EPISODE 7 - Frasier
Guest: Nichole perkins
Writer, "Thirst Aid Kit" co-host, and Niles Crane super-fan Nichole Perkins joins host Sandy Allen to dissect the immensely popular sitcom Frasier. They discuss the Crane brothers' complicated relationship to their patients and each other, and whether Dr. Frasier Crane, the radio psychiatrist, needed a psychiatrist of his own. A transcript of the episode can be found below.
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Nichole Perkins (she/her/hers) is a writer from Nashville, Tennessee, currently based in Brooklyn. Around the internet, Nichole writes about the intersections of pop culture, race, sex, gender, and relationships. Her memoir Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be will be coming soon from Grand Central Publishing. It will cover black womanhood and sexuality, online messageboard communities, and the effects of pop culture on female desire. Nichole is a 2017 Audre Lorde Fellow at the inaugural Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat and a 2017 BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellow. She is also 2016 Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow for poetry. She has participated in the Napa Valley Writers' Conference (2010, 2013). She co-hosts Thirst Aid Kit, a podcast about pop culture and desire, with Bim Adewunmi. She is also one of the hosts of The Waves, a podcast that examines news and culture through a feminist lens. Both podcasts are at Slate. Her first collection of poetry, Lilith, but Dark, was published by Publishing Genius in July 2018. Although her first writing love is poetry, Nichole also writes personal essays, cultural criticism, short stories, and screenplays. She loves Prince, romance novels, and the television show Frasier.
SOME SUGGESTED RESOURCES FROM SANDY
For more about the recent history of the psychiatric profession, I highly recommend Robert Whitaker’s Mad in America (the book that spawned the media organization of the same name, a resource I also highly recommend). It’s also going to be the second Mad Chat Book Club pick! Join me for the discussion on the Mad Chat Instagram Live at 8:30 pm on October 3. Want to send a question or topic for discussion ahead of time? Message us on a social mediae, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to see you at Mad Chat Book Club.
I truly truly love Esther Perel’s podcast Where Should We Begin?. It’s a great way to listen to what great therapy sessions can actually sound like (in this case, couples’ therapy sessions).
Nobody has covered the Crane brothers, especially Niles, with as much depth and nuance as Daniel Ortberg at the The Shatner Chatner; I referenced this post analyzing the Crane Brothers as stock clowns
Frasier is a show driven by a laugh track and I was therefore reminded of this excellent episode of 99% Invisible about laugh tracks
Additional music: “Cupcake Marshall” by Blue Dot Sessions, under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 license.
SOMEONE PERFORMING, LIKE AT A BEAT POETRY EVENT: (Bongo drum roll) Hey baby. I hear the blues a-callin’. Tossed salads and scrambled eggs. (Bongo drum roll). But maybe I seem a bit confused. Maybe. But I got you pegged. But I don’t know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs. They’re callin’ again. (Crowd snaps).
NICHOLE PERKINS: (SANDY laughing) I’m crying right now. I dare you to go to an actual open mic and just deliver that as if it’s original work —
SANDY ALLEN: Oh my god.
NICHOLE: — and try to keep a straight face. That’s my —
SANDY: It’s impossible.
NICHOLE: — official goal.
[MAD CHAT THEME MUSIC]
SANDY: This is Mad Chat, a podcast where we unpack what our pop culture is telling us about madness and mental health. I’m your host, Sandy Allen. Today, I’m delighted to be discussing one of the most-awarded television shows of all time, a sitcom about an elitist psychiatrist who nobody likes: Frasier.
[FRASIER THEME MUSIC]
SANDY: Here to chat about Frasier with me is the most Frasier-obsessed person I know — poet, essayist, podcast host, my friend: Nichole Perkins. Nichole, welcome to Mad Chat.
NICHOLE: Thank you. I’m so excited (laughs). I can’t stop smiling now.
SANDY: Just because of the marathon of Frasier?
NICHOLE: Yes. And it’s not even — I wanted to be clear, I don’t even like Frasier the main character — my true love on the show is Niles — but I watched the show faithfully. It is what I watch when I’m having a really difficult day and I want to, like, relax and go to sleep, I watch it.
SANDY: We’ll get into why Niles (NICHOLE laughs), and we’ll get into why, of all of the shows on this — on this blue green earth, of why all of the shows the one you go to is Frasier. I’m gonna set up what Frasier is a little bit. Frasier was a sitcom that ran on NBC for 11 seasons, from 1993-2004. It was one of the most-awarded comedy series of all time — only SNL and Game of Thrones have won more Emmy’s than Frasier. During the nineties it beat out other shows like Seinfeld and Friends and Sex and the City for five consecutive years to win the Primetime Comedy Emmy. So it was this powerhouse show. Frasier is of course a spinoff of Cheers. The character Dr. Frasier Crane, played by Kelsey Grammer, showed up first on season two of Cheers as Diane’s new boyfriend, having met her between seasons one and two while she was in a psychiatric hospital. Frasier shows up and starts treating Sam, Diane’s ex, the owner of the bar, while not disclosing his relationship with Diane, which is, ah, not very professional. The series Frasier opens in Seattle, where Frasier has moved following his divorce from his now ex-wife Lilith back in Boston. Frasier’s moved to his hometown and has transitioned into being a quote “radio psychiatrist”, someone who gives advice on-air.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: This is Dr. Frasier Crane. I’m listening.
SANDY: The show focuses on Frasier’s home and work life, including his relationships with his average Joe father, an ex-cop who moves in with Frasier at the series’ beginning; his also psychiatrist brother, Niles Crane; his housekeeper, Daphne; and his radio producer, Roz. Now, Nichole, I want to start by asking you the question, I think, which is: You love Frasier. Why?
NICHOLE: It is hilarious to me. I don’t (laughs) — like, it went off the air 2003, 2004, and even today, 2019, everything still works. I mean, there — there are some, like, sticky spots, of course, just because, you know, language and the things that we can talk about changes over time. But it’s just hilarious. I — the sibling insults between Frasier and Niles are, you know, the — the rivalry, but they’re also, like — they will defend each other to the death against other people.
SANDY: There’s a lot of love there.
SANDY: Yeah. And a lotta hate.
SANDY: Take me back in time. Who were you when you first started watching this show? Like, what was your life like, where did Frasier meet you?
NICHOLE: Okay, so, ‘93 I was in high school — that was maybe my sophomore year of high school, I think.
SANDY: So you were watching it when it aired.
NICHOLE: I was watching it when it aired. This was back home in Nashville, Tennessee, with my sister. And my sister’s a little older than I am, she’s about seven years older than I am, so that probably is part of it, too, just, like, it was a very adult show, and I’ve never been into teen stuff, so whatever was going on in nineties teen television, I was not really interested in. [5:00] So I was watching — ’cause I loved Cheers, and then Frasier came on air, and I wanted to keep watching. I wanted — and I knew that Frasier was gonna be different from Cheers, and I was — I was glad that it was different. But I like that they — I like that Frasier and Niles both knew that they were ridiculous and they just kind of leaned into it a lot of the times, and they took themselves so seriously, but also were just kind of, like, you know, I know that I am elitist scum and — (laughs) but you know what?
SANDY: Does Frasier know that he is scum? (Laughs)
NICHOLE: I — I don’t know if he knows that he’s scum.
SANDY: Yes. He knows he’s elitist.
NICHOLE: Yeah. But I just — I don’t know, I felt like they were in on the joke while also being offended that they were the joke. So they just were very complex to me, I guess.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: Well, thanks for the chat, Niles. You’re a — a good brother and a credit to the psychiatric profession.
NILES CRANE: You’re a good brother, too. (Laughter)
SANDY: That banter between Niles and Frasier kind of is the lifeblood of the show. And it seems like that relationship between the brothers is the kind of molten core of the show, right? Would you agree?
NICHOLE: Yeah. They’re very competitive. In one of the episodes that we’re gonna talk about, the — they get described as pathologically competitive, which is true, they can’t — one can’t have something without the other wanting it, and that is not what my — my relationship with my sister or my brother — I have a younger brother — we weren’t like that, we weren’t raised like that. My mother was very much, like, don’t fight with each other, we don’t do any of that, no wrestling, you know, she — so when I see television shows where the brothers and sisters are constantly fighting and nitpicking at each other and harassing each other —
SANDY: Just like, lightly mean.
NICHOLE: Yeah. It’s so foreign to me, because we weren’t allowed to do that. And like, there’s another episode where Niles and Frasier are supposed to write a book together, and it does not go well.
SANDY: About sibling relationships, right?
NICHOLE: Yes. Yes. It does not go well, and they end up attacking each other — Frasier ends up attacking Niles. And Frasier is on top of Niles choking him, and Niles goes “Oh my god, I’m having a flashback to you crawling into my crib when I was little and doing this” and then — and then Frasier kind of, like, loses himself and he goes:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: (shouting) You still my mommy! (Laughter)
NICHOLE: So clearly that is the heart of all of their whatever. Because their mother was a forensic psychiatrist, I believe. So — and that’s how their father, who used to be a cop, that’s how they met, working on cases and whatever.
[DIGITAL START-UP SOUND]
SANDY: Hey, let me save you a Google. Forensic psychiatric sounds like forensic science, like CSI — it is not. Forensic psychiatrist is a psychiatrist with a specialization in the law, as well. These are the kinds of psychiatrists who interface with people who are incarcerated or have been. So for example a forensic psychiatrist is the psychiatrist who helps determine if someone is competent to stand trial. And forensic psychiatrists are also the doctors who help manage psychiatric medication for those who are incarcerated.
[DIGITAL SHUTTING DOWN SOUND]
NICHOLE: So that’s where Frasier and Niles come from, the mother who of course is dead by the time we enter their lives —
SANDY: Yeah, there’s no — there’s no mother character in this show, which would have been fascinating. I have been thinking a lot about the sort of, like — what that would’ve been like to try to actually write whoever the character was who — because there is just a — there is a very perplexing gap, culturally, between Martin the father and Niles and Frasier the sons.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
NILES CRANE: Frasier, is he our real father? (Laughter)
FRASIER CRANE: Don’t start that again. We’ve been having this discussion since we were children. (Laughter)
SANDY: It’s like, what occurred that you — that — that this man yielded these offspring. Like there is some tremendous other factor that we never get to actually see in the course of the series. You alluded to this, and let’s go there — there’s this episode called “Shrink Rap” where — so, Niles and Frasier literally enter couples counseling together.
NICHOLE: Yes (laughs).
SANDY: Let’s — let’s describe that episode a little bit, like, what — what happens on it.
NICHOLE: Okay, so, Frasier was having some difficulty — I think he was, like, burnt out with callers or whatever, something like that. And Niles had a psychiatrist neighbor in the building where he has his practice, and that psychiatrist was having some non-traditional therapy practices, like having his patients scream to get out their feelings, which was disrupting Niles’s patients. So once that person’s lease was up, Niles was like, “Why don’t we just go into practice together?” Martin their father is like “Bad idea, this is not going to work”, and of course that makes the brothers want to [10:00] go into practice together even more, because they want to prove their father wrong, and because they’re just — again, that competitive streak between them, like, it all, like, goes, like, a circle between the three of them — between the three Crane men. So Niles and Frasier start practicing (laughs). The — the disagreements start with just, you know, where should we put this plant, where should we put this file cabinet, and Niles tries to —
SANDY: It’s like decoration.
NICHOLE: Yeah. (SANDY laughs) And then Niles is like, oh here’s some books on, you know, recent theories —
SANDY: Psychiatry stuff.
NICHOLE: Yes. Yeah. Because you’ve been — you know, he’s trying to give a little stab to Frasier, right? Because you’ve been on the air doing this little froo-froo stuff, you’re behind in, like, the real work here.
SANDY: Which is presumably more important than whatever — whatever Frasier does. And that’s a theme, right? Like that — that’s from the first episode of this series is Niles is sort of like, I’m a real psychiatrist.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
NILES CRANE: You know what I think about pop psychiatry?
FRASIER CRANE: Yes, I know what you think about everything. (Laughter) When was the last time you had an unexpressed thought?
NILES CRANE: I’m having one now. (Laughter)
SANDY: The implication that what Frasier does is fundamentally unserious compared to what Niles does is one of those themes that just, like, gets dragged up again and again and again on the show. So that is, like, in full effect now when they’re pretending to go into private practice together.
NICHOLE: Right. (Laughs) So their first session that we see is a group session with some of Niles’s patients. Niles would say one thing, and then Frasier would kind of just be like “Hmm”, as if he disagreed with it. And then the patients wanted to hear what Frasier had to say, and Frasier would say these little phrases like:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: We start to dig too quickly. Want to be sure that’s not a panacea for the pain.
NICHOLE: And Niles is like:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
NILES CRANE: Yes, you’ll all find my brother’s quite deft to these peppy little bromides. “Panacea for the pain.” You can almost hear the phrase: “We’ll be right back after these words from Pringles.” (Laughter)
NICHOLE: You’ve got these little catchphrases that you throw out, and Niles, like you said, is just very much, like, what I’m doing is real, I need to help real people who I can see and I can connect with and do more than just one little quick session. So it kind of goes back and forth until they end up in the middle of the lobby screaming at each other, and the patients just walk out. They’re like, “You’re not helping us.” So they leave.
SANDY: Yeah. And then the episode itself is told in flashback as the two of them have found this couple’s counselor, and they’re in, like, side by side, like, Hermès chairs or whatever — whatever those things are called, I said the wrong word.
SANDY: Eames. What — I don’t even know fancy things (NICHOLE laughs). They’re in fancy chairs, side by side. It kind of looks like — what would you describe that office? It looks like a modernist art piece or something.
SANDY: Like, the room that they’re in is incredibly, like, avant-garde. And then there’s this psychoanalyst guy who doesn’t do much for the episode itself. He scribbles down notes, and then at the end he tells them, like:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
PSYCHOANALYST: (Yelling) It’s hopeless! (Laughter) You are pathologically mistrustful of each other. Competitive to the point of madness. (Laughter)
SANDY: It’s an interesting episode because it’s a portrait of something we actually really never get to see on the show, which is people actually being in a therapy appointment.
SANDY: Right? Like, that’s one of the funniest things about the show is it is billed as a show about a psychiatrist, about psychiatry. And yet, how does Frasier spend his day? Like, what (NICHOLE laughs) what does he do day to day? Like, the — the sort of extent to which his life does not actually in any sense resemble what psychiatrists in the nineties and the aughts and now do is, to me, very apparent. But like, let’s maybe actually just describe it. What does Frasier do every day as far as we can tell throughout the gajillion episodes of the series?
NICHOLE: So I think he’s on air two to three hours a day, number one.
SANDY: Roz — Roz has that moment where she’s like, “After all, you work three hours a day.”
SANDY: Love Roz so much.
NICHOLE: And it’s funny because, you know, he pushes back against certain ads sometimes, which for those of you who may — if you actually, like, host a podcast, you know that ads are very important to keeping the lights on, so to speak.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: If I allow myself to become a common pitchman, I lose all my credibility. I am a wise man, a shaman.
ROZ DOYLE: Zip up your fly, wise man. (Laughter)
NICHOLE: I don’t know how he maintains his lifestyle because this is a public radio station, number one. How does he have whatever salary that affords him to be in a penthouse condo with at least three bedrooms —
SANDY: At least three.
NICHOLE: — next to the Seattle, what is it, needle.
SANDY: The Space Needle.
NICHOLE: The Space Needle.
SANDY: A view of the thing in Seattle.
SANDY: That’s how you know you’re there.
NICHOLE: Yes. (SANDY laughs) So, you know, that’s — you don’t know how that — that he got to that point, unless he’s just, like, all the money he saved up previously. But clearly there’s, like, child support [15:00] because he has a son that’s still back in Boston. Yeah, so, what does Frasier do for his — the rest of his day? I have no idea.
SANDY: We don’t get to see it. He goes to Café Nervosa, and exchanges jobs with Niles. He maybe is, like, having bad luck in love. But — but there is — and then so, all the things he doesn’t do, like, I — I haven’t watched the show as thoroughly as you have. Like, you very carefully (NICHOLE laughs) suggested, like, a mental health-y playlist of Frasier that I’ve been, you know, consuming.
NICHOLE: I think I had, like, 20 episodes —
SANDY: Yeah, you were like— here’s, like, a lot that are sort of in this lane, and I tried to watch a lot of others, as well, but like, I haven’t gotten near to comprehensive, of course, like, there’s just so much of it. But do we ever see Frasier Crane — Dr. Frasier Crane — prescribe a psychiatric drug?
NICHOLE: No. So that’s what I wanted to talk about, because psychiatrists tend to deal more with, like, medicine management —
SANDY: Heck yeah.
NICHOLE: — as opposed to “let’s talk it out” therapy.
SANDY: Yep. Yep. And so that — that distinction, I think, is a really important one, and one just worth kind of, like, circling around for a second. So, I think Frasier is much more accurately a radio psychologist. Like, the sort of job that he does on air is much more in a tradition of talk therapy. And then when he and Niles are actually, you know — whenever there’s kind of the — the spectre of them doing anything resembling practicing, it’s always psychoanalysis. It’s always Freud, Jung. It’s plots about Freudian stuff, Oedipus complex — it’s plots like that. It is not the DSM in a biopsychiatric sense. It is not diagnosis and medicate. And you never see him taking out a pad and writing someone a script. You never hear them talking about that. So that absence is very glaring to me because of when this show takes place, which is the nineties and into the aughts. And that’s essentially the — the — the era of psychiatric care that we still live in, which is basically, like, pharma got even more powerful with the DSM in the 1980s and then into the future where there’s — more and more diagnoses are created, more and more medications are created against those diagnoses, the amount of money that’s getting made is much bigger. And the psychiatric profession, essentially — and I mean this is, like, a generalization, but I’ve spent a lot of time, you know, kind of learning the history of this profession and its present — by the nineties, there’s almost no such thing as a psychiatrist who does anything except write scripts. Like, it is a — it’s like a fiction, you know? And — and so I’ve — I have wondered what is the function of that — that one choice, to sort of say that, oh, this is what a psychiatrist does, but then to show us something that isn’t that, really at all. Even Niles — there’s a sense that he works with people, as you say, in that — in that scene, you know, with the — with the group therapy is an example of it. You see his patients. But I’m curious, like — and this happens again and again with Frasier’s callers, too — what are the patients like? Do we get a sense of them as people?
NICHOLE: No. Not — not Frasier’s callers at all, no, not at all. Now I will go back — I want to go back to the medicine part, because I think there are only two instances that I can think of right now, and there might be more, but there are only two instances where we hear Frasier or Niles talk about prescribing, and it’s for each other or Daphne. Well no, there’s another time with — with Martin, their father. So there’s one time when Frasier is sick and he’s just like — like miserable with the flu or something that has him in bed. And Niles has taken over the show just to, like, substitute for him. But he — Niles is doing a really good job. So Frasier gets jealous and he’s like, “Daphne, take this prescription and go get this filled. I’m gonna go back into work”, you know, basically. So he writes his own prescription to give to Daphne so she can go get it filled. And she looks at it and — ‘cause Daphne is also a healthcare worker, right? She looks at it, she’s like, “This is way too strong, what are you talking about?” He’s like, “No, I’ve got to get this, you know — I’ve got to get back to my show.” And she’s like, “This’ll have you flying high as a kite!” And he’s just like, “I need my show.” So she goes and she, you know, gets it, he goes back and then has hallucinations and all this kind of stuff. So that’s one instance. There’s another instance later where Daphne — Daphne ends up at Niles’s because of some drama between Martin and Martin’s lady love at the time, and — but she leaves her thyroid medication behind at Frasier’s. She comes back to Frasier’s, and of course this is when Niles is single, he’s completely single, he finally has Daphne — and for those of you who may not know, Niles loves Daphne from the moment that he sees her. So he finally has Daphne in the house, but she’s like “I’ve left my pills, I’ve got to go get them”, whatever. There’s, you know — hijinks ensue and Niles misses his chance to get with Daphne because she comes back to Frasier’s — and, you know, he’s lamenting this to Frasier, and Frasier goes “Niles, you’re a doctor, you could’ve just written a prescription for her pills and, you know, filled it at the pharmacy across the street from your place. You knew that this was wrong —” blah blah blah. [20:00] But the point that’s —
SANDY: Again, it’s sort of like they use that power, but only for self-service.
NICHOLE: Yes. Yes. And there’s, like, another time when Martin is — doesn’t want to go to his doctor, he wants Niles to write him a prescription, and Niles refuses. So —
NICHOLE: — those are the only times where they talk about prescription medicine, and again it’s their internal group. It’s not for their patients, and it’s not — they may crack jokes about — what was the drug at the time?
NICHOLE: Prozac. I think there may have been maybe a joke about people on Prozac, or the fact that Niles’s wife, who is always off-screen, we never see her — Maris — she takes a lot of pills. And she is probably abusing medication, so —
SANDY: There is a sense that Maris — so, Maris is an interesting character to — to dwell on for a second. I mean, so, there’s a sort of — I mean, when I said to a friend of mine that I was gonna be talking about Frasier — and he’s a — a gay guy — he was like “Oh, my favorite show about a gay couple.” Which is kinda true, right?
SANDY: Like, I think in — in almost every sense it does feel like a sitcom about a gay couple who’ve been together for too long. Except it’s not that, right? Like, they are written to be quote “straight”, they are written to be brothers. And the fact that they go into couple’s counseling felt like yet another example of, like, yeah, like, what is this exactly? And I mean, one of the things with Niles is that he is — he’s played by a gay actor. And as the show starts in 1994, right, like you maybe couldn’t get on NBC, you know, just make a gay character. And so he is a straight character, ostensibly. But then they have written him to a very stereotypical effeminate — he, you know — he has any affectation that you can sort of, like, come up with that feels, like, gay, he has it. Including a wife who we never see.
NICHOLE: Never see.
SANDY: They, like, didn’t cast a woman. They just have instead — especially for the first few seasons, and I feel like they kind of let go of it a little bit over time — but like, every time he makes an entrance, practically, he says some elaborate excuse for why Maris isn’t there, and that’s the punchline, like, that’s the funny thing. And I — and I kept being, like, is it funny because he’s very clearly gay? (NICHOLE laughs) Like, is that the joke? And — and honestly I could never tell, like —
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: Hi Niles. Where’s Maris? Are you two taking separate elevators again?
NILES CRANE: Oh, no, I’m afraid Maris is having one of her episodes.
FRASIER CRANE: Ah.
NILES CRANE: In the middle of dressing for the evening she suddenly slumped down on the edge of the bed in her half-slip and sighed. (Laughter) Of course I knew then and there that dinner was not to be.
NICHOLE: This is also an homage to a character on Cheers. Vera, who was Norm’s wife —
NICHOLE: Norm, the guy that everyone greets when he comes in, right?
SANDY: (shouts) Norm!
NICHOLE: Yes. (Laughs) We never see his wife.
NICHOLE: We see maybe, like, her legs sometimes when she comes to the window to get Norm to come home, but that’s it.
SANDY: Well ‘cause he’s like an alcoholic.
SANDY: Like, that’s the plot. This man sits at this bar every single night and drinks beer after beer after beer after beer after beer, and eventually they kick him out.
SANDY: It’s really sad.
NICHOLE: Yes. So, you know, that’s kind of an homage to that. But also, I do think that it is a part of the fact that, you know, we’re not supposed to see Niles with anybody else other than Daphne. There are — he does have some relationships throughout, once he gets divorced, but —
SANDY: And then they have all these plot lines where it’s, like, Frasier has a dream that he’s in bed with a man, and he spends the entire episode trying to, like, unpack what this could possibly mean. And he and Martin, his dad, have this whole conversation where Frasier’s like:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: I was sensitive as a child. Didn’t go in for sports. God, it’s every cliche in the book. Surely it must have occurred to you at some point? You refused to take me to see West Side Story on my eighth birthday.
MARTIN CRANE: Well, because of the gangs. That’s scary for kids!
FRASIER CRANE: Even gangs that dance?
MARTIN CRANE: Especially gangs that dance. (Laughter)
SANDY: His dad’s like, “But Frasie, you can’t be gay!”
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
MARTIN CRANE: And you know why? ‘Cause you woulda known by now.
SANDY: And Frasier’s like “Right! Right! Right!” And then they just — end of episode, “Baby I” — it’s like, just — it just does it. And you’re, like, wait a second, like — so it’s like the writers are so close to being honest about something, but then they were not.
NICHOLE: And there’s much later in the series — oh, what’s his name, he played Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek —
SANDY: Patrick Stewart!
NICHOLE: Patrick Stewart.
SANDY: That cameo!
SANDY: That episode!
NICHOLE: So, Patrick Stewart is a playwright or a composer, I can’t remember right now. But he’s — his character is gay. And Frasier — who loves celebrity, he loves fame — he and Patrick Stewart’s character hit it off. And Patrick is hitting on him. Patrick thinks they’re having a relationship, or growing into relationship. And so, you know, Niles and Martin and Daphne are all, like, Frasier, what are you doing? And Frasier actually contemplates, like, going into a relationship — an intimate relationship with this man — in order to keep status, in order to keep celebrity in his life.
SANDY: Supposedly. [25:00]
SANDY: Right. Like that’s the big cover. And or — or with like the Niles ones where he and Daphne finally get together and then they don’t consummate the relationship, it turns out, for months and months and months. And there’s this whole plotline where she gets really fat and then has to go somewhere to become less fat, and he finally picks her up, and then her, like, new therapist is blaming him for their whole relationship and the fact that they’ve never had sex, even though they say “I love you” and stuff, comes to light. So there’s, like — and — and there’s — there’s details like we learn that Niles has never been with anyone but Maris. We learn that — you know, just stuff like that, where it’s like they — they did a lot of work to sort of, like, imply that this is a closeted gay man.
SANDY: But why?
NICHOLE: This is what I have never been able to figure out, even with, like, looking at behind the scenes stuff and interviews and things like that. Because at the time the actor, David Hyde Pierce, he was not publicly out —
SANDY: Who plays Niles.
NICHOLE: Yeah, he plays Niles. He was not publicly out. But there were other actors who were on this show, like the guy who plays Bulldog.
SANDY: I know, this blew my mind. (NICHOLE laughs) Explain this. You — you emailed this to me, and I — I just said “Whoa”, because, like — let’s explain who Bulldog is if — if people don’t remember.
NICHOLE: Yeah, Bulldog was the sports DJ for the radio station where Frasier works, and he is a dog. He is a womanizer, he has this reputation of just, you know, love ‘em and leave ‘em, so to speak, with women. He’s always harassing — like, sexually harassing Roz.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
BULLDOG: Hey Roz, will you stop wearing those corduroys? I can’t see your pantyline. (Laughter)
NICHOLE: But you know, Roz is a — I don’t know, Roz is kind of like a old Hollywood broad, right?
SANDY: She’s brassy.
NICHOLE: Yeah, brassy.
SANDY: She’s tough.
NICHOLE: You know, so she gives as good as she gets, right? So she’s able to handle it, so we don’t see, like, the bad side of —
SANDY: So we think. Right?
NICHOLE: Right, right.
SANDY: It’s less charming now when you watch a male character who walks into his workplace, talks about a woman’s pantylines, and leaves the scene. It’s like, wow, that doesn’t age well. That’s not funny.
NICHOLE: Yeah, and there’s like one point — Roz has a baby in the middle of the series, and Bulldog tells her, you know, your ass is looking great, or something like that. And, you know, she punches him, or she gives him a little tap and whatever. And he leaves and then she goes to Frasier and was like, “But I like that he said it”, you know? So, like, you have these things she’s, you know — she pushes back, but then she turns around and says she kind of likes it.
SANDY: Let’s say the Bulldog thing, though.
NICHOLE: Oh yeah. Bulldog. So the actor playing Bulldog is gay in real life (laughs).
SANDY: It’s so mind-blowing! Was he out?
NICHOLE: So he — he had come out I think in his twenties, from what I understand, and then he had a — a one-man show that was basically his public coming out right at the start of Frasier.
SANDY: Oh my gosh.
NICHOLE: So he —
SANDY: And that would’ve been radical then. I mean, like, Ellen lost her — her sitcom for coming out. I mean, the — the — the culture was not ready.
NICHOLE: So it — it’s always — I’ve never known how to process the fact that you’ve got this gay actor playing this, you know, quote unquote “aggressively straight man”, right? You’ve got a straight man — I mean, like, you’ve got a gay man playing someone who’s supposed to be straight who’s in love with a woman, keeps her at a distance, though, you know, for a very long time — like, it takes seven or eight seasons before Niles and Daphne get together.
SANDY: It’s a long time.
NICHOLE: Yeah. And I think some of the writers and maybe the producers — there are a lot of gay men writing, creating, behind the scenes of Frasier. So I never really knew what to do with the fact that they were coating all of this in — like, I don’t know if they were just trying to spoon-feed the audience, like, getting used to — getting the audience used to seeing gay people on screen and being, like, “See? You love us.” You know, that kind of thing.
SANDY: And they’re sexless, so it’s not actually threatening, it’s not actually Will & Grace, there’s not actually the implication that that’s actually what’s this about. But it’s, like, it’s not what it’s about the whole time.
NICHOLE: Right. Right. So there’s an episode called “The Ski Lodge” where they win a trip to a ski resort and it’s Niles and Frasier, Daphne brings a friend along, and Martin. And their ski instructor becomes their chef and whatever. And the ski instructor is gay. And we know this because, like, when everybody’s looking out the window and marveling at a deer in the snow, the ski instructor checks out Niles. So then it begins this, like, Three’s Company hijinks of who’s gay and, you know, how — you know, this guy thinks that Niles is gay, and Niles is really after Daphne, but Daphne’s friend is after Niles. And there’s, like, all this confusion. But at the end, Frasier — like, once everything gets sorted out, Frasier’s like, “Do you mean with all of the hormones flying around this place, no one was after me?” So he brings it back to himself (laughs).
SANDY: Oh, yeah.
NICHOLE: And that’s the thing about Frasier. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, [30:00] it always has to come back to him. So, yeah. So there are a lot of these different, like, mistaken gay identities. There’s one episode, maybe in the first season or second season, where the radio station gets a new director, and he’s gay. Frasier doesn’t realize that, invites him over to the house for dinner because he’s trying to hook the guy up with Daphne, and then, you know, it comes out that, you know, everyone’s gotten all confused because the guy thinks that Frasier is hitting on him, and so the guy stays behind and is, like, trying to hit on Frasier. Truth comes out, the guy leaves, and he’s like, “But Niles is gay, right?” And Frasier’s like, “No.” He’s like “Come on. Come on.”
SANDY: Yeah, it really defies believability. So it’s like — it’s like — it’s — I guess in general one of the questions that I had watching this show is that it is, you know — Frasier’s the titular character, he is the protagonist, he and Niles are the center of the show. And yet I would argue that neither of them is actually who the audience is being asked to sympathize with, that instead there’s probably, like, a read that somebody like Martin is who the audience is often being asked to sort of side with. Like, he represents some sort of, like, quote “reasonable alternative” to, like, wherever his sons are. And that the sons at the core of the show are actually more often than not the butt of the joke. I think it was Danny Ortberg, actually, who was writing something about Niles and Frasier that referenced them as clowns, like, kind of stock clowns, and that read — that made a lot of sense to me. I was like, yeah, like, they are, like — they are, like — you’re laughing at them. They are these, like — these two archetypes: one is this buffoon who seems sort of — he’s, I mean — Frasier’s issue it seems like is he’s not very smart, right? Like he’s — he’s not the intellect that his brother is. And then his brother, his problem is he’s not Frasier, he’s not, like, the celebrity one, he’s not the one who everyone wants to listen to if you put the two of them in a room. And, like, that dynamic — and then they’re, like — but they’re characters who — and I was trying to think of if there are other shows that even came to mind where the — the main characters are folks who you probably are being asked to dislike more than you’re being asked to, like, truly, like, see them or love them. And the only thing that came to mind was Big Bang Theory, which I also kind of see as a show where the audience — the laugh track — is laughing at the characters as much as — as anything else. With both brothers the — the — the stated thing is that they are these educated psychiatrists — psychiatrists, ostensibly, are people who help people and — and perform mental healthcare in some way — we really don’t get to see much of that, and that humanity of the people that they treat, like, just to circle back to that point. Like, we never hear Frasier give a full answer to — like, I guess I found it interesting, like, how many hours of this show exist, and a lot of it is just him and a booth and his producer. I mean I was like, wow, this is a show about — a mental health podcast where it is just starting out (NICHOLE laughs). I, like, totally identify with Frasier on some biographical level. But in the — you know — but that’s a lot of the show. And yet, you never really hear either a full call and then a full answer together. Like, you’ll — you’ll maybe hear the end of an answer, you know: ”And wishing you good mental health. Good night, Seattle.” Like, there will be that, or it’ll be like, “Dr. Crane blah blah blah”, and then there will be something that interrupts it, or something will happen, or — so you never watch a whole session of, like — this isn’t, like, Esther Perel “Where Should We Begin?” and we get to sit in and listen to the entire call and hear the problem that the person has and then hear how he helps. Because I think what I kept wondering with him and with Niles in general: Do they help anybody? Is that part of it at all?
NICHOLE: Right. I don’t think so. So, Frasier seems to be the least ethical — or the, you know — of the two, because Frasier, as we — as you mentioned earlier, Frasier started dating his patient, Diane, in Cheers. And then when he comes to Frasier, there are moments when he’s dating patients, or people who could be considered patients. So — or at least it’s just, you know, gray. There’s an episode where a man calls in. He says, “I wanna break up with this — my — my girlfriend,” Frasier says, “Do it”, the girlfriend comes to Frasier’s office — or to the studio to confront Frasier, and then Frasier starts dating this woman, right? And Niles is, like, this is wrong, you should not be doing this, you’re — because the guy calls back in, he’s like, “I wanna get back with my girlfriend” and Frasier tells him no, you can’t (BOTH laugh). And in the end his, you know, his morals do kind of come into play because he’s not able to perform sexually with the woman because he’s realizing that Niles is right. So there’s —
SANDY: He’s just busy thinking about Niles.
SANDY: Oh boy.
NICHOLE: Oh my gosh. And then there’s another [35:00] situation where Frasier dates the daughter of Martin’s best friend. And she’s pretty much using him for therapy, like, she just wants to talk to him about —
SANDY: She’s like “Hey, I had this dream about my mom. Let’s analyze it. I’ll give you a massage.” It’s —
NICHOLE: And when Frasier’s like, “No, I don’t want to talk about that”, she physically moves away —
SANDY: (laughing) She like leaves.
NICHOLE: — yeah, she’s like, “I’m gonna go home now”, and he’s like, “Okay, well let’s talk about —”
SANDY: She’s really hot, too.
SANDY: They definitely are always pairing — I mean, I think Kelsey Grammer is like an abhorrent human being on every level, including physically, I find him repulsive. (NICHOLE laughs) And the fact that you have to watch him touch so many different women in the course of this series is really lamentable. But she in particular was really fine, and it was just, like, man, this is a bummer. Like, anyway. It’s like all the actresses who have to kiss Jerry Seinfeld. I’m just like, what a bummer (NICHOLE laughs). The nineties was all that.
NICHOLE: Yeah. So he — he — Frasier indulges in some ethically shady situations with his patients, or people that, like I said, could be, you know, patients or whatever. So he abuses his position —
SANDY: His power. Yeah.
NICHOLE: Yeah. And I think that, you know, I don’t know if more people would call him out on that if — if Frasier was happening now, I don’t know that people would be able to laugh at him taking advantage of these people in such a way.
SANDY: Hey listeners, quick announcement. In one month we will be having the second installment of the Mad Chat Book Club. Hooray! October 3rd at 8:30PM on the Mad Chat Show Instagram Live. I will be hosting our second Mad Chat Book Club and this time we are discussing Robert Whitaker’s Mad In America. Maybe this is a book you’ve read, maybe this is a book you’ve heard of. If you’ve never heard of it or never read and these conversations interest you, I hope you’ll go to your library and get a copy or buy a copy. Robert Whitaker’s Mad In America. It’s a title that definitely transformed a lot of my thinking about these topics. It’s a title that I’ve found through the years as I’ve interviewed a lot of people they tend to bring it up — “Oh, have you read this book Mad In America?” Yes. Let’s talk about it. So, October 3rd, 8:30PM on the Mad Chat Show Instagram Live, Mad Chat Book Club number two talking about Mad In America by Robert Whitaker. And we will of course link the book in the show notes. I can’t wait to see you then.
[INTERSTITIAL MUSIC FADES]
SANDY: The — the sort of callousness that he has toward any groups of people who are being treated is also kind of striking to me. Like, those moments where there will be some quote “group therapy” happening in Niles’s office where it’s like where do these people even sit? It always feels very poorly designed to me. But — and — and often those are the only scenes where you see a person of color, period, right? Like, it is a very white show. The — the housekeeper, Daphne, was originally written — I mean, it was written to be an immigrant, and then they decided she has to be a British immigrant, right? Like, they wanted a white person. Wasn’t it originally supposed to be that the — the housekeeper was gonna be Latinx? Like, I — I had read that, that they — that they were like eh, that’s too much for NBC in 1994, so let’s have it be an exclusively white cast.
NICHOLE: I don’t remember that. That’s possible. But I will say that anytime there is a black person on the show, they are a rival for Frasier.
NICHOLE: So, there is a man called Cam Winston who lives in the building with Frasier, and they have a huge rivalry, to the point where, like, Cam Winston hangs this — unfurls a flag to cover Frasier’s view, and they get into parking wars, and all this kind of stuff. And there’s also an episode where this woman who used to be on a show called Living Single — Kim Coles — she comes in because the Fras — the radio station is working with this community center to help give disadvantaged people professional opportunities that they may not have, right? So, her name is Mary, and she had gone to do radio production, she was becoming a producer. So she comes in and she — while Roz is on vacation, she is Frasier’s producer. Frasier thinks, oh, this’ll be, you know — I’m going to be her mentor, this is me giving back to the community, blah blah blah. But then Mary starts giving advice. And then she gets — they bring in another producer so that Mary and Frasier are sitting in the booth together, and there’s another black woman producer. And then it’s the black woman producer and Mary going back and forth. And Mary calls herself Dr. Mary even though she is, you know — has no secondary degree, which burns Frasier up (SANDY laughs). And these women are talking in very (sighs) — very colloquially, shall we say. “Girlfriend, this is what you need to do”, you know, that kind of thing. And Dr. Mary would be like, you know, [40:00] “A cat can have a kitten in the oven, but that don’t make them biscuits”, you know, and all this kind of stuff. And Frasier’s afraid to criticize her. He’s afraid to tell her, “This is my show.” And Martin and Niles confront him on that. They’re like, you don’t want to talk — you don’t want to, you know, get your show back because she’s black, and you don’t want to look like you’re racist. And he’s like, “No, this isn’t true.” And they keep pushing him, like “No, you just don’t want to seem like an asshole”, whatever. So there’s that. But then, like, a couple seasons later, Mary comes back and she’s hosting — I think they end up hosting a Christmas parade. So again, I bring that up to talk about the fact that when there are black people on the show, Frasier — they’re — they’re rivals for him. Frasier gets very — I don’t know, like, weird about — about them. Obviously racist, you know, or — or at least the inherent bias that a lot of white people have.
SANDY: He lives in a very segregated world.
SANDY: And there’s these moments where it gets, you know — I’m thinking, too, about toward the end of the series he actually tries to go into private practice. And he has this episode where it’s, like, a lot of hijinks around every single person who comes through his office door, like, the appointment sort of falls apart really quick. And he eventually has a patient who comes in and she’s, like, the first one who, like, sits down and seems to start to start, like, really talking about her thing. And you’re like, okay, so this seems like it’s gonna work. And he starts fussing with his chair. And she’s a black woman. And he’s just, like, fussing with his chair. And he’s fussing with his chair, and he’s fussing with his chair. And she’s talking about how, like —
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
CAROL: So we go to dinner and my two friends on either side of me are — are talking over me like I’m not even there. (Sound of something being moved around a room. Light laughter from the audience, gradually increasing as CAROL speaks) And then when dinner arrived, my meal didn’t even come, and no one noticed. I guess after a while that kind of thing gets to you. It’s like people aren’t paying attention to me.
SANDY: And he goes out in the hall and is trying to move a sofa into his office to sit on instead. And he’s like, it’s “Aha ha ha, so funny, look at this clown”, but it’s like — it was sort of like the gay stuff where I was like, is the joke that the show has fastidiously written around anybody who isn’t white? Like, is — and they’re being ignored and silenced by the show, like is that — are we supposed to be feeling a meta level here, or is this just unironic? Is it un-self-aware to that extent? Or like, who am I supposed to be sympathizing with in this scene? Like, am I supposed to be sympathizing with that, like, the — the ostensible patient on the couch who’s being so ignored by this, you know, quote “doctor” who’s, like, more concerned with a sofa? And then right after that, he has another, like, you know — another patient finally walks in, the one that works. And it’s a white dude who’s middle aged and sits down and is like, “I just got divorced and I changed my job.” And Frasier, seeing himself in this man, begins to actually talk to him.
SANDY: Oh my god. (BOTH laughing)
NICHOLE: Yes. It’s — yeah. That’s why, like, I know Frasier is not perfect, and I know that this is not the show that I would put on to talk about, you know, representation of people of color.
SANDY: No, no.
NICHOLE: But — and it, you know, there’s — Rosie Perez was on the show twice, once as a voice, and as a voice she was — as a caller, as a caller into the station — and she was complaining about not being paid attention to, and something was going on where Frasier kind of like either hung up on her or didn’t pay attention to her, there’s that. And then she comes back obviously as a different character where Roz is trying to hook Frasier up with her. And they had developed code words to tell Roz, like, if it’s not going well I’m going to say, “The pleasure’s all mine”, or something like that. And so Roz and — I mean, Rosie Perez’s character and Frasier meet, they realize it’s not gonna happen, they shake hands and then give Roz the code word, you know, because it’s clearly not going to happen between the two. So anytime that he dates, or there could be a potential for him to date a woman of color, it bombs, like even before we see anything.
SANDY: When you said Rosie Perez it knocked loose in my head the fact that that’s who was supposed to be Daphne. I just Googled it.
NICHOLE: Oh, okay.
SANDY: Lisa Kudrow was supposed to be Roz, and then Rosie Perez was supposed to be Daphne. And — and I do think that would’ve been a different show.
NICHOLE: Oh, absolutely.
SANDY: It — it would’ve been a more interesting show. So, I want to — I want to toggle over to — so, mental healthcare-wise, Frasier does very little.
SANDY: In terms of his own mental health, there is a lot — there’s a lot to get into. Like, he is — and it seems to be one of the sort of operating ironies of the show, is that he is ostensibly somebody who’s supposed to be helping others and he is so emotionally out of control and out of touch with himself in the course of the series. So like, what are some of the, like, aspects of Dr. Frasier Crane’s mental health that we sort of get exposed to through the course of the series?
NICHOLE: He cannot develop and maintain intimate relationships, [45:00] whether they are friendships or just a romantic thing, right? His only friend is Niles.
SANDY: Yeah. And he kinda hates Niles.
SANDY: Like, they’re — they’re pretty explicit, and like Martin will have these moments too where he’ll be like, “Well that’s always been you boys. You never could make friends. You’ve always just been stuck with each other.” And Frasier seems to truly resent the idea that he can’t manage any other relationships than Niles, and he — he takes Niles for granted.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: You know, Dad, I did have friends in college, and back in Boston. It’s only since I moved to Seattle that I’ve started falling back on Niles.
NILES CRANE: Oh, falling back on Niles!
FRASIER CRANE: Oh, Niles, you know what I mean. Settling for what’s comfortable and familiar.
SANDY: It seems like Niles is sort of always there for Frasier and actually kind of quite looks up to his big brother, or at least they have some sort of kinship. Perhaps it’s their outsider status which they are so, you know, like — it — it does seem like they’re united by something, and it’s like ostensibly that they’re elitist or that they like brandy or, you know, it’s like those things are sort of what’s named, but it’s like — anyway. So, he’s — he has relationship problems that seem sort of fundamental. Like, he can’t relate to others.
NICHOLE: Right. So, going back to Cheers, the friendships that he developed were because of his relationship with Diane, and coming to kind of — I don’t want to say stalk, but coming to try to, like, be a part of her life. And then he — when she leaves the show, he ends up staying and sticking around Cheers to, you know, maintain those friendships. And it — and those friendships seem to be more of a — him doing a social experiment, you know, because he’s kind of, like, I’m nothing like these people, but we have this bar in common, and let me see how they can help my life, kind of.
SANDY: It’s like class tourism, specifically.
NICHOLE: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Because who does he end up with? Lilith, who is still in his class, right? You know. So there’s that. So then coming to Frasier the show, again he has no friends except for the people that he has to have in his circle, like the people at work, and the people that he has — you know, Daphne is the healthcare worker to work for Martin who has been shot in the hip in the line of duty, which is why he retired from being a cop. So here’s somebody who works for him that he pays to be around. And at one point in the series, Frasier goes to his former mentor Dr. Tewksbury who points all these things out to him.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
DR. TEWKSBURY: And you were drawn to psychiatry not because you liked to help people, but because you feared them.
FRASIER CRANE: I feared them?
DR. TEWKSBURY: Psychiatry gives you objectivity. Objectivity gives you emotional distance. Distance makes you feel safe.
FRASIER CRANE: Yes, yes, granted. But what has that got to do with me?
DR. TEWKSBURY: How’s your practice?
FRASIER CRANE: Hmm? I don’t have a practice. I have a radio show.
DR. TEWKSBURY: Distance.
NICHOLE: He lists all these things that Frasier uses to cushion himself from everybody. His relationships with women — Frasier cannot stand a woman who may be smarter than he is —
SANDY: Not at all, yeah.
NICHOLE: — a woman who may have more social stature than he does, a woman who knows herself and is happy with herself.
SANDY: Oh yeah, he can’t — he cannot with something like that. Yeah.
NICHOLE: No. And if he cannot fix you, he doesn’t want to have a relationship with you.
SANDY: There is also in the backstory of him — and this is where my Cheers knowledge isn’t complete enough, maybe you can tell me — they allude to a suicide attempt.
NICHOLE: Yes. He and Lilith were getting a divorce.
NICHOLE: This is obviously toward the end of Cheers, and he does — I think he does step out on the ledge, or, you know, was thinking about jumping off. And they have to talk him back in.
SANDY: Niles references that suicide attempt. And Frasier says:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: It was not a legitimate attempt. I only stepped out onto that ledge to get Lilith’s attention.
SANDY: It struck me as an example of something that I think you see several times on this show. Because that kind of line — I wasn’t actually trying to kill myself, I was just trying to scare my partner — you know, like, that’s an emotionally abusive thing to do. Like, you shouldn’t be threatening suicide at other people. So even if that’s your motivation, not strictly speaking that you wanted to kill yourself, that’s really messed up. And, like, a — a mental health professional should know that. There’s really no reason why he wouldn’t know that other than he is not actually a psychiatrist (NICHOLE laughs), which is sort of one of my, like, hot takes, I’m like this is, you know, a — a story about a closeted radio advice columnist, you know? Like — anyway. But like that moment of, like, you know — I think the audience is supposed to believe Frasier when he’s like, “It wasn’t a real suicide attempt.” I’m thinking of the example where he goes in Daphne’s room and is, like, spying on her in the shower, right, basically — through a series of foibles, right? “Oh, he’s not really sexually harassing her”, blah blah blah. And so because we’re the audience we kind of see that and believe him. But it’s like, we know in reality that those sorts of stories about sexual harassment just being misunderstandings are bullshit, [50:00] right? So it’s like the show sort of shows us the full, actualized version of “Well, this isn’t actually the thing”, even though it’s a cliched excuse, and we know that in reality if someone stepping out on a ledge, like, that they’re — that — that it can’t take that as seriously as it — as it should, you know, it has to sort of, like — Daphne’s not actually being sexually harassed, we have to feel sort of, like, on Frasier’s side about it. I guess I just noticed there were so many examples of that, sort of the proverbial, like, “she lied about being assaulted” feeling, that it’s like, well it doesn’t actually go down that way.
NICHOLE: Right. And there’s — there’s another reference to Frasier’s suicide when they’re trying to get into this very prestigious, elitist club, and then that rivalry comes out between the two. And — and Niles is like:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
NILES CRANE: Well, if only one of us can be honored with a membership, I hope it will be you, Frasier.
SPENCER: That’s a very noble sentiment.
NILES CRANE: Well I know how much it means to him. We can’t risk another splashy suicide attempt. (Laughter)
SANDY: That suicide attempt example is a really good one. Like, they are invoking suicide in order to show something else —
SANDY: Here’s a person who’s faking — exactly! She’s faking it for attention. Or it’s like to manipulate. And like Frasier, similarly, is like — it’s implied that he faked this suicide attempt — it was a splashy suicide attempt. And — and it’s also being held against him socially, right? Like it is a secret. The sort of, like the — the moment in “Shrink Rap”, like you mention, they — they start yelling at each other and Frasier throws a plant out the window.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
NILES CRANE: Are you insane?!
FRASIER CRANE: If I were, doctor, you’d never know it! (Laughter)
SANDY: It’s very clear we’re supposed to understand that Frasier is a pretty unstable guy.
NICHOLE: Yes. And he later tells Martin — they’re — they’re trying to bond and reveal vulnerabilities to each other. And so Frasier tells Martin “I did try to kill myself when I found out that Lilith had cheated and was going to divorce”, because it had come up that their mother had cheated on their father when they were very young kids, and all this stuff had come up. So Frasier was trying to let Martin know I relate, I understand, I, you know — Lilith cheated on me, I tried to kill myself. And Martin was like, “Well, what happened?” So again, it’s just kind of like the suicide attempt — this very serious moment — is brushed aside in this funny little thing so that, you know, Martin is like “Well, what happened?” And Frashier’s like “Uh, well, it didn’t work. You know, like, I’m still here, clearly.” So it’s not — they still don’t deal with the fact that Frasier as a psychiatrist has attempted suicide, and what does that mean? ‘Cause he never references that he went to therapy.
SANDY: No. No. He needs therapy. Frasier desperately needs mental healthcare. Like, that’s one of those things that it — it just seems like the whole show is about, you’re saying, all the relationships, the way he relates to everybody, his — I mean it seems like he would get a Narcissistic Personality Disorder diagnosis, like, right out the gate (NICHOLE laughs), like, it’s — it’s egregious.
NICHOLE: Yes. There is another episode where all three of the Crane men, their love lives have gone caput, and they’re, you know, they’re upset. And so Frasier and Niles are like, you know what? We need to go into some deep analysis, we need to get into — and Martin is like, “You guys don’t need therapy, come on! This is just a part of life.” Yes, it’s a part of life. And sometimes that life includes therapy. Like, they’re psychiatrists! They’re supposed to know when they need therapy.
SANDY: Well, Martin — it seems like one of Martin’s functions on the show — and I don’t know, do you agree with me, do you think the audience is being asked to ally with Martin, like, that he’s sort of — he’s — he’s like the reasonable man, right?
NICHOLE: Yeah. Yeah.
SANDY: Okay. So it’s like one of the — I’m thinking there’s a lot of instances where Martin makes very plain that he does not believe in psychiatry.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
MARTIN CRANE: Oh, will you cut out the psychological mumbo-jumbo? Let the guy have a good time.
FRASIER CRANE: What did you just say?
MARTIN CRANE: I said let the guy have some fun.
FRASIER CRANE: No, before that. You said “psychological mumbo-jumbo.” So that’s how you characterize my life’s work?!
SANDY: That’s one of the dynamics, too, that I — I kept wondering, what is kind of weighing in my mind, the — the sort of, like, the — the toxicity of lying to us about what psychiatrists do, and the toxicity of not including the real lives of the people who they treat in any meaningful sense. The fact that we never in the show enter a psychiatric hospital. We never see someone struggling with suicidal thoughts or the fact of having tried to kill themself, or going on or off of a medication, or experiencing, you know, a — a psychosis, or anything like that. Like, the real stuff that psychiatrists tend to deal with at this point in our culture tend to be are regarded as the more severe of the various, like, mental illness diagnoses, especially come the nineties, that profession becomes synonymous with prescribing. So it’s like, we’re — we’re being given a real fiction in that sense. I’ve always wondered that balanced with the fact that it does appear to be a critique of this apparent psychiatrist character. Like, the whole show appears to be critiquing the sort of, like, realness or import of whatever it is that quote “psychiatrists” do. So I’m kind of, like, well that seems good, [55:00] that seems good to be challenging that or to sort of, like, have that Martin character who’s kind of representing the fact that, like, yeah, I don’t really believe in all this. But again I found myself wondering, to what end?
NICHOLE: Yeah, so I think that they made Niles and Frasier psychiatrists just to explain the money, maybe, to explain why Frasier is so snooty about the fact that he went to Harvard, ‘cause he brings it up all the time, right? I think that’s why, because again, like you say, we don’t see anything that they do — we don’t — Frasier is not a show to recommend therapy.
NICHOLE: It is not a show to make you feel comfortable with going in and seeing somebody and — and — and finding, like, whatever’s gonna help make your life better. It’s not about that.
SANDY: No. It’s — if anything, it’s dismissing that, wholeheartedly. Yeah. And I — I wondered about that. I — I wondered as well about the sort of function in the show of something like Daphne’s apparent psychic abilities. Could we talk about that for a second? (NICHOLE laughs)
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
DAPHNE MOON: Well, I’m off to my poker game. It was nice seeing you again, Dr. Crane. (gasps) Oh, wait a minute. I’m getting something on you. (Laughter)
FRASIER CRANE: She’s psychic. We’ve decided to find it charming.
SANDY: Do you want to explain? Daphne’s a psychic.
NICHOLE: Yes. Daphne thinks she’s psychic, and it comes out that she thinks so because her grandmother said that, you know, you’re a woman here in this family of men, because Daphne is the only girl, she has like four or five brothers, she’s the only girl. And it turns out that maybe her grandmother was trying to make her feel special in this house full of rambunctious, terrible boys, you know, and also to make her feel better about her period, because Daphne would say something like, you know, “I’m always a bit more on when I’ve got my period”, or something like that. So whether she is or not, we don’t know. But we do see where some of her psychic visions have some truth to them.
SANDY: The show validates it.
SANDY: So then, but her being a psychic is the butt of a joke between Frasier and Niles, over and over and over and over —
NICHOLE: Yes, constantly.
SANDY: They’re constantly feeling superior to her.
NICHOLE: Yeah. For Niles, even — once they — once Niles and Daphne get together, he even brings someone in to test her to see, and you know, and then he’s like, “I don’t even want to know the results.” Once he learns that she got this information from her Grammy Moon, he’s like, “You know what, this is something personal for you, I don’t even want to know the results.” And so they don’t get the results, and we don’t — the audience doesn’t hear the results, we don’t hear or see.
SANDY: Well, and it’s — it’s a ridiculous question, right? Oh, we’re gonna have some sort of scientific validation for this psychic ability, right? Which I think — it — it — a psychic ability, someone who sees visions that are to them are prophecies or something like that, it’s an example of something that a) happens and b) medicine, science doesn’t have under control, doesn’t have figured out. I guess it struck me as interesting that these men are so threatened by a woman who claims to have abilities of this kind, because, like, they really, really, really believe that they are men of science, right? Like, they return to that, like — that sort of refrain. Like, everything that we’ve said notwithstanding, they, like — they don’t actually practice — Frasier especially doesn’t really practice, he’s super unethical, he’s only writing scripts for himself and his family and he’s, like, dating his patients. Like, he’s a mess. But, he and Niles will be like, “We are men of science!” You know? Like, there’s often that implication. And it’s just stated, and it seems like one of the ways that they assert that is superiority over Daphne.
SANDY: For being a psychic.
NICHOLE: I want to talk about them, like, and their — the way they feel superior and go back to the doggy depression episode.
SANDY: Yes, let’s talk about the doggy depression episode. It is an amazing episode. (BOTH laugh) I mean — it’s really, it’s got everything.
NICHOLE: Yes. Because Martin brings in a animal psychiatrist.
SANDY: Yeah, a dog psychiatrist.
SANDY: Which really threatens Frasier and Niles.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
MARTIN CRANE: I’m afraid we’re gonna have to call in one of those dog psychiatrists.
FRASIER CRANE: Dad, you can’t be serious.
MARTIN CRANE: Well, I’m desperate! We tried everything else.
FRASIER CRANE: A dog psychiatrist? Honestly, dad, they are the very definition of charlatanism.
NILES CRANE: You simply cannot apply the principles of human psychology to animal behavior.
FRASIER CRANE: Precisely.
NICHOLE: They are so mean to this man.
SANDY: Yes. Yes.
NICHOLE: They — they laugh at him, they make these terrible little jokes and puns. And he’s used to it because he understands that it’s just, you know — what he’s doing is maybe not the easiest thing for people to swallow. But what struck me about it is, like, you know, he asks all the humans questions about Eddie and, you know, Niles and Frasier don’t give a straightforward answers, they don’t take it seriously. Of course, Martin and Daphne do. And the psychiatrist tells them, “I just wanted to see what you guys — what — you know, this tells me more about you than it tells me about Eddie.” And you know, they look — Frasier and Niles look a little chagrined because they know they were being assholes, they were [1:00:00] just being terrible people. But it really highlights how they’re awful to anyone who does not have the exact same experiences as they do, and who do not benefit them in any way, whether they are, you know, Roz the producer or Daphne the healthcare worker who is there to make sure that Martin doesn’t get in their way.
SANDY: Yeah. Like, they — they — it’s — it’s striking that every instance on the show that I can think of where another mental health professional enters the picture, Frasier and Niles become especially threatened. Because almost always that is not a fellow psychiatrist, and in the sort of pyramid of superiority that they have, you know, they are at the top, and then there’s everybody else. Like, stuff like the dog psychiatrist, or I’m thinking of the Christine Baranski cameo, Dr. Nora, which is a Dr. Laura play. So it’s like — or there’s like one where there’s a pop psychologist who Frasier dates for an episode. Like, he’s still really, really, like, superior to her. So it’s, like, it’s — it’s — the show is demonstrating I think a real thing, which is a hierarchy that exists within the mental health professions where psychiatrists consider themselves men of science and better than everybody else. And that first thing is not real, right? Like, psychiatry isn’t science. Like, there’s not actually a scientific basis for most of what American psychiatry feels is true. Like, that’s one of those kind of in plain sight problems that we have, right? So there’s that. But that sense that they are not allied with other people who ostensibly are also interested in helping people.
NICHOLE: Right. There’s an episode where a physical — I guess, medical, biological doctor — I don’t know how you want to describe him, but he comes to the station and he’s going to be on staff at the radio station. And Frasier loses it. (SANDY laughs) He is so jealous of this man — this man, anytime Frasier can say, “Well, I went to Harvard” this guy was like, “Oh, well I didn’t — I wasn’t there, but I went to Oxford.” Frasier is like (noise of exasperation), you know? Like he’s going to lose it. Like he’s handsome, he’s younger, all the women are going crazy about him, that kind of thing. So they’re doing a “joint session”, quote unquote, with a caller. And she calls in, she’s like “I’ve just been really down, I can’t do anything.” Frasier goes on this long spiel, and he’s like, “This is what you need to do, you need to go see someone, and do this and this, maybe they’ll give you a pre—” I think he says a prescription for medicine, at that point. I think. This doctor, this medical doctor, comes in and he’s like, “Huh. I just think maybe you need some protein in the morning.” And then the caller’s like “Oh yeah, you know what? I had eggs the other day and my mood was so good.” And she was like, “Dr. Crane, you scared me to death. You were gonna have me go and get treated, but now I just need eggs.”
SANDY: I need eggs. Well, and so that’s interesting, so back to the dog depression episode — one of — so that — that episode, the dog psychiatrist is like yes, Eddie is depressed, and like, one of you did it. There’s an implication that depression is a pathology, like, that it’s — you can catch it.
SANDY: Yes. So they all sit around — all, like, you know — Roz is there too, I think. It’s like Daphne, Martin, Niles, Frasier.
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’m not entirely happy. Why should I be? My son lives across the country. There’s no woman in my life.
DAPHNE MOON: If I give my life a good once-over, I realize it’s not all jam.
NILES CRANE: Daphne, maybe you were right earlier. I’m not so happy.
MARTIN CRANE: Or maybe it’s me.
ROZ DOYLE: Now that I think about it, what have I got to be happy about?
SANDY: And they all seem to be embracing a philosophy of mental illness which is that you can catch it (NICHOLE laughs), and that is astounding. And then they all go, “Oh! Daphne made cookies.” And they all go into the kitchen and have cookies, and everything’s better. And it was like, wow. So in terms of the values about actual mental healthcare that are getting promoted by this show, it does seem like one of them is, like, “Hey, perk up, friend! Have a cookie.”
NICHOLE: Yeah. Yeah.
SANDY: Which, I mean —
NICHOLE: That is not what’s gonna help (laughs).
SANDY: No, it’s really not. And it’s really minimizing. I think there are so many ways in which because this pretends to be a show that’s actually about stuff like psychiatric distress, but then it’s not actually attempting to be that in any real sense, it is effectively minimizing. If there was someone watching the show who is very depressed, I don’t feel like there’s much comfort in that — in that episode. I mean, I think he signs off that one being like:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
FRASIER CRANE: This is Dr. Frasier Crane reminding everyone that life is too short to dwell on every bump in the road. Try to take pleasure in the simple things. In short, eat a cookie.
SANDY: That’s his, like — his big lesson.
NICHOLE: Right. Because he’s telling the story of Eddie’s doggy depression to this woman —
SANDY: (laughing) On the air.
NICHOLE: — yeah, on the air. So it’s kind of told in a flashback. And so when he comes back to the caller, that’s when he’s like, you know, don’t think about — don’t dwell on the thing. So basically, like, don’t think those dark thoughts. Which if anyone has actually, you know, been clinically diagnosed with depression, [1:05:00] you know that just saying, “I’m not gonna think dark thoughts” does not help.
SANDY: No, and it’s — it’s — it’s absurd, almost, that that would be what a psychiatrist would — I mean, a — a — maybe a psychologist, or just an advice columnist, I could see something like that sort of floating. But really, truly in the nineties, a psychiatrist’s answer to depression would not be, “Hey, try not think about those bad things.”
SANDY: It would be Prozac.
SANDY: That’s what they had, finally.
NICHOLE: Right. And there are a few times that Frasier will have a caller that will be a little too complex. And so he’ll say, “I can’t get to all of everything you need right now, but I’ll have my producer give you the names of someone that you can contact.”
SANDY: Someone who you can call! I was like, who?
NICHOLE: Yes. But it’s still, like, again it goes back to Frasier’s own distance. So you’re already distancing from your patients by having them, by, you know, you’re — they’re call-in. But now you’re creating even more distance by having your producer be the one to recommend these people, you know, these other therapists or whatever, or other psychiatrists, to these people. You’re not even making these, like, you know, word of mouth recommendations yourself. So, it’s just interesting. But he always wants to be the one to get credit for saving you.
SANDY: Yes. And so I mean, on — on some level this is a show that is a critique of the hubris of psychiatry. There is a fun fact which is — I mean, so they set it in Seattle because it was a Cheers spinoff and they didn’t want all the characters on Cheers having to do cameos all the time, so they put it as geographically far across the country as they could, which I find very funny. But Kirstie Allley, who’s a Scientologist, refused to do a cameo on Frasier because Frasier was a show that promotes psychiatry. If you don’t know this, perhaps the biggest beef over the last fifty, sixty years in American psychiatry has been between psychiatry and psycho — Scientology, rather. Scientology has been funding anti-psychiatry stuff for decades, and it’s a very — it’s a very promin — I mean, if you’re a Scientologist, you know about this. If you’re an anti-psychiatrist activist, you know about this. But so that — that sense that she was, like, judging this show to be a sort of, like, propaganda in favor of psychiatry struck me as very interesting, or that she wouldn’t want to appear to endorse the — the show, which does, to some degree, humanize Frasier and Niles. To some degree.
NICHOLE: To some degree, yeah. It’s interesting, all those different — there are several Cheers cameos, and then Frasier and crew do go back to Boston for different things, and they, you know, meet up with them there. But it’s interesting because Sam comes back to the show — Sam the bartender from Cheers — and Frasier talks about — you know, he just casually tosses off that Sam is a sex addict and all this kind of stuff. And I always wondered about the confidentiality requirements of what Frasier and Niles — Niles, again, was the one who — he did not really talk about his patients, he did not really —
SANDY: He does, though! He has these little quips where he’ll be like:
[CLIP FROM FRASIER]
NILES CRANE: Oh, Frasier, I had a breakthrough today with one of my compulsive gamblers and he gave me two tickets to the racetrack on Saturday.
NICHOLE: Yeah, so, yes. He does these little quips.
SANDY: At the expense of his patients, always.
NICHOLE: But he — but Frasier seems to be the one that just kind of, like, drops people’s diagnoses, like, very casually. And I’m in the middle of, you know, family conversations. And I guess because they’re family they’re —
SANDY: No, there’s no legal protection there. Everything that Frasier does as a professional, I would say from the moment he enters the cultural conversation in the eighties on Cheers (NICHOLE laughs) is entirely out of line. Like, you should not be showing up dating a patient. You should not be then forcing her — her ex-boyfriend — played by Ted Danson, Sam — into treatment. That whole thing was so ethically dodgy. And then the fact that that’s then who sticks around and becomes the face of psychiatry to us, for all of the nineties. I mean, I can’t think of anybody else who is embodying the fact of being a psychiatrist in our — in our cultural imagination through all that era. And — and I’ve noticed I’ve brought up to people that I was talking about Frasier, and people — they would sort of, like, look at me like, why? And I would be like “He was a psychiatrist.” And they would be like “Oh, right!” You know? ‘Cause it’s like, you remember that he’s a radio host.
NICHOLE: Yeah. I watch the entire series of Frasier at least once a year. Like, for the most part I know Frasier very well, and this has given me the opportunity just to realize, like, he was not a good therapist, he was not a good psychiatrist, because he was so focused on just making sure he was the one to save people. Like he — to get the credit for being the one to save people. Like, I knew he was terrible in his relationships, but to also realize that maybe he’s not great as a psychiatrist has been interesting (laughs).
SANDY: Maybe he’s not great as a psychiatrist. He just doesn’t know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs. [1:10:00]
SANDY: Our last segment on Mad Chat is called What’s Helping Today. And it’s where we share — it can be anything, big, small, can be, you know — we can just each share something that is helping us today. Do you want to go first?
NICHOLE: Sure. So I actually have been — I actually started seeing a psychiatrist, and — because I’ve got a lot of things going on in my life, and I felt very overwhelmed. And so she’s great and she has me on a medication and it’s still early. But as I am trying to get my focus back, because one of the things it made me realize that I — this was not a regular depression episode for me, because I’ve — I’ve been depressed before, but what made me realize I can’t do this alone anymore was that I could no longer read — I could not focus, I was having cognitive issues. So I have gone back to cross-stitching, which is like a needlepoint craft. And that helps me because it’s very finite. There are a certain amounts of X’s that you have to sew into fabric and you, you know — you count — count it out, you use the proper color, you put that proper color away, you get to the next color, you count it out. And it’s just very soothing. It’s a repetitive motion for my hands, I am still using my brain to count out stuff, to see how things are supposed to go. But I — I can focus, and I can just sit and be still. Sometimes I’m listening to music, sometimes I’m not. But that is helping me just kind of, like, breathe for a little bit, because I can’t — if I sit still, I’m gonna think, and those thoughts are gonna circle and send me down the drain. But if I am cross-stitching, I’m still thinking, but I am thinking in a productive way.
SANDY: I love that.
NICHOLE: So right now I have a book of Star Trek patterns.
SANDY: Oh my god!
NICHOLE: I love the original series, so I am cross-stitching a pattern for a friend of mine that I’m gonna send as a surprise, and I hope she doesn’t hear this. But (BOTH laugh) —
SANDY: Fortunately we’re pretty new.
NICHOLE: Yeah. So I am currently cross-stitching Star Trek stuff.
SANDY: I love it. My What’s Helping Today — I was thinking about it. I’ve been stressed out, there’s a bunch of bummer news, you know? But last night I had dinner with a friend who’s also been coming out as nonbinary, and I would say it’s like my friend who I’m seeing that happen to sort of, like, after me, you know what I mean? Like, I came out last year, started to kind of more publicly. And so I was having dinner with them last night, and just talking about that, just sharing that, just getting to just talk about stuff, you know? Bodies, sex, feelings, people, all of it. Just unloading for hours. One of those dinners where it’s like you sat down at 6:30, you look up it’s 8:45. And so that’s what’s helping me today is — is — is getting to just talk with someone else who’s also going through a version of it, and — and to share, and to just be able to feel for a moment a little less completely alone with — with all this kind of stuff. So yeah, that’s what’s helping me today. All right. Oh, Nicole, thank you so much for being on Mad Chat and bringing your — your astonishing knowledge of Frasier to the world.
NICHOLE: Oh my gosh, I could talk about Frasier all day.
SANDY: It’s apparent. And listen, we could just keep going.
[FRASIER THEME MUSIC]
SANDY: Next time on Mad Chat I’m gonna be chatting about the show that I think is probably the reason I wanted to start this podcast. It’s oh so pretty and oh so problematic from a mental health standpoint. It’s —
[BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES THEME MUSIC]
SANDY: Batman, The Animated Series. I am absolutely thrilled to be joined in conversation with Yassir Lester, the absolutely hilarious comedian. Do not miss this episode. It drops in three weeks.
[MAD CHAT CREDITS MUSIC]
SANDY: Mad Chat is produced by Lee Mengistu. Our theme music by Lee Mengistu and Ruthie Williams. Our Social Media and Community Manager is Rachel Charlene Lewis, welcome to the show, Rachel. Join Rachel online for more discussion about today’s episode: @madchatshow on Twitter and Instagram, and Mad Chat Show on Facebook. Illustration and design by Chris Ritter. Tell us #whatshelpingtoday and Chris might illustrate your answer, how cool is that? Episode transcripts by Alex Cornacchia; find those and more resources and recommendations related to this episode at madchatshow.com. [1:15:00] Thanks today to Argot Studios. I am Sandy Allen, author of A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia; more about me and my work at hellosandyallen.com. This is Mad Chat. Thanks for listening. Chat with you again in three weeks.
SANDY: This is Dr. Frasier Crane wishing you all good mental health. Good night, Seattle!