Second Look: Frasier Season 1, Episode 20 – “Fortysomething”

Frasier Fortysomething

Frasier Season 1, Episode 20 “Fortysomething”
Written by Sy Dukane & Denise Moss
Directed by Rick Beren
Aired March 31, 1994 on NBC

“Fortysomething” is not just a mediocre Frasier episode – it’s one of those ’90s sitcom episodes that would never be produced in the 21st century. It’s not for the absence of a quality premise, of course; Frasier pondering the nature of his own mortality is a terrific prompt to throw Dr. Crane into a spastic fit of gloom and anxiety and would seem a natural pairing of topic and subject, especially with such a generational dichotomy between Frasier and his father Marty. Instead, “Fortysomething” takes its ponderings on aging and filters it through a story of… Frasier weighing the morality of dating a 22 year old, in what is easily the most head scratching, odd episode of the first season.

It’s too bad, because I love where the episode begins; when Frasier realizes he’s starting to forget things pretty regularly, he works himself up into the usual panic, spurred on by father and brother, who insist it may be time to make some changes to his habits (and fashion, to Frasier’s absolute horror). At first glance, “Fortysomething” seems to be dabbling in a bit of existentialism – that is, until he meets Keri while shopping for clothes, a friendly, young saleswoman who makes it very obvious she’s crushing on Seattle’s hit radio psychiatrist.

Frasier Fortysomething

At that point, the episode becomes a bit less about Frasier contending with aging (as Niles points out, 55 is only middle age if you live to 110), and turns into a morality play about dating, and whether a 41 year old psychiatrist is able to tell his dick from his brain when presented with a young, naive and pretty woman. Oh, and how Frasier does tussle with the moral trappings of society, turning to a combination of Niles, Bulldog, and Roz to help him try and decipher the four-dimensional puzzle of whether he should date someone ostensibly young enough to be his daughter, or whether his mind is warped by a midlife crisis.

Two of these interactions are exactly what you’d expect (Bulldog and Roz both say “fuck it, hit that”); the third, with Niles, is a bit more nuanced, and the one moment of the episode that feels like it’s reaching for something other than “will Frasier bang a recent college graduate? And feel guilty??”. As Frasier tries to work through his feelings, Niles reminds him that at the end of the day, Frasier’s life is his to live, and he should live it as he sees fit. That means making decisions that he’s comfortable with, not decisions where that make the world comfortable around him; while I wish this conversation was happening in just about any other context, the point he makes is a salient one (to a degree; lest we forget, Niles lives in a world where criminal behavior and incivility simply don’t exist) about finding peace in your own comfort, in trusting your own morality to guide you in moments where you don’t trust your instincts.

(No, Frasier’s forgetfulness is never revisited, a fitting allegory for Frasier’s distracted mind, I suppose).

Frasier Fortysomething

And honestly, I can’t argue with where the episode ends; it’s not exactly pleasant to see Frasier admit he was willing to date the younger woman, but watching him squirm by revealing Keri to be the mature one, admitting that she also struggled with the concept of dating an older man, deciding it would be too weird in the long run. It’s an unintended moment of honesty – and really, not the greatest look for Frasier, whose sexual desperation would occasionally be fodder in later seasons – but there’s no denying it is an honest one, with Frasier scrambling to try and establish that he too thought it a mature decision for them not to date. If anything, there’s a willingness to paint Frasier as something assailable, as a flawed person who is a bit depraved and constantly fighting with his own morality.

Sure, it’s a decidedly unflattering way to paint the protagonist of your young sitcom, but it does add a bit of texture to Frasier Crane – and more importantly, rightfully shames him for leading once again with his dick, rather than his Ivy League-trained brain. Not Frasier‘s finest hour, but one that oddly enough, stays true to itself, which is something I can admire, if not entirely enjoy watching.

Grade: C-

Other thoughts/observations:

  • For people who insist the word ‘gaslighting’ was a 21st century invention, please note the opening scene where Roz admits she’s doing exactly that to Frasier.
  • Bulldog: “Excuse me, you look very familiar… didn’t I let you pour a flaming tequila shooter down my throat at Sloppy Nick’s during last year’s Indy 500.” “No.” “Well, whatcha doing next Memorial Day?”
  • In ’74, Marty went through his own midlife crisis, and dyed his hair jet black, bought a leather jacket, and a Harley Davidson. “My god, Dad, you look like one of the village people… are those love beads?”
  • Frasier and Niles talk about becoming a cliche like the “buffoon Stanley Barrister”, whose age difference sounds to be about double Frasier and Keri’s would be.
  • Niles, always with the bangers: “You are 41, and obviously not wearing a toupee.”
  • This week’s caller is Rachel (Reba McEntire), a woman who “accidentally” drops her husband’s first wife’s ashes on the floor.
  • Love the closing credits, where Eddie stoically watches Daphne fold one pair of exciting striped boxers into the neatly folded pile of Marty’s boring, while laundry.

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