First Date is a sequel episode to Moon Dance, the season three episode where Niles (David Hyde Pierce) lucks into a perfect date with Daphne (Jane Leeves), full of high romance but still entirely safe for the then married character. I mean. From network and pop cultural norm viewpoints. The Maris thing is misogynist.
It’s Kelsey Grammar directing again (I think Moon Dance was his first episode as director too), with Rob Hanning getting the script credit. If Hanning stood out for anything, I’ve forgotten—once again regretting not keeping track of the writers; he does a solid job here. The setup isn’t great, with Grammar trying to avoid people talking about a torrid TV miniseries’s conclusion, and the initial stuff with Hyde Pierce talking about asking Leeves out is stodgy. Grammar, as an actor, is worst in that section, which is weirder since he directed the episode. It’s like he can’t figure out a reaction so tries not to do one.
But there’s a good immediate twist, then another twist—people hearing the wrong things from other rooms and so on—and it quickly becomes a comedy of errors, but one with Hyde Pierce and Leeves running the episode. And then all of a sudden Grammar’s directing kicks in and it’s just wonderful. The way Grammar finds the comedy chemistry—both Leeves and Hyde Pierce can do physical and dialogue humor. The show’s been syncing them up—possibly intentionally—this entire season and it’s got a great pay-off here.
Even if the ending resolution is wanting.
Though the credits sequence with Grammar and Eddie the dog is pretty funny.
Oh, and John Mahoney. Mahoney gets some of the first act weirdness but is able to get out of it quicker than Grammar with his stuff. The original Moon Dance had something like eight years credited; Date has one, but it really doesn’t seem like the same person wrote the opening and the finish.
Good guest spot from Caroline Aaron.
It’s a rocky win but it’s a win.