blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Frasier (1993) s06e08 – The Seal Who Came to Dinner

The second half of the episode is such accomplished screwball I totally forget the first half ranges from problematic to cringe, with way too much self-awareness. The episode opens at the cafe, with Kelsey Grammer and Peri Gilpin talking about being out of work and David Hyde Pierce showing up to whine about not being able to have a fancy dinner party at his shitty bachelor pad. Next, Gilpin goes into a rant about how hard life is having a newborn as a single mom while being unemployed.

Grammer and Hyde Pierce instinctively ignore her because what do women even say and then wonder why she storms out. Exit Gilpin from the episode.

Then there’s John Mahoney perving on live-in employee Jane Leeves’s friend, Susie Park, because she’s Asian. And during the war (presumably Korean), Mahoney dated a lot of Korean girls. Though Leeves points out the power imbalance, Mahoney and the episode don’t care. They repeat the joke a little later, with Grammer and Hyde Pierce talking about geisha girls and Mahoney having a fit. They’re bad jokes, and there’s no way to do them “well,” but they could’ve been done a lot better.

Joe Keenan gets the script credit, and it feels like it’s been a while. Maybe he—or the room—was rusty. Or just particularly misogynist and predatory. Leeves is good at yelling at Mahoney, though. So whoever wrote her dialogue got it. Then again, maybe it was all good in the script, and director David Lee fumbled it.

So. Problems. Multiple, layered problems.

Until the actual dinner party, which has Grammer and Hyde Pierce breaking into his soon-to-be ex-wife’s beach house to throw the party. Only there’s a dead seal on the beach, and they’ve got to take care of it. Throw in a nosey neighbor (Marilyn Child), a demanding caterer (Arnie Burton), and the head of a syndicated radio network (Catherine Dent), and it’s a winner. Lots of good physical comedy for both Grammer and Hyde Pierce, lots of good dialogue humor for both of them. It’s spectacular stuff.

Just a rocky road to get there. The script characterizes Grammer and Hyde Pierce as inherently rude and shallow and leaves the actors responsible for making them still likable. Though it’s probably better they ignore Gilpin for a joke instead of stalk various women through the first scene like Mahoney’d apparently be doing.

The second half’s excellent, though. The ideal would be missing the first ten minutes, being confused for a couple minutes, then getting the glory of the dinner party. Particularly great work from Hyde Pierce throughout.

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