blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Frasier (1993) s04e18 – Ham Radio

Ham Radio relies heavily on the situation in situation comedy; it gets some good laughs, but because of who’s in the episode—and how it’s written for those particular guest stars (specifically Edward Hibbert). But the David Lloyd-credited script only advances by one-upping itself, trying to appear chaotic but always coming through linearly and predictably. Not to mention the episode relies way too much on cheap jokes. Not easy jokes, cheap ones. Like Dan Butler doing a very racist Chinese accent and then a humdinger of an ableist joke mixed in with some hard-core misogyny.

It’s frustrating because it really is a great idea for an episode (albeit entirely built around the situation). The radio station is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary so Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) wants to do a live mystery radio play; he’ll direct, the other radio station hosts and staff will play the other parts. The first scene sets up the special show and forecasts some of the drama via David Hyde Pierce’s concerns about Grammer’s “Orson Welles complex.”

As Grammer gets things arranged at the station with Peri Gilpin’s help, lots more foreshadowing of his eventual nitpicking, while also setting up Hibbert and Butler’s participation. There’s a table read sequence at Grammer’s apartment, which has guest star Richard Easton playing a “Man of a Thousand Voices” covering six of the parts. So it’s just a funny sequence of Grammer slowly getting more and more controlling, first towards Jane Leeves—who is helping time the rehearsal—then pretty much everyone. It’s good, well-directed by David Lee, minus the Butler joke with the Chinese accent, which gets an appropriate condemnation after the joke is made.

Later on when everyone makes fun of Butler’s girlfriend, Hope Allen, it’s just funny he’s dating a dyslexic stripper. Ha ha. She can’t learn her lines.

But all of the eventual disasters with the special show are pretty obvious, just none such a combination of icky and mean. But someone’s got novocaine, someone else gets mad about Grammer over-directing, someone else is mad about script changes—by the end of the episode, when Grammer’s peak megalomaniac director, it’s unclear why various people are even mad at him. Specifically. In general, sure, but specifically.

Patrick Kerr shows up for the first time in a while as the station technician; he helps with the sound effects. There are some funny set pieces with them and good recurring gags.

Hyde Pierce’s performance is probably the best, with Hibbert delightful as well. Everyone else is good, just no one quite excels, which isn’t great given it’s ostensibly spotlighting various actors throughout.

The Lee direction helps. But it’s never as funny as it ought to be and the missed opportunity hurts Grammer in particular.

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