Second Look: Frasier Season 1, Episode 18 – “And the Whimper Is…”

Frasier And the Whimper Is

Frasier Season 1, Episode 18 “And the Whimper Is…”
Written by Denise Moss & Sy Dukane
Directed by James Burrows
Aired February 17, 1994 on NBC

Despite a recent cold streak, Frasier heads into the final stretch of its freshman season on pretty solid ground, having arranged its random assemblage of parts into a (mostly) cohesive foundation. Though some of its characters lack a bit of depth, Frasier‘s clear understanding of its central cast and their strengths have allowed it room to display some impressive versatility, both comedically and emotionally – and more importantly, successfully worked to reinvent Frasier Crane and reshape him into a more dynamic character, one able to carry the weight as the protagonist of an ongoing narrative, a marked evolution (for better or worse) of the goofy heartbroken shell we left in Boston at the end of Cheers.

That’s led to some fascinating episodes reflecting on Frasier as a father, a husband, and a son – it’s also led to some episodes like “And the Whimper Is…”, one of numerous examples in this first season struggling to find pathos in Frasier’s romantic and professional life, and a classic example of a late 20th century sitcom showing the strains of producing two dozen quality scripts in a season.

Frasier And the Whimper Is

Like “I Hate Frasier Crane”, “Call Me Irresponsible” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” before it, “And the Whimper Is” is an episode designed to contend with Frasier’s hubris – which has blossomed in Seattle, despite his arrival on the west coast following the most humiliating months of his adult life. Frasier’s humilations thus far have come primarily through his fledlging radio career; “Whimper” is no different, an unfortunate sign early on the episode might unfortunately be one of the season’s more forgettable entries.

When Frasier and Roz are nominated for their first Seattle Broadcaster’s Award (the ‘SeeBees’), the two of them scramble to schmooze their way to the award, dropping any pretense of morality in pursuit of recognition – even after Marty admonishes them, noting that they could just go to the trophy store and buy an award if they really wanted to.

With Marty’s comments to Frasier and Roz, “And the Whimper Is…” seems to be setting itself to be something a bit more than its aforementioned spiritual predecessors; there’s an obvious arc to be seen with all three characters, whether they were to win or lose their nominations. But instead of integrating these ideas into the second half of the episode (set entirely at the awards show banquet) to find poignancy in their inevitable failure, “And the Whimper Is…” instead pulls back and settles for a much more joke-heavy, empty episode about Frasier’s ego and Roz’s desperation driving them mad for a taste of lasting celebrity (albeit locally, adding an additional sad note to their selfish behavior).

Frasier And the Whimper Is

Frasier‘s never shied away from using Frasier’s failures for humor or drama before (nor would it later); oddly, “Whimper” does neither, using most of its running time to… kind of just poke fun of Roz, who brings Noel as a date (the fuck?), and cries about being a loser after they don’t win anything; for a character who’s been in desperate need of a strong character showcase, Frasier is willing to rest on the laurels of Peri Gilpin’s underrated performance without bringing anything of note to her character.

Her behavior aside, what’s striking about “And the Whimper Is…” is just how lifeless it is – and appropriately titled, for all the wrong reasons. There’s just no meat on the bone here; “And the Whimper Is…” spends its second half forgetting everything from its first half, neither condemning or absolving Frasier and Roz for their incredibly ghoulish behavior. It doesn’t even embrace some of the low-hanging fruit, like Frasier blowing all this money just to lose (though it is foreshadowing when he wastes much of the expensive champagne he bought to celebrate his nomination), or how silly Roz’s one-dimensional view of her own career and value as a human is.

Don’t get me wrong, seeing Frasier walk off with a model while Roz cries is funny, but it is acerbic in a way Frasier hasn’t quite earned with her character. But the entire second half of the episode is unremarkably static, both visually and narratively, and has the gall to end on such a sheepish, weightless punchline, in a way that makes the entire thing feel like an frustratingly incomplete thought – for not one, but two characters, which makes its limp ending (where Roz drinks and Frasier presumably gets laid) so much more frustrating.

Frasier And the Whimper Is

On its own, the second half of the episode could’ve provided the basis for a great bottle episode by itself; tacked on to a more textured, interesting first half, however, and it makes “And the Whimper Is…” feel like a huge missed opportunity – an unintentional side effect of an episode clearly designed to be largely inconsequential, but a predictable result for one with such a frustrating dichotomy between its halves. Ultimately, it is a morality play without any sense of its own morality; Frasier loses, he gets the girl, Roz cries, and credits roll – that’s really all there is, a laughably thin structure the script has nowhere near enough quality punchlines or running bits to keep up with.

Weirdly structured and thoroughly superficial, “Whimper” is a terrible introduction to The SB Awards, a plot mainstay of Frasier through its 11 seasons, and one that would occasionally find some cathartic value in its send ups of pretentious award shows and the people participating in them. “And the Whimper Is…” is nothing of the sort, an underwhelming 22 minutes that, by the end, gives the feeling season one has hit the proverbial ‘rookie wall’ pretty hard, and might be running on fumes as it heads into the final half-dozen episodes of its freshman effort.

Grade: D

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Frasier’s existentialist club once named him “Most Likely to Be.” This is the funniest joke in “And the Whimper Is….”
  • Why does Frasier keep making Roz go on dates with Noel? Why wouldn’t she just go alone to the SB’s if her hot Channel 8 date couldn’t make it?
  • Why the hell is there a “Miss SB,” and how would one win that award?
  • Bebe meeting Niles is amusing, if only because her presence breathes much-needed life into this episode. Also see: Marty’s reaction to Bebe flirting with him, which is hilarious.
  • The closing tag, where a depressed Roz drinks with Fletcher’s ancient mother, is pretty adorable.

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