By Ashley Amon and Andrew Daar
Season 1, Episodes 11 and 12: “Death Becomes Him” and “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street”
Original air dates Dec. 2, 1993 and Dec. 16, 1993
Ashley: Death is a pretty hard topic to swallow and especially so if it’s in regards to your own mortality. In “Death Becomes Him” Frasier comes to term with the inevitable end of his own life possibly prematurely. He coerces Martin to go to the doctor and only to discover the rather young Dr. Newman has died simply by picking up a newspaper. Seeing that he’s close to Frasier’s age, this hits him hard sending him into a tailspin. He makes plans to settle his estate and allowing his family to pick out belongings he’ll bequeath to them upon his death (Niles slyly choosing a nice bottle of wine and Frasier’s robe).
I enjoyed his visit to Dr. Newman’s house, clumsily peeking under the black cloths over the mirrors during shiva (and thinking they’re having an art unveiling later). He’s still very cordial while investigating why Gary died only to help his widow in the end. This episode isn’t especially funny but it is heartwarming and has a good message. Basically bad things can happen to people who do the right thing all the time but you can’t obsess over it.
Andrew: Neither of these episodes is amongst Frasier‘s funniest, but “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street,” which is quite funny at points, is an incredible Christmas episode. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s downright depressing, and it’s heartwarming. Although it begins like just any other episode, with office hijinks and a sweet scene between Frasier and Roz as they exchange gifts, things take a dark turn after Frasier transfers his sadness over not getting to see his son into anger at Martin. Deciding that he’d rather spend his Christmas trying to help total strangers than with his family, Frasier volunteers for the Christmas day timeslot at KACL. The whole middle part of the episode can get hard to watch. Frasier first learns that his decision has forced Roz to sacrifice her Christmas as well, then the two of them are treated to some of the saddest calls imaginable. The two of them can barely keep their heads up listening to people relate their most scarring stories from the one day of the year that is supposed to herald nothing but joy and goodness. But then something happens. Frasier will not get the Christmas he wanted or thought he would get, but he ends up getting something greater: the unconditional kindness of strangers.
Ashley: A Christmas episode! Hooray! Christmas is my favorite holiday so I tend to enjoy Christmas episodes of most shows (and as for Frasier, we’ll have to wait until season twelve for High Holidays which still makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe). This particular Christmas is difficult for Frasier and ends up being rather lonely as it’s the first time he doesn’t get to spend it with Frederick. I’ve spent the last two Christmases away from family and while the first was difficult, the second proved to be rather fun. For Frasier, it’s more educational and his callers don’t help him initially. In fact, the puppy anecdote was terrible. It’s no wonder Roz and Frasier couldn’t keep their heads up. Who could after that story?
Andrew: Each third of the episode gives a different look at the idea of Christmas. It begins with the KACL office party, at which everyone is happy and drinking and thinking about sex. This is what Christmas is “supposed” to be, how we fantasize about it, nothing but fun and pleasure. The middle third is a deconstruction of that idea, pointing out that families often fight over insignificant matters and that unforeseen events will shatter your planned “perfect Christmas.” Frasier learning that Frederich is going to Austria instead of Seattle, while one of his callers had a puppy die on Christmas. Life is imperfect and unpredictable, and to think that it would change one day out of the year is to delude oneself.
Then the final third happens, and it reconstructs the idea that Christmas is a joyful time. The show doesn’t argue that things can turn out perfectly after all. Instead, it argues that perspective matters and that the Christmas spirit can bring joy to you, even when times are tough. Frasier goes to a diner after work to get a meal, and although he cracks jokes about the quality of the food, he soon realizes that many of the other patrons, some of whom are homeless, see the food as a banquet. And when Frasier realizes that he left his wallet at the radio station, the patrons, believing Frasier to be homeless and making up the “lost his wallet” excuse to avoid feeling ashamed, chip in to buy him his food. This, one man insists, is what Christmas is about, people helping people. Doing something good not because you expect reciprocation, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Ashley: I really like that the Christmas episode is formatted the way it is: the fun beginning, the depressing middle, and the hopeful end. Christmas really is a matter of perspective. For some, it can be terrible reminders of a bad memory (like Frasier’s callers) and for others it’s just a time, maybe for one day, just to love each other and be good to your fellow humans. When I’ve told my coworkers that I’d be alone on Christmas, I received a lot of invitations to come over and a few comments of “that’s just sad.” But from their perspective it is sad; to me, not at all. I still see my family (via Skype), I get to hang out with my dog, open presents, eat yummy food, and watch all my favorite Christmas movies in my pajamas. I feel like Frasier gets a new perspective on Christmas from his experience, like you said, doing something good because it’s the right thing to do and from people he never would expect.
Andrew: After all that, what can I say about “Death Becomes Him?” It’s a fine episode, full of good if not great jokes. It just seems so lightweight compared to “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street.” It’s another look at Frasier’s obsessive nature, which is a character trait that was explored in-depth in “Here’s Looking At You.” Seeing as how the two episodes are so close together, it seems a bit odd to have both focus on the same trait. I’ll definitely give it points for the ending, in which Frasier has to come to terms with the fact that you can’t plan for the perfect life. You can do “everything right” and still not have things go according to your plan. But once again, this idea would be covered again in the very next episode, and it would be done in such a more transcendent manner.
Ashley: I don’t think the focus on Frasier’s obsessive tendencies in “Death Becomes Him” is odd at all (in relation to its closeness “Here’s Looking at You”). Think about how he deals with life in general. As a doctor, he has to be investigative. He has to find a solution to a problem. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he goes off the deep end to find out the cause of Gary’s death. Furthermore, that neurotic personality is what makes up a lot of Frasier’s character. Laying on the couch listening to his heartbeat is morbid, funny, and yes, terribly obsessive. In future episodes, this neurotic trait goes a long way to drive the humor and story.
Considering the repetative moral thread of these two episodes, do you think this was intentional or just kind of “happened”?
Andrew: I guess I should elaborate that I didn’t find Frasier’s actions odd. His behavior in “Death Becomes Him” was completely in character, and I’m not against the show using established traits to serve as the catalyst for humor and plot. But I just felt that, overall, the episode lacked a certain something that most of the episodes we have seen so far have had. “Death Becomes Him” was funny – I loved how Frasier and Niles felt that they could judge the quality of care given by Dr. Newman based on the art he hung in his office or where he lived – but it doesn’t have a clever concept or over-the-top farce or a memorable story like Frasier‘s best episodes do.
As for the repetitive moral thread, I think it sort of just happened, as in, it wasn’t planned, but I also think that it fits in with Frasier‘s overall point of view. For all of Frasier and Niles’ pompousness, they want to find happiness, and they genuinely want to help others find happiness. We’ve seen how seriously Frasier takes the practice of psychiatry, even when everyone around him in his professional life is telling him that ratings and ads are more important than the callers. And I’ve said before that Frasier and Niles seem to be putting up a front of refinery, play-acting the parts of snobs because that is how they think people with refined tastes are supposed to act. In “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street,” I’m sure the meal Frasier ate at the diner wasn’t the best he’d ever had, but once he dropped his snobby front, he was able to connect with the other patrons and understand how Christmas can bring total strangers together.
Along those same lines, Frasier’s relationships with his family and friends indicate that he is someone who values others, even when he has trouble relating to them. In not even half a year, he and Martin have gone from not being able to be in the same room as each other for more than three minutes to having a relationship in which Martin can try to console his worried son, even if Martin finds the subject of Frasier’s obsession, his impending death, silly and uncomfortable. He has also come to regard Daphne as a member of the family, while he and Roz have gotten to the point in their friendship at which they each buy each other gifts despite agreeing not to. Roz also quickly forgives Frasier for inadvertently forcing her to come in to work on Christmas, and even offers to stay with him, knowing how great of an emotional toll the callers will take on him.
Ashley: I love what you said about Frasier valuing others while not always being able to relate to them. I think that’s such an important facet of his personality and inevitably the relationships with the characters in the rest of the series. It’s a great transition for half a season, and you’re right, he and Martin get on better, Daphne is seen as a member of the family (previously, I LOVED the scene where she and Martin set up the Christmas photo with Eddie and his antlers), he becomes closer to Roz, etc. I think for both episodes this rings true. While in “Death Becomes Him” he’s more concerned about his own life and inevitable death, while listening to the widow ask “why” like so many people in mourning do, his humanity shows through. He no longer worries about his own feelings and simply wants to help a grieving woman. Similarly, sharing a meal with people Frasier would never socialize with while they help pay for it helps him understand that Christmas is what you make it. Frasier is a good man, truly, and these two episodes demonstrate that goodness of spirit.
Fear of Abandonment workshop with Niles