Ode to the Psychiatrist’s Brother | 25 Years of Frasier
(Can I call you Niles, or would you prefer Dr Crane?) Look, it’s been twenty-five years since you first foppishly worked your way into our hearts as Frasier’s little brother in the first episode of his own show, ‘The Good Son’. And never mind that we hadn’t ever heard about you before. As you probably know from Sam Malone’s visit that one time, everyone in Boston was convinced your father was dead, so simply not being mentioned is definitely a step above that. Anyway, it feels like it’s time to tell you that you really are the thinking woman’s crumpet. Even now, with your actor David Hyde Pierce coming up on sixty (he finally came out, by the way – hurrah!), you stand proudly in the pantheon of worthy fictional crushes.
Yes, yes, it was Frasier’s show, technically. After he made his first appearance in the season three premiere of Cheers we grew to love him for many of the qualities you two share: that passion for the finer things in life with a delightful layer of snobbery and a fondness for nitpicking (as he said to you in season two, “what’s better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all night!”). That intellectualism combined with an utter hopelessness about one’s own life choices, that sitcom-friendly character flaw of being capable of analysing everyone’s problems while having oodles of your own.
But in Boston he didn’t have a pal who got it – didn’t have someone he could talk to about opera or sherry or art (apart from Diane, during their disastrous romantic relationship). He didn’t have someone to talk to about psychiatry except Lilith (and, again, as you know, that ended up being rather disastrous too, though they certainly ended up on better terms than you and Maris, and Lilith never actually murdered anyone, and yes I’m sure you’ve some snide remark in mind to make about how she could kill something . . .) So part of why we love you, Niles, is that you let that side of Frasier balloon up to its full extent. To its full buffoonery, really. And at the same time you are the only one sharp enough, informed enough, to puncture him when it needs doing.
To be fair, though, you’re not perfect. When Frasier moved back to Seattle and you realised that your father, Martin (we had sad news about John Mahoney this year by the way – I know, he seemed invincible, didn’t he?), couldn’t live alone while still recovering from that bullet to his hip, you didn’t want to take him in, did you? Oh, you blamed Maris, and certainly Maris was sufficiently controlling that it was plausible, but you were perfectly happy to let Frasier take the hit there.
It wasn’t until later we learned more about your relationship with your cop father. How much you’d worried about him as a kid, when he was out at night. And how – and admittedly you were pretty drunk when you said this, dressed up as him for that ‘heroes’ party Frasier threw, but you believed it – you thought you were a disappointment to him. Not into sports, not into any of those manly things he liked – even when you flew kites together he wouldn’t let you hold them.
It’s a fraught thing, and maybe partly to blame for your relationships with women, the kind that always seem to find you a disappointment – or who use the threat of this as a way of controlling you. I know you’d probably disapprove of this line of thinking; I do remember you noting “while Frasier is a Freudian, I am a Jungian, so there’ll be no blaming mother today”. But you really do have a knack for finding and marrying emotionally manipulative women, don’t you?
First of all Maris – what a disaster! We never saw her on screen, of course, but how could we when the poor thing had so many reasons to avoid us? Whether it was spraining her wrist from lifting a cracker with too much dip on it or causing a pearl necklace to explode simply by swallowing, she was laden down with so many physical and psychological woes that it was a miracle she was ever able to get out of bed (and of course, often she wasn’t, though she did manage to get into bed with Dr Shenkman when he was your marriage counselor, but you probably don’t want to drag all that up again, do you?).
You should have learned from that but of course you didn’t, and fell for her plastic surgeon, Mel, who was just as controlling if perhaps slightly less odd, but we knew by then that even though you’d been fiercely faithful to Maris throughout your difficult marriage, you were yearning for Daphne, your father’s home healthcare worker, who saw you as just a friend. Even that one glorious night, that night you revisit often, where she is a goddess in a red dress and you’re putting on a show for all your snooty society friends, where for an instant you believed her declarations of love to be real, was just an act of kindness on her part. So we could understand the desire to move on, to be with someone who really wanted to be with you – instead of continuing to live in a fantasy.
Of course, in typical sitcom practice, that was exactly when Daphne discovered – blame Frasier and those pills for his bad back – that you had feelings for her, and began thinking about you in that way. And oh the look on your face when you realised that your fantasy could be coming true, when she kissed you the night before her wedding to another man – and then wasn’t, when she decided to go ahead with it anyway – and then was again when she turned up at your dad’s Winnebago in her white dress – oh, it was magical.
But the reason why we love you is more than just that happy ending but the interrogation of that happy ending. How you couldn’t see that Daphne was gaining weight through overeating, how angry and hurt you were at the thought that you were looking at her through “love goggles” – but you were. And when you took them off, you loved her anyway – even when she crossed the line and tracked down that patient of yours. Even then. Because – “Daphne, Daphne, Daphne” – hers is the name you wanted to say over and over again as you went into heart surgery. She’s the love of your life. And you got her, and you treasure her.
Also you’re apparently a demon in the sack. (She told Roz. And you know Roz can’t keep a secret.)
We love you for that, and the other reasons – the way you’re so quick at joining in one of those insane identity-disguising ploys your brother so often drags you into (although, really, agreeing to work on any project with him – a play, a book, a restaurant, a dinner party – is sheer idiocy, and when will you learn?). The way you turn your neuroses into something awesome, like when you had to take over for your dad’s safety talk to kids and scared the hell out of them with real talk about germs. Your capacity to have a biting retort for everyone – even Frasier’s producer Roz, the queen of snark.
You’re a good psychiatrist, even though your fondness for Jung above all else is absurdly out of date, and when you step into Frasier’s shoes as a temporary host on his show, you’re magnificent. That couple too terrified to tell each other “I love you” – the tension!
And despite what some people (including, yes, your father) might say, you’re totally an athlete. Squash does count. (Though no one will ever ask you to fix their car. Nor should they.) You’ve got it all, Niles Crane, in your perfectly-tailored suits with that handkerchief ready to swipe down any infested surface. With your impeccable knowledge of wine and music, and your complete inability to iron a pair of trousers on Valentine’s Day without setting them on fire. You are a wonder, if tragically fictional, and we find you terribly endearing still, even after all these years.