Second Look: Frasier Season 1 Episode 13 – “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?”
Frasier Season 1, Episode 13 “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?”
Written by Molly Newman
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Aired January 6, 1994 on NBC
Frasier‘s strongest asset in its early episodes is the dynamic between Frasier and Marty Crane – in a lot of ways, it’s all the first half-season is about. Through a dozen entries, stories like Niles’ marriage and Roz’s dating life but a faint blip against the compelling combination of low comedy and high drama between father and son – but thanks to some incredibly focused writing and natural chemistry between performers, Frasier‘s built itself a strong foundation with this dynamic… that is, until “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?”, otherwise known as the first completely forgettable Frasier episode.
The loose structure of “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?” is akin to a redux of “Space Quest”; Marty is dating again (and this time, has a sexy sleepover), which sends Frasier into an embarrassing series of follies, including blabbing about his father’s sex life on his radio show (twice). What begins as an innocuous (if slightly hacky) scene of double entendres in Frasier’s kitchen quickly becomes a grating rhythm of undercooked jokes and overperforming, particularly in the form of Grammar’s twitchy face gyrations as Frasier tries to contend with the idea of his father having sex in the apartment they share.
Rather than try and make a Marty-focused story on his blossoming relationship or how this affects Frasier in a meaningful way, the episode instead takes a much uglier, shallower turn. Frasier talks about Elaine, his father’s date, on the radio (which all of her friends listen to, being right in the Frasier Q-zone), leading her to break up with him – that is, until Frasier again makes a big show of their relationship on the radio, and then she suddenly wants to see him again. Rather than treat Frasier’s “noble” gestures as what they are (Frasier’s jealous that his father is dating again, something the episode doesn’t ever address), “Coming to Breakfast” rewards his childish behavior – and in the process, defeats the purpose of the entire conflict, reducing it to a forgettable little story of laughs.
For a series that’s already shown a disposition for building resonant intergenerational conflict between father and son, “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?” feels like it takes place in a bizarro Frasier world. This is not only an episode where Frasier embarrasses his father twice (the second time it… works?), but one where Roz goes on a date with Noel fucking Chemsky, a clear sign this episode takes place somewhere far outside the true canon of Frasier.
Being Noel’s first appearance, of course, we’ve only been subject to a small taste of Frasier‘s empty critique of what it perceives “nerd” culture to be (usually Star Trek jokes). Even in the moment, though, Roz’s explanation of him being a nice, sweet guy makes no fucking sense; though Roz’s first handful of appearances have been primarily complaining about work and men, it makes no sense she would subject herself to the pathetic oddity that is Noel. She can barely make it through her justification with a straight face; by the time he shows up with a spice rack, the audience is howling and it’s clear Roz is once again draw the short straw for the episode.
Oddly enough, Roz/Noel is not the weirdest nonsensical element of “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?”; that prize goes to the final moments of the episode, where for a brief flicker of a second, Frasier teases a connection forming between Frasier and… Daphne? After Frasier’s turned his father’s courtship into a shitshow in his hallway, the two of them stand there and reflect on the evening (basically, Frasier notes the 63-year old with a bum hip is getting laid while he’s in the hallway). She makes a comment about what they’re looking for “possibly being right under their noses”… and for a brief instant, Frasier flirts with an idea so bad it would rival Joey/Rachel as the worst romantic pairing in 1990’s NBC sitcom history.
It’s a real “what the fuck were they thinking?” kind of moment, the third and largest of the episode (the first two being the plot resolution and Roz/Noel). Even viewed as a forgettable filler episode, “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?” ignores the tenants of long network sitcoms and having consistent sense of character and place (we don’t even get a goddamn coffee shop scene, the entire episode taking place in Frasier’s apartment and radio booth) – it really feels nothing like the first dozen episodes of the series… and honestly, even some of the later, lesser episodes, half hours with the sense to at least maintain some logic to its characters and their behavior.
After finishing 1993 on such a strong run with “Death Becomes Him” and “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street”, “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast?” is an extremely underwhelming way for the show to open 1994, all the emotional momentum halted in favor of a regrettable story of Frasier’s immaturity and hubris and a half-hearted attempt at slapstick with a lot of overexaggerated facial expressions (unfortunately, a preview of what is to come in the show’s later years) – topped by, of course, that head scratcher of a final moment. Devoid of anything humorous or emotionally rewarding, “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast” is the first truly disappointing episode of the young sitcom.
- NBC must’ve advertised the return of Must See TV quite heavily in the winter of 1993: along with Frasier, Seinfeld and Wings also had their highest-rated episodes of their respective seasons on January 6th, 1994, when “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast” aired. Some also might remember that date for another reason: it is also the same day Nancy Kerrigan was attacked. Maybe everyone was just waiting for the 11pm news.
- Niles – “Frasier I have a very sore head and a crackerjack lawyer, so don’t crowd me.”
- Arguably the biggest canned laugh comes from Frasier saying “Banger, dad?” … sigh.
- There’s a hint of something compelling broached when Frasier talks about freezing people in roles we’re comfortable with, but the episode never grasps it in any kind of interesting way.
- “I’m Frasier Crane, the loooove doctor.” No. Just no.