Second Look: Frasier Season 1 Episode 12 – “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street”
Frasier Season 1, Episode 12 “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street”
Written by Christopher Lloyd
Directed by James Burrows
Aired December 16, 1993 on NBC
Holiday episodes are often an opportunity for sitcoms to rest on their laurels a bit; often, it comes in the middle of a first season network order, a perfect time to throw in a splashy celebrity cameo, opine emptily on the ‘true’ meaning of the holidays – or offer a re-pilot of sorts, resetting expectations with the now-developed characters at its core. “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street”, instead, is a rather ambitious episode for the young Frasier, rejecting the assumptions of bright, superficial holiday episodes for an enticing mix of melancholy and hope, of regret and possibility, in an unassuming half-hour with one of the show’s finest third acts.
Following the office Christmas party (where Frasier, the new guy, gets tasked with driving the station’s aggressive holiday drinker home), Frasier gets into a shouting argument with his father over Christmas decorations. Angered that Frederick wouldn’t be coming to visit, Frasier lashes out as his father with an epic shouting match, one that ends with Niles looking uncomfortably to the floor and Eddie burying his head under the pillow.
One might comfortably assume this is the conflict at the episode’s core; instead, it just continues getting worse for Frasier, when he decides to take a Christmas shift at the radio station to get out of the house for a few hours. He inadvertently ruins Roz’s Christmas when she has to come into work, and spends the entire day listening to the most hopeless, depressing callers imaginable – it’s so bad he sends Roz home early because she’s crying her eyes out at the despair she’s hearing come through the phone lines.
Once Roz goes off-screen 14 minutes and 30 seconds into the episode, we don’t see the supporting cast of “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street” – Frasier doesn’t reconcile with his family onscreen, isn’t able to deliver the powerful, resonant closing monologue to his radio show that will save every sad person in the city. Instead, writer Christopher Lloyd (in his first credited script since “I Hate Frasier Crane”) sets the episode’s third act in a local diner, where a raggedy-looking Frasier sits down for a meal of turkey log (and yule log!) alongside what is assumed to be a few unhoused locals.
There aren’t a lot of jokes or outlandish moments in the 8-minute scene; Frasier simply enjoys a meal with a few of society’s forgotten, and then leaves to go back to his empty apartment, to end his holiday on a quiet, peaceful note.
That is, until he realizes he’s forgotten his wallet at the office: and when the others in the restaurant realize this, they take up an offering among the other homeless to help pay for his dinner. While the assumption that the well-spoken, recognizable face of Frasier Crane could be mistaken for a homeless man is a bit of a stretch, “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street” finds a poignant moment when the man he shared his dinner with (played by the prolific John Finn), gathers money for his plate and reminds him that the other 364 days of the year are for the rich, and Christmas is the one time when it seems everybody’s eyes open a little bit further to see all of humanity.
Is it a self-prophesizing moment, the elitist Frasier being helped by those who’d benefit from him just not being a capitalist? I think it depends on how genuine Frasier’s reaction feels; thanks to Grammar’s performance, it’s hard not to read it as a humbling, meaningful moment for Frasier. Even for a man who’s shown a proclivity towards empty proclamations and promises, his assertion is a powerful one – especially when Finn’s character flips Frasier a coin and tells him to call his father. Smartly, it marries the emotional arc of the episode to Frasier and his father, rather than to make some point about class intersection and the power of the plebs to open the eyes of the rich; instead, the episode finds its texture in the emotions of the episode, reconciling Frasier’s isolated, lonely holiday… without ever bringing another main character on screen, which is a beautiful way to bring balance, and potency, to the episode’s closing moments.
The slow isolation of Frasier from his family and friends is meticulously crafted to stage that final scene, which walks the fine line between resonant and cheesy in equally admirable fashion before dipping into silliness in the final two minutes, when Frasier tries to exit quietly in his Lexus without anyone noticing. Lloyd’s script is a smartly crafted to create that emotional space, as well; the farther it moves from Frasier’s normal world and social circle, the less humorous things get, until Frasier’s walking the streets of Seattle alone, disillusioned by the plethora of depressing phone calls, and finding hope in those whose lives are permanently more conflicted and sad than his own.
Of course, without characters like Marty around for those final moments, means “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street” can’t offer the potent resolutions of “The Good Son” or “Beloved Infidel”, of course – and by offering such a simplistic, idealistic view of the world through its most downtrodden characters, feels a little rose-tinted in its critical moments of societal reflection. However, it still works quiet well at serving its function in an unorthodox way: as a holiday episode distinctly constructed as a subversive first season entry, “Miracle” works perfectly as a tone piece alongside Frasier‘s overarching narrative of redemption and forgiveness, of the optimism found when life seems to be at its most conflicted. At that, “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street” is an unmitigated success, and to this day, remains appointment viewing in my household every year, one of my favorite holiday episodes of the 20th century.
- Niles having Daphne wear dresses he “bought” for Maris is a few shades too creepy for me.
- Father Mike tries to recreate the nativity scene during the office party, a hilarious throwaway joke I wish they’d follow up on.
- Kathryn Danielle Hirsch doesn’t have a ton of credits past her role as Bonnie Weems in this episode – however, she was in two episodes of Mr. Robot, which will never not be funny to me.
- Maris shoots shotguns? At animals?
- Frasier examines his meal at the diner: “He didn’t exactly dally over the remoulade.”
- Eddy drinking Niles’ coffee is a great visual gag, one that doesn’t show up in Frasier highlights enough.
- Marty, on the phone: “It’s the nag.” Frasier: “Hello, Lilith.”