Frasier (1993) s04e22 – Ask Me No Questions

Dan Cohen and F.J. Pratt wrote another episode (a really good one) but I didn’t recognize their names when the writing credit came up here. I don’t think if I’d remembered it would’ve led to a more generous viewing. This episode’s first swing and miss is in the first thirty seconds and it’s a big swing and a bigger miss. The sadder part is director Jeff Melman can’t even get traction and he’s done some really good work this season. Now he gets to do this very desperate miss of a concept episode.

It begins, as “Frasier” often does, with a title card. This one is “The Question.” The question (in question, wokka wokka) is David Hyde Pierce—now reconciling (off screen obviously) with estranged wife Maris—asking Kelsey Grammer if he, Grammer, thinks they’re meant to be together. Portentous fade to black, fade in at apartment, where Jane Leeves and John Mahoney kick off their okay but it’s a bickering time filler subplot about Leeves making Mahoney a sweater as a present and Mahoney not wanting to take it with out paying. It’s an occasionally funny subplot with a much better performance from Leeves than Mahoney, who’s getting the “old man yells at cloud” motivations a little too often lately. Putting the breaks on character development is a bad move, even if the character development isn’t going the way you want.

Anyway.

So while Hyde Pierce occasionally checks in to let Grammer know how couples counseling is going (off screen), Grammer obsesses over how to answer the posed question. It’s going to lead to a couple very low points, though I suppose only one of them would be worth Alan Smithee’ing the director credit. They do a bait and switch with a reveal on Maris, which is the most desperate move I can think of the show making to this point. Then they do a Grammer walking the streets haunted by voiceovers; Meet John Doe it ain’t. If it weren’t for the former, the latter wouldn’t be so bad. But if it were just the former, it’d still be bad. Especially since it gets a reference later too, like they’re proud of the desperation. Even worse, it’s not like Grammer’s particularly good. It’s a thin plot, poorly realized and executed, and there’s nothing for Grammer to work with.

Hyde Pierce does pretty well with very little—actually, everyone who has to deal with Grammer while he frets kind of does a better job (so Hyde Pierce, Mahoney, and Peri Gilpin). They don’t have to make believe the consternation is real, they just have to make believe Grammer’s being annoying about it.

There’s also an iffy scene where Grammer complains to a date (Cindy Katz) about it, which leads to a standard misunderstanding joke; Katz gets through it okay, albeit ingloriously.

Irene Olga López’s back as Hyde Pierce’s maid; she’s at least hilarious, even if problematically included.

Given the plot—even without the reveal gimmick, but just on the existential fretting—this episode was going to soar or fizzle.

Soar, it does not.

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