Second Look: Frasier Season 1 Episode 14 – “Can’t Buy Me Love”
Frasier Season 1, Episode 14 “Can’t Buy Me Love”
Written by Chuck Ranberg & Anne Flett-Giordano
Directed by James Burrows
Aired January 20, 1994 on NBC
Versatility is Frasier‘s double-edged sword; with such capable lead performers, the writers of Frasier were offered a creative freedom in how they deployed the idiosyncrasies of its headstrong characters. Some episodes relied on irony, others emotionally-charged climaxes – and increasingly as the series grew long in the tooth, farce, perhaps its greatest tool of self-destruction. How its writers deployed its punchlines and bigger ideas is always fascinating, especially in this first season, which has run the gamut from the tearful final moments of “Beloved Infidel” to episodes like “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” – the latter of which is a perfect encapsulation of so many late-season Frasier episodes in each of its 11 seasons.
“Can’t Buy Me Love” spurns its two main stories from a single event; Marty helping run a fundraiser – one of those ‘classic’ 90s fundraisers where dates are auctioned off in front of panting audiences (in this case, completely unseen), of course. Among those auctioned off are Frasier and Bulldog; the former is ‘purchased’ by a Hot Model named Kristina, and Bulldog by a empathetic Daphne, who figured her opening bid wouldn’t be the only on the short, aggressive sports radio host.
From there, “Can’t Buy Me Love” takes two paths; after Frasier learns the model is a fan of his radio show (vigorously stroking his ego, of course), the doctor ends up spending most of the episode with her daughter Renata, a petulant child who spouts a bunch of lies about her mother to him. He yells, Kristina points out he’s an idiot and teases him about not getting laid, and… that’s about it.
To say the A plot is an empty one would be misleading; “Can’t Buy Me Love” is a distinctly inconsequential episode of the series, by design, though one that distinctly grounds itself in more familiar reality on the Seattle counterbalance (Roz isn’t still dating Noel or anything, is what I mean). But keeping Kristina off screen the entire episode leaves Frasier with nothing to do but make jokes about how he doesn’t understand millennials; this amounts to a scene of Frasier listening to her say “no way” on the phone for two minutes, if you’re wondering how deep its intergenerational examination gets.
Without a romantic dynamic to play off of (until Frasier yells at her in his living room, of course), the episode relies on Frasier and a young teenager connecting with each other – something Frasier is distinctly not interested in doing, given there’s not even an attempt to bridge his experience with Renata with his own as a father. It doesn’t offer anything in the other direction, either: Marty’s brief appearances are limited to the beginning and end of the episode, where he reminds Frasier that sometimes kids never grow out of the obnoxious ways of their younger years.
The other path “Can’t Buy Me Love” takes, unfortunately, is even more slight and weightless: it’s a four-minute scene of Daphne and Bulldog in the back of a limo, getting shitfaced while they’re stuck in traffic. If hearing Daphne talk shit to Bulldog while he tries to get her to drink more sounds like fun to you, then this scene will be a treat; for the rest of us, though, this scene is just an undercooked bit that carries on too long, in an episode clearly uninterested in developing anything in the core dynamics between (or within) its main characters.
There are ways to kill time during a long season that at least feign towards depth; Frasier certainly proves over the years it can handle anything from a meaningful, quiet monologue to the loud histrionics of a Crane-style farce, but “Can’t Buy Me Love” is definitively not one of those episodes. It hinges its entire plot on a reveal that really doesn’t mean anything – Renata was lying to Frasier the whole time, to get back at her mother – only to revel in Frasier’ the Sad Clown’s misery (which I certainly enjoy, when deployed with thoughtfulness, which it is not here). But it’s all a bunch of empty punchlines tethered to nothing; it doesn’t connect to Frasier’s love life or his journey as a father or a son, nor does it offer anything to its other characters to flesh out the supporting cast. Without any of that, “Can’t Buy Me Love” is just a Frasier episode lacking in both ambition and conviction, hardly the first or last half hour of the series to float into the proverbial ether of nothingness.
- How the fuck do you make an episode about auctioning men, and only give Roz a single line? When she commands the Seahawks linebacker she bought is the best ten seconds of the episode, but it is all to brief an appearance.
- “If he back pedals any faster, he’ll trip over his walker.” That is the best zinger you’ll find in this dud.
- Frasier tells Renata to take the cookie dough and “put it in her pipe and smoke it.” How hip!