It’s a pretty good episode, even if most of the laughs are cheap and mean. The cheap starts right away, with Peri Gilpin getting her one scene in the episode opposite David Hyde Pierce. She’s celebrating and the punchline’s gross funny. And Hyde Pierce’s reactions to it are great. But then the episode’s done with her because it’s going to be too full, starting with returning guest star Jane Kaczmarek, who’s having coffee with Kelsey Grammer during the Gilpin and Hyde Pierce bit.
Kaczmarek was the cop who Grammer liked but she liked his ex-cop dad more; apparently she and John Mahoney have been happily—albeit unmentionably—dating since the end of last season. Only now she’s breaking it off and telling Grammer because… well, to set up the joke where Grammer tells Mahoney before Kaczmarek has a chance. Mahoney has an unexpected reaction to the bad news because he really wanted to dump her to date Marsha Mason, his bartender at—wait, is it at the bar where Mahoney met Kaczmarek. I can’t keep the bar names straight. I think it was McGinty’s—yep, it’s McGinty’s. So, um, there’s a whole other layer to the already iffy episode.
Mahoney introduces Hyde Pierce, Grammer, and Jane Leeves to Mason on his birthday; they’re all going out together. Only Mason is too “brass and flamboyant” for Grammer and Hyde Pierce so they’re miserable. Plus she makes them drink cheap champagne.
The rest of the episode is about Grammer and Hyde Pierce trying to decide whether or not to tell Mahoney they don’t like Mason, while Mahoney’s thrilled with his new romance. Once it all finally comes out, there’s a big argument scene—with the best acting easily from Mahoney, as he’s the only one where there’s any reality to the character; Grammer and Hyde Pierce are playing petulant caricatures, albeit with some appropriate details, but they’re being cruel and mean. The resolution isn’t about them being dickheads, it’s about how Mahoney’s a dickhead too—comparisons of Mason to Grammer and Hyde Pierce’s spouses—and it’s a very strange finish.
Though given the highpoint is either Gilpin with the grody celebration topic, Grammer not letting an upset Leeves have too good a whine, or some banter about Hyde Pierce’s imaginary protege—actually, wait, Grammer teasing Hyde Pierce for wetting the bed as a kid is probably a good forecast of the episode’s empathy.
There are some amusing moments—Keenan’s script is better micro than macro—and Mason’s a lot of fun, but it’s awkward to turn all your male regular cast into jerks because you can’t find better laughs.