By Ashley Amon and Andrew Daar
Season 1, Episodes 23 and 24, “Frasier Crane’s Day Off” and “My Coffee with Niles”
Original air dates: May 12, 1994, May 19, 1994
Ashley: Toast sweat! Self-medication and Lobster Newburg!
We’ve come to the end of Frasier’s first season. The penultimate and final episodes of the season are two of my favorites. We get to see Frasier deal with being sick as well as enjoying an episode that finishes out the first season like the end of a book.
But first, how does Frasier handle his own illness and subsequent competition at the radio station? While Frasier is on the mend, Gil Chesterton volleys for Frasier’s time slot because of its prime commuter audience (“everyone’s making dinner plans”). Gil offers lobster to the station manager’s cat while giving Frasier and Roz treats of their own. Frasier is concerned for his job so he comes up with a plan. Here’s an idea! Let’s send Niles to take his place!
It was great to see Niles and Roz finally have some rapport. Usually they spend their interactions taking jabs at each other but in a radio host/producer role they make an excellent team. Niles is so successful that Frasier, under extreme duress and a very high temperature, makes his way to the radio station to settle the score, with hilarious results, no less. Frasier Crane high on legal medication (that he prescribed himself?) is pretty fun to watch, Pie Man.
In “My Coffee with Niles,” the episode centers around Frasier ruminating over the anniversary of his arrival in Seattle. While constantly shuffling tables, Frasier and Niles try to answer one of life’s more difficult questions: are you happy?
This episode is great because it’s just an ongoing conversation between two brothers. Other characters come into the conversation but then exit. Roz appears first waiting for a date followed by Daphne, Martin, and Eddie escaping from the rain. It’s here that Frasier asks Niles flat out if he’s in love with Daphne. And his answer is interesting, to say the least.
Andrew: “Frasier Crane’s Day Off” is absolutely hilarious, but it feels pretty lightweight when paired with the wonderful “My Coffee With Niles.” The former is a fun use of paranoia and over-medication to drive some bonkers comedy, but the latter is an introspective look at the characters while remaining very funny.
Strangely enough, the first season finale of Frasier is much more about the characters that populate the lead’s universe, but all of them have problems and situations that reflect back on Frasier himself. Niles and Frasier both suffer from an abundance of first world problems, impeding their happiness, Roz and Frasier have romantic woes (although Roz’s result from crappy dates, while Frasier’s result from the lack of dates), Martin and Frasier continue to struggle with their living arrangements. But every time Niles tries to ask Frasier about himself, things turn back on Niles or another character enters with his or her problems in tow.
The examination of Niles’ problems in particular created incredible pathos for the episode. We see that Niles, for all of his bluster and pomposity, truly wants to be happy, and doesn’t understand why he isn’t. He has a great job, a large beautiful house, expensive clothes, and a wife. He “has it all.” And yet he knows deep down that he isn’t happy. I’ve said before that Frasier and Niles almost play act at being cultured, taking the parts of the personality they think are necessary (being pompous and condescending) while forgetting to include joy and a positive connection with others. I do think that they truly enjoy wine and opera and psychiatric analysis, but they treat that world like status symbols. That world represents an ideal to them, so achieving the symbols of that world should make them happy. But they don’t, so they aren’t. If they could put aside their devotion to an idealized version of the life they want to live, focusing on doing things that make them happy, they would be better off. This is of course much easier said than done, and applies to at least 80% of the people in the world.
I also think that “My Coffee With Niles” does the necessary thing of adding a layer to the Niles/Daphne dynamic. It’s been pretty obvious since the beginning of the show that Niles’ marriage is loveless and that he’s unhappy, but now we see how truly sad he is. He is fully aware of how his marriage is perceived, and he likely sees it the same way. He must convince himself that he didn’t marry Maris for her money, and he cannot do so. His infatuation with Daphne shifts towards desperation toward a loving figure rather than barely repressed horniness. That’s not to say that the relationship is healthy – and the show will address the way he puts Daphne on a pedestal and projects his needs onto her – but it complicates things for the better. Speaking of Niles’ and Daphne’s future, did you notice how Frasier nearly revealed Niles’ feelings to Daphne while in a drugged out state? Seems like foreshadowing…
As for Frasier, he too has his share of problems, but by the end of the episode, he concludes that, in the grand scheme of things, he is happy. His relationship with Martin still has its problems, but it’s improved greatly from where it began. And while he keeps sending back his coffee for trivial reasons, it doesn’t ruin his day… at least until he drinks it and gets upset. I like to think that he just didn’t like it, and overreacted after all the anticipation. Frasier is the type of person who would build up anticipation for something unexpected then angrily reject it when it doesn’t live up to expectations. I can see Fraiser as the type of person to pay to break and destroy nice tea pots for stress relief.
Ashley: Unlike other season finales of the Frasier, this finale isn’t a cliff-hanger. We get a whole new story arc in season two. I enjoyed “My Coffee with Niles” because it was a nice retrospective on Frasier’s return from Boston. The interesting thing about this episode is how easily we can turn on our own lives.
You’re right about the two of them: they have it all, yet they’re still unhappy. Or so they think. Like you said, a majority of the population have an idealized version of their lives. We can all easily bemoan how “terrible” our lives are for one reason or another. Yes, Niles has a great life in the sense that he has a roof over his head and wonderful things and a wife, but his wife is chilly and unaffectionate. Thus, his attraction to Daphne and idolization of her is a symptom of his loveless marriage (and Daphne being a caregiver is quite the anti-Maris). He just takes it a step too far on most occasions.
And I very much enjoyed Frasier telling Daphne she knew about Niles but pretended not to know while delirious with fever. I’d bet good money the writers recalled this episode when they wrote “Back Talk” in season seven.
I think Frasier is happy. Truly. His life is good. Despite the distance from his son and the troubles he has reconnecting with his family, he still loves his life. I believe that about him for the entirety of the series. He’s a hopeful character and always believes that the best will in fact happen. “My Coffee with Niles” not only served as an appropriate ending for a great first season but also makes us think about our own lives ask ourselves if we’re happy, too.
Andrew: The lovelessness of Niles’ marriage was my point. His life is full of meaningless symbols of happiness. Even today, many still see getting married and being rich as two of life’s biggest goals. It’s not a stretch to think that Niles merely jumped at the opportunity to get married, because he has made it clear over and over again that he has trouble with dating. That Maris had wealth allowed him to satisfy both of those goals.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least say something about “Frasier Crane’s Day Off,” which really is a wonderful episode. It’s focus is on the humor that results from an ill and overmedicated Frasier, but it has some very nice character moments, notably Roz and Niles getting along for a change and Daphne’s simple revenge tactic of waiting until Frasier is lucid to tell him that his disastrous adventure wasn’t just a dream. And it’s a fun counterpoint to “My Coffee With Niles,” because it shows a frazzled, paranoid Frasier, who is decidedly unhappy. The contrast reminds us that things can seem horrible in the moment, but when we take the time to think, to fully reflect on what we have, we can put our problems in perspective.