By Ashley Amon and Andrew Daar
Season 2, episodes 3 and 4, “The Matchmaker” and “Flour Child”
Original air dates: Oct. 4, 1994 and Oct. 11, 1994
Ashley: Dating is rough. It can be downright intolerable. It’s no wonder many people just sort of stop trying and put themselves on the shelf. Similarly, determining whether or not you want to expand your family to include kids can be difficult. This week’s duo of episodes deal two of life’s most challenging facets: finding the right person and having children.
“The Matchmaker” and “Flour Child’ are in my Top Ten Frasier episodes. The dialogue is witty and well-written, and they aren’t Frasier-centric episodes really: Daphne struggles with loneliness in a dating dry spell and Niles makes a feeble attempt at parental role-playing with a sack of flour in a Baby Bjorn. But they’re Frasierian at their finest: theatrical and full of misunderstanding that drives the humor (and fun!).
I can empathize with Daphne, especially when she says she’s seeing a man only when she closes her eyes and concentrates. That initial scene with her and Frasier discussing their love lives is fantastic: Daphne lighting a cigarette was a perfect nonverbal reaction to the whole depressing conversation. Frasier is thoughtful, albeit a bit dense, when he invites Tom to his apartment for dinner with his family, thinking his recent return stateside from London will make him a good fit for Daphne. Frasier’s dialogue throughout this episode is innocently double-edged, and he has no idea he’s feeding into Tom’s attraction to him (though Roz and Niles do have a hand in it).
What did you think of Niles’ behavior in this episode? I thought he was pretty tame as a whole, though he did show up uninvited.
And speaking of Niles, in “Flour Child” he tries his hand at fatherhood after witnessing a birth in a taxicab. Feeling some paternal stirrings, Frasier brings up an experiment in which students pretend a bag of flour is an actual child and care for it as such. Aside from stabbing it with Maris’ hairsticks, dropping it from his car, and lighting it slightly on fire, he does an okay job. Besides, Niles holding a sack of flour in a Baby Bjorn and while a nice suit it pretty darned adorable.
Andrew: “The Matchmaker” is one of my three favorite Frasier episodes, along with “The Innkeepers” and “The Ski Lodge.” What do they all have in common? They show Frasier at its farcical best. In “The Matchmaker,” a series of misunderstandings, double entendres, and heightened expectations builds joke upon joke, culminating in an a crushed Daphne venting all of her feelings through a single action: turning on her heel and swiftly removing her uncomfortable bra.
“The Matchmaker” takes the existing character traits of the Crane men–Frasier and Niles’ fey tendencies and Martin’s affinity for male bonding–and amps them up to create a situation in which they could all be plausibly mistaken for gay. To the episode’s credit, Frasier’s new boss, Tom, could just as easily come off as straight, thus adding to the farce by making it absolutely believable that Frasier and Daphne would think that Tom is interested in her. In another example of Frasier’s (mostly) progressive views towards homosexuality, the episode never makes Tom or his sexuality the butt of the joke. Keep in mind that this episode aired in 1994, and that many films and TV shows today still engage in gay panic. Here, Tom is portrayed like any other character. That he is gay works to frustrate Frasier and Daphne’s plans, but neither of them, nor anyone else, treats him like less of a person for his sexuality.
Niles and Martin get a good laugh out of the situation, but they are laughing at Frasier, and how he will have to explain to Tom and Daphne the truth of the situation. (The blocking of the scene after Frasier found out the truth played up Frasier’s discomfort, but it mostly stemmed from having to defuse the romance and break bad news to Daphne.) Less progressive was Frasier’s treatment of Roz. After telling Niles not to slut shame her, he does just that. Fortunately, his mistreatment of her earns him his comeuppance and serves to set the episode in motion, as the still-angry Roz declines to clear up the initial misunderstanding that leads to the awkward dinner party.
Niles provides episode highlights in each episode as well as an instance in each that induced a cringe from me. In “The Matchmaker,” it was his mistreatment of Tom, which toed the line between humorous reaction to competition for Daphne and angry and bitter. In “Flour Child,” it was the fact that, after Daphne told the Cranes to turn around so that she could put a robe on, he tried to keep looking, necessitating Frasier to physically turn him around.
But his facial expressions in “The Matchmaker” after learning about Tom’s orientation were priceless, especially his wide-mouthed pleased-with-himself smile in the elevator after revealing the truth to Frasier. And his adventures with the flour sack provided the best comedy in “Flour Child.” (Although it was Daphne who won the award for best facial expressions in that episode; her reaction to Niles appearing with the flour resting in the Bjorn makes one wonder how she could ever fall in love with him. On the other hand, her smile after hearing about Niles’ kidnapping dream indicates some affection for him after all.)
Interestingly, Frasier and Niles’ ability to relate to others seemed reversed in “Flour Child.” Frasier is certainly a snob, but he is almost always portrayed as more personable than Niles, who is so aloof that he can’t understand why his insults would upset Roz and cares more about the objects in his life than the people. That characteristic is on display when his first concern when the cab driver’s water breaks is the integrity of his calf skin shoes. But as the episode progresses, he shows a lot of affection for his flour sack, and then for the real babies in the nursery. (It is here that I will say that his impaling of the sack with a gilded chopstick isn’t so out of the ordinary; when I was a baby, my dad accidentally skewered me with a safety-pin while changing a diaper.) Meanwhile, Frasier acts so above it all when asked to sign a get well card. He doesn’t know who it’s for and mistakes it for a birthday card. Later, after realizing his error, he is more concerned about looking like an asshole (which he has been) than about hurting the feelings of a coworker.
Ashley: Roz is often slut shamed in this series sadly. When she brings out her little black book in order to help Frasier set Daphne up, Frasier is all in until he starts comparing Roz and Daphne. Frasier assumes Daphne is more “innocent” but this certainly may not be the case. Daphne could simply be mum on the subject of her past sex life whereas Roz is often very open about it with Frasier. Furthermore, Frasier prods Daphne to tart herself up in a little strapless number to garner Tom’s affections. It certainly has an effect on Niles (of course) when he offers to help in the kitchen, stating how hard she has worked that she must be “absolutely strapless”. If that isn’t a Freudian slip I don’t know what it is.
Niles’ presence at the dinner table isn’t strange, however, He’s uninvited of course, but Frasier did tell Tom it would be dinner at his home with his family. Niles is horribly rude to Tom obviously due to his feelings for Daphne. He nitpicks Tom’s stories, speaks to him condescendingly, literally shoves Tom out of the way to help Daphne in the kitchen. He’s terrible as a person in “The Matchmaker”. He gets a lot of pleasure out of getting to tell Frasier Tom’s intentions (he did win the coin toss after all) and continues to mock Frasier because he managed to bring home a man for Daphne that would never be interested in her because his predilections lie elsewhere. It’s not because Tom is gay, of course, it’s because Frasier misunderstood.
But, in “Flour Child” aside from his initial calf-skin shoe complaint, Niles is sweet throughout the episode (yes, I know, the towel incident). The poor man means well. He wants to see what he’d be like as a father. He’s clumsy but he is dealing with a sack of flour. I’d like to think someone like me, who is terrified of holding an infant (seriously, I have to be sitting, the parent can’t walk too far away and if it starts crying we’re all doomed), would do just fine because it’s a person not a sack of flour.
Andrew: Yes, Frasier’s assumptions in both episodes get him into a lot of trouble. In “The Matchmaker,” he assumes that Daphne is in need of protection and is more innocent than Roz and that the men Roz dates are ugly boors with no sense of purpose solely because he judges that Roz has too much sex. In “Flour Child,” he assumes that he is signing a birthday card because of the way the card looks. It’s another facet of how he relies too much on stereotypes and ideas, rather than looking for the real person. He thinks that because he has expertise in the field of psychiatry, he understands how people think and function. The truth is that he is an expert in categories and archetypes, and he forgets to leave room for the nuances that make up individuals.