, to be his physical therapist. Realising Daphne needs somewhere to stay, Frasier erupts when it means he could lose his study. “You want me to give up the place where I do my most profound thinking?” Frasier asks, incredulously. “Oh, just use the can like the rest of the world,” Martin retorts, and within this riposte is a neat representation of their father-son dynamic – Frasier views his father as being unintelligent and blue-collar, while Martin considers Frasier to be stuffy and superior.
The final conflict – and its subsequent resolution – are delivered wonderfully. As Frasier, Grammar has always seemed somewhat ill-fitting. A visible beefcake of sorts, Grammar yet plays someone with a fragility and prissiness that betrays such a strong build. Yet despite this, we always believe when we hear and see tales of him being bullied or ridiculed. It’s testament to Grammar’s stellar performance that he can admit him accepting his own father into his house is an act of guilt and we, as an audience, only gain more sympathy for him.
John Mahoney, as Martin, would be the pinnacle for some of the show’s most brutal moments of pathos, and their explosive argument is perfectly done. Frasier, on the verge of tears, begs for just “one lousy thank you” from his repressed father, but Martin – his face sombre and listless – can’t bring himself to show any sign of vulnerability. When he eventually does, through the medium of Frasier’s radio show, it’s all the more rewarding and true to Martin’s character, one that is incredibly loving and sweet, but buttoned up in blue-collar manliness.
The two of them will endure further fraught discussions as the show continues, but The Good Son is the perfect introduction to characters who, just when they think they’ve found contentment, are thrown life-changing curveballs.
- So, settle in! I hope that as many Frasier fans as possible will join me in this episodic quest throughout the seasons. We’ve got so many remarks to review, so many characters to cover and so many dramatic shifts to suffer, but as Frasier paraphrases somewhere in Season Eight, “I think we can.”
- The two Cafe Nervosa scenes here are there simply to drive the plot along, but it’s a great introduction to what will become a staple of the series – sometimes I could just watch a whole episode of Frasier and Niles exchanging witty remarks and discussing their various pretensions (oh…wait…they do! Can’t wait for Episode 24).
- Frasier’s overcompensating gets the better of him when he tries to dazzle Martin with the view. “Oh, see, Dad, that’s the Space Needle right there.” “Oh, thanks for pointing that out, being born and raised here, I’d have never have known.”
- Not sure when Martin’s ubiquitous armchair stopped vibrating, but here it’s in full flow and, in Frasier’s words, “the crowning touch.”
- While a few of his eccentricities and snobby demeanour are already well-set, some of Niles’ characteristics seem slightly off throughout. By this point, Frasier had been back for six months, but their relationship isn’t as close as it is portrayed in later episodes. Here, they go to the opera separately and Niles vetoes a hug.
- Martin is unimpressed with the first care worker, despite her illustrious resume. “She worked with Mother Theresa!” “Well, if I was Mother Theresa, I’d check her jewellery box.”
- I love Daphne, after potentially blotting her copybook with her admission of being physic, makes light of the situation by joking to Eddie – “you’re a dog, aren’t you?” and laughing. It’s a sweet, innocent moment that many of us, certainly myself, do to try and remedy a situation. Even better is Frasier’s sly dig upon Daphne’s exit: “We’ll be in contact, Miss Moon, if not by telephone…through the toaster.”
- Speaking of Daphne, her belief she is psychic is an early character trait that would, as time progressed, fall by the wayside. Ditto Niles and his rigorous hygienic crusade, as he meticulously wipes down his seat before offering Frasier a go.
- Another integral character introduced – although not seen, natch – is Niles’ surgery-obsessed socialite wife, Maris. “I thought you liked my Maris,” enquires Niles, defensively. “I do, I like her from a distance,” Frasier responds. “Maris is like the sun…except without the warmth.” I’m pretty sure at this point she was going to be an onscreen character, before the writers’ exaggerated descriptions deemed it impossible.
- The next episode, Space Quest, continues Frasier and Martin’s bickering. If memory serves, it’s a good one.