Second Look: Frasier Season 1 Episode 9 – “Selling Out”
Frasier Season 1, Episode 9 “Selling Out”
Written by Lloyd Garver
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Aired November 11, 1993 on NBC
We’ve already gotten a taste of Frasier Crane’s complicated relationship with his ethics in “Call Me Irresponsible” – but if the lessons of that half hour didn’t take, “Selling Out” is here to pontificate on Dr. Crane, the radio psychologist, and his willingness to compromise his reputation for the sake of material benefit. Instead of wading into the extremely complicated world of romantic and professional entanglement, “Selling Out” smartly takes a simpler route to understanding Frasier’s morality – by waving large wads of cash in front of him (in the form of on-air endorsements), and watching him squirm.
There are two things often driving Frasier to his most outlandish comedic places: moral dilemmas and personal misunderstandings. Both, of course, are driven by Frasier’s desperate insecurity; his constant social compromises and faux pas are driven by his incessant need to be perceived as a man of status and class – look no further than his insistence about how important his opinion is to the “thousands” of listeners in Seattle, and how they live for his every word and recommendation, for this man’s perception of his own inflated place in the world.
In “Selling Out”, Frasier is faced with another professional temptation (this time, not of the flesh), when he finds out what companies are willing to pay for an on-air recommendation. After acquiescing to recommend a local Chinese restaurant – where he can only get a table by mentioning himself by name – Frasier is wooed by his new dramatic agent Bebe Glazer (Harriet Sansom Harris, in her first of many appearances) to continue hawking products with on-air endorsements, something Frasier grows continuously uncomfortable with as the episode progresses.
The thoroughline is pretty simple; Frasier puts up little resistance to his own supposed values, especially once Niles points out Frasier gave up his professional integrity the moment he went on-air and became a pop psychologist. In that way, I kind of appreciate “Selling Out” putting its protagonist (and the industry he works in, in a way) through the ringer; Frasier is always willing to point out how full of shit Frasier often is, furthering the contrast of Frasier as someone of integrity and empathy, but as obnoxious and selfish as the worst of us. With Bebe whispering in his ear, Frasier falls a gentle victim to his own hubris; it isn’t long before he’s considering starring in a distasteful television ad, under some thin guise of having tuition money to send Frederick to college (she mentions projections for college prices in 2010, which should engender a laugh from anyone under the age of 40).
Later episodes of the series would be willing to throw Frasier completely to the wolves (to increasingly minimal comedic effect), but “Selling Out” is a more muted take on Frasier’s capitalistic culpability. Frasier eventually backs out of the commercial, unwilling to completely compromise his integrity for the sake of a check, and later watches TV to see Dr. Joyce Brothers, longtime TV personality and pop psychologist, starring in his place (in a rare “industry” cameo for Frasier).
Of course, the damage is already done: his willingness to degrade himself to endorse Chinese food and hot tubs (or you know… the whole “willing to date a caller’s ex” thing a few weeks ago) makes it pretty clear how Frasier caves to social pressure, especially when the twin birds of prosperity and fame are singing in his ear. Though he’s come west in search of his authentic self, Frasier’s proclivity to assimilate himself into his surroundings remains consistent from his days in Boston; though it is often shown as what allows him to connect with other human beings, “Selling Out” makes it clear Frasier’s personality is not always endearing, and has an unsettling pattern of justifying some abhorrent elitism out of nothing but indignant self-righteousness.
Where “Selling Out” is not muted is the introduction of Bebe, Frasier’s cigarette-ripping, manipulative agent (“I’m an agent, not a pimp”, she insists to Frasier). Watching her manipulative Frasier is always a pleasure, and her introduction brings an otherwise tepid episode to life; sure, her animated, deliciously vicious approach to business is a bit on-the-nose, but it is a treat to see someone who probably understands and analyzes people faster and more efficiently than Frasier himself. Here, she almost presents a natural extension of what Dr. Crane could become; her role would expand a bit later on, but her presence as a catalyst to push Frasier into uncomfortable places in life is given a wonderful genesis in “Selling Out”.
Despite that, “Selling Out” has one big flaw: it needs more Niles. As a new, unfamiliar entity, there’s only so much Bebe can do to challenge (and enlighten) Frasier throughout the episode. She works as a fun bit of color added to the world, but the psychological self-examinations the brothers often force on each other are missing here – we get a phenomenal scene where Niles excoriates Frasier’s sense of professional integrity, but there’s no follow up, which makes its impact a bit muted in its final moments. Frasier takes the easy route by feigning toward Frasier keeping his integrity intact; Niles certainly wouldn’t excuse his last-minute decision to abandon the commercial, and it’s unfortunate “Selling Out” doesn’t bring him back to dunk on him a final time.
That’s not the wrong decision, per se: but it does soften the blow on Frasier’s moral character, and makes the examination of his values and motivators a bit more superficial than I would’ve expected – especially after “Beloved Infidel”, which found such a balance in exploring the Crane family’s complicated history with things like legacy, honesty, and making forward-thinking decisions. It would be silly to fault “Selling Out” for not being a sitcom episode, of course – and “Selling Out” is one of the funnier episodes of this early batch, for sure – but the episode’s third act leaves a lot on the table, and ends with a whimper, rather than the bang it has already proven itself perfectly capable of delivering.
- Boy, Bulldog’s racist radio ad is not as funny as people thought it was in 1993.
- Niles, referencing The Seven Year Itch: “You’re like that actress who let everyone look up her skirt in that movie, then complained that nobody took her seriously as an actress… have you seen that movie? Maris and I rented that video – I don’t mind telling you we pushed our beds together that night. And that was no mean feat; as you know, her room is across the hall.”
- Bebe: “I am an agent, not a pimp.”
- The caller who has to endure Frasier’s asshole monologue is none other than legend Carl Reiner.
- Just for the record: Niles would do a nude scene, if it were integral to the plot.
- I know it is coming, but Frasier‘s underutilization of Roz continues to frustrate.
- Frasier describes Daphne like an artichoke, after Daphne tells a story about how she starred on the British children’s program Mind Your Knickers. I really wish this was a plot point the series revisited at some point, but it never does – however, Daphne’s canon history is one of a child star, which says so much about her personality!
- Frasier and Marty discussing the seating of Hollywood Squares to close out the episode is a wonderful touch.