Second Look: Frasier Season 1 Episode 19 – “Give Him the Chair!”

Frasier Give Him the Chair!

Frasier Season 1, Episode 19 “Give Him the Chair!”
Written by Chuck Ranberg & Anne Flett-Giordano
Directed by James Burrows
Aired by March 17, 1994 on NBC

It’s been (mostly) a rough go for Frasier since its memorable first holiday episode; however, a dip in creative quality certainly hasn’t hampered the young comedy from stretching its storytelling legs a bit, with episodes about Niles, Marty’s romantic life – and of course, Lilith’s memorable first appearance. “Give Him the Chair!”, in a lot of ways, is a return to the series’ early quality, a Frasier/Marty-centric episode with a trio of terrific one-off characters, and a beautifully understated resolution acting as a prescient reminder of what this series is capable of when everything is properly calibrated.

Part of this stems from “Give Him the Chair!” keeping it very simple; one might not think “Frasier throws out Marty’s chair” could carry a 22-minute episode; but if Frasier‘s proven anything with episodes like “Death Becomes Him”, simpler is better for a show still trying to find the right balance with its side characters (some of which haven’t exactly worked, like Roz’s behavior in “And the Whimper Is…”). After Frasier watches Marty patch up yet another tear in his worn sofa chair with electrical tape, Frasier is encouraged (by Niles, whose penchant for causing chaos is becoming well-established) to buy his father an expensive leather massage lounger, one capable of putting Frasier, Niles, and Daphne alike into near-orgasmic states with a touch of a button.

Frasier Give Him the Chair!

And for its first act, “Give Him the Chair!” seems content with leaning heavy on its humor; Malcolm McDowell guests in the opening scene as a German radio guest trying to hit on Roz, followed by Niles accidentally losing a necklace for Maris down Daphne’s blouse; reading that back, it sounds like a precursor for a episode full of slapstick Frasier horniness – but there’s a slight shift when Niles deludes Frasier to dump Marty’s couch for something more aesthetically pleasing as a ‘favor’ to his father.

Spurred by his Niles’s devilish impulse to create chaos, “Give Him the Chair!” brings the brothers to a furniture store, where they’re greeted by the world’s most uninterested, gruff salesperson (character actor James Greene, contemporarily known as Councilman Milton on Parks and Recreation) and a particularly orgasmic leather massage chair, one just douchey-looking enough to fit in Frasier’s specific interior design. It’s classic Frasier comedy, an eccentric outside presence providing a bunch of texture in a scene full of Frasier and Niles hamming it up (when feeling the massage capabilities, Niles screams “Disgusting!”) – in isolation, the scene itself isn’t exactly a knee-slapper, but is humorous enough, and deceptive in how it sets the audience up for what’s to follow.

When Frasier returns home to surprise his father with the chair, “Give Him the Chair!” really begins to blossom, and shows Frasier‘s uncanny ability to mix a variety of elements together – not just in the arc of an episode, but in a single scene. It begins with Frasier making it clear the chair situation is about control – which makes sense, following an opening scene where his guest and producer completely pull the rug out from under him. As someone with major Protagonist Syndrome, a seemingly innocuous moment is a perfect catalyst for Frasier to spiral; and lest we forget, “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street” never offered us a resolution for the big argument between Frasier and his father, letting it fall to the background as it turned its attention to other, mostly superficial stories.

Frasier Give Him the Chair!

When Marty realizes Frasier’s put his chair into storage, however, the season’s core intergenerational conflict rages back to the forefront. Marty castigates Frasier for taking away the one thing that makes him feel like this was his home – not just what’s his home today, but a place familiar to him from the best moments of his life; watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon, seeing the Miracle on Ice… and having his wife wake him up with a kiss when he fell asleep in it every night. The control and peace Frasier seeks, Marty has – and in his selfish pursuit of removing anything he deems garish from his sight, realized he’s completely missed the point of his father’s desperate tape repairs.

(Thankfully, the episode provides a bit of comedic relief in the form of Leo, the building’s maintenance man who is a particularly amusing take on Frasier‘s “Gen X is always stoned” archetype. He’s played by Phil Buckman, whose at various points in time, has been bassist for Filter and Fuel).

What I really like is where “Give Him the Chair!” goes from there; after Roz helps track down the chair at a local middle school, Frasier finds himself negotiating with a stressed-out teacher (Valerie Curtin, completing the trio of terrific incidental characters) trying to put on a production of And There Were None (known then as Ten Little Indians… fortunately, they didn’t use the awful title of the UK version of the play). It’s played mostly for simple laughs, of course, the teacher straining to keep her sanity as children get sick, sets fall apart, and an annoying doctor tries to pull away the one stage prop bringing any character to the production.

But there’s an interesting bit of pathos lying under the scene in its silent resolution, where it appears Frasier negotiates the release of the chair for reprising his former role of Dr. Armstrong in the Agathe Christie-adapted play. As he takes a curtain call in full costume with his tween cast, Frasier makes a wonderful little nod to Frasier making a sacrifice for his father, to hopefully provide him with a bit of comfort in their shared home – even if it comes at the expense of his precious interior design, a tacit understanding that the pursuit of feng shui, in a way, is never truly complete or perfect.

Frasier Give Him the Chair!

Now, Frasier doesn’t embed these in its text, with a traditional sitcom resolution; but I consider it a strength, rather than a copout, for “Give Him the Chair!” to never show us Frasier returning the chair and the resulting smile on Marty’s face. We don’t need it; what’s important to this particular episode is Frasier’s penance for being a selfish dickhead, rightfully earned when he has to perform a play he’s mostly forgotten with a bunch of sweaty, underprepared (and probably sick) pre-teens. It’s a fitting punishment; and though Frasier certainly derives at least a little bit of pleasure from being in costume again, him acknowledging the fact he can’t always control his circumstances, and like his father, needs to adapt to the world around him by remembering who he is, and where he came from.

It’s a lot to extract from the final four minutes of the episode, but “Give Him the Chair!” pulls it off with confidence. It does leave the conflict feeling a bit slight in the overall scheme of things – but that’s ok, a perfect example of what a talented writer’s room can do with a traditional format when given a little bit of space to stretch their creative muscles. And with it, it solidifies a storytelling template Frasier will return to many times (for better or worse) throughout its run, with a slight shift in storytelling that sets it apart a bit from the many, many other traditionally-structured sitcoms of its era. Not a memorable episode by itself, but an integral part to the whole of Frasier‘s first season.

Grade: B+

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Roz’s story about hooking up with someone, breaking down, then making a date with a minister (“they aren’t celibate, are they? Not that I don’t love a challenge) is great, another building block in the mythos of one of the most sex-positive portrayals of single women on television in the 20th century (or the 21st, oddly enough).
  • Frasier kicks Daphne out of the new chair mid-massage: “Just like a man, now that you’ve had your fun, you don’t care where I am!”
  • Frasier, about the chair: “I’m sure it would fit right in alongside all of Maris’s 18th century antiques.” Niles: “well, then I’ll rent it an apartment and visit it on the side!”

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