blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Frasier (1993) s04e14 – To Kill a Talking Bird

“Frasier” has gotten to the point where—unless I miss the writer credit—I eagerly anticipate it. So after listing all the producers and executive producers (who’ve had writing credits on excellent episodes this season), the writing credit on Talking Bird is Jeffrey Richman, whose name wasn’t familiar (and it’s his first credited script on the show), but I wasn’t worried. Confidence in “Frasier: Season Four” is very high. And he does indeed deliver a phenomenal episode, where he’s able to get Kesley Grammer and David Hyde Pierce into a very silly sitcom situation and is able to contain the silly. Mostly thanks to Hyde Pierce being able to sell it as reasonable.

The episode opens with an overdue resolution to Hyde Pierce’s dog situation; he’s moving into an exclusive apartment building—so posh they turned up their nose at Grammer, which is some of the reason it’s worth it for Hyde Pierce—and he needs to do something about the dog. They take animals, just not cats and dogs. Lots of good one-liners in Richman’s script.

So as Hyde Pierce is trying to shove the dog off on John Mahoney, Grammer finally cracks and tells Hyde Pierce what everyone else has known—the dog’s just a stand-in for his estranged wife (and the closest we ever get to seeing Maris, I think)—which has a wonderful punchline.

Grammer’s subplot for the episode is his failed dating life. He’s ready to throw in the towel after scaring off a blind date Peri Gilpin set up, only to meet the perfect woman (a delightful Patricia Wettig) in Hyde Pierce’s building. Not only did she see him perform in Pirates of Penzance at Harvard, not only does she praise his performance, not only is she divorced too, she name-drops Harvard just like Grammer. It’s kismet. Even if Hyde Pierce didn’t want her over to his first dinner party, where he’s going to ingratiate himself to the sapphire blue blue bloods in the building.

Hyde Pierce’s apartment set is spacious and glorious, way too big for a single person, so he’s got himself a new pet to keep him company. A talking cockatoo named Baby, who it’s subtly obvious—based on Grammer’s expressions alone—Hyde Pierce got to have someone tell him he’s loved. During the family’s tour of the apartment, Mahoney gets into a great battle of the wits with the bird, which is one of the places where Richman shows off how silly he’s able to get the characters to act without breaking character. It’s excellent.

But it’s nothing compared to the dinner party, which has the bird ruining the evening in an absurd, painful, lengthy manner, with one exceptional punchline after another. Richman arranges the domino pieces discreetly and early, with the last one a particularly excellent gag.

And there’s even time for some sincere dramatics for Hyde Pierce and Grammer.

The only time it’s not superb is the end credits joke, which is appropriate enough—and leverages Hyde Pierce’s physicality and Grammer’s grumbling—but is a bit of a forced non sequitur.

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