Second Look: Frasier Season 1, Episode 21 – “Travels with Martin”

Frasier Travels with Martin

Frasier Season 1, Episode 21 “Travels with Martin”
Written by Linda Morris & Vic Rauseo
Directed by James Burrows
Aired April 14, 1994 on NBC

After a run of episodes flopping around in the shallow end, Frasier heads back into more familiar waters with “Travels with Martin”, putting disappointing romantic stories and office dramas aside for an episode squarely focused on the Crane men and their impromptu family trip to Mount Rushmore. This isn’t a complete return to the more serious, abrasive dynamics of the show’s first episodes, however; in a lot of ways, “Travels with Martin” is a perfect microcosm of season one’s triumphs and struggles, its many developed elements mixing together in an enjoyable (if not entirely memorable) episode.

After Frasier offers to take his father on a vacation, the two agree to rent a Winnebago and take a week-look excursion to “add another landmark to the list”. Of course, this means transporting the Crane men’s interactions from inside Frasier’s apartment (with its many doors, walls, and other escape routes) into the much smaller, tighter set of an RV interior. The proximity isn’t played for the kinds of boisterous drama of recent episodes, though: it quickly turns into a bit of a character study, as Frasier abandons his careful ways in pursuit of a Kerouacian adventure on America’s highways, following nothing but a vibe to the South Dakotan memorial.

Frasier Travels with Martin

It makes for an interesting inversion of its two biggest personalities: Frasier, suddenly the person willing to embrace the outdoors and trust nature to guide his course – and by the same token, Marty, suddenly obsessed with meeting specific time markers and taking a very designated route (a much more controlled attitude than “pass me electric tape so I can repair this new tear” Marty of recent weeks). For the first time, maybe ever, it seems the Frasier men are having fun with each other, embodying their new identities as they careened across the highway in pursuit of making memories.

Unfortunately, “Travels with Martin” diverges from the road trip fairly quickly (in more ways than one). Once Marty is convinced to stop obsessing over directions and enjoy the ride, Frasier accidentally drives them across the border into Canada. And at first, it’s strictly for mounty and taxidermy jokes; with Daphne still awaiting her green card, “Travels with Martin” starts to fall back on recent habits to fill empty space with silly diversions and a lot of superficial, performative comedy. Most of this comes while everyone sweats out a pushy border patrol officer sniffing around the RV as they attempt to re-enter the States – and none of it is really all that funny (or compelling), which is an absolute momentum killer for the Marty/Frasier scenes earlier in the road trip.

Frasier Travels with Martin

Thankfully, “Travels with Martin” is smart enough to dissolve the border situation quickly – and does so by quietly showing the Crane men adapt by reverting to their most familiar forms. Frasier panics they’re going to be arrested, leaving Daphne stranded in Canada – and Marty’s not worried about a thing, relying on his own experience as a uniformed officer to dissolve his children’s anxieties, and help diffuse the quickly deteriorating border situation (by cleverly showing his police badge to the patrol officer when showing his identification). While it’s unfortunate to see Daphne placed in the background of her own subplot (except when, you know… Niles is videotaping her sleep), it is an interesting micro-study of father and son, and how quickly they revert to familiar roles in times of stress (father relying on son, rather than son pushing father outside of his comfort zone, for example).

The Canadian dramatics barely leave enough room for the terrific closing scene – but thankfully, “Travels with Martin” saves the last two minutes for another classic father/son moment. While an overexcited Niles and stressed out Daphne rest in the back of the camper, Frasier and Marty admit to each other the sleeping pair where brought along as buffers – because even after six-plus months spent living together, they’re afraid to hang out with each other alone (which I think is familiar to any son with their father, at some point in their lives).

Frasier Travels with Martin

Their talk quickly turns to excitement and laughs (the latter at Maris’s expense, of course), and gives “Travels with Martin” this lovely third-act coda of father and son driving until the sun comes up, to keep their trip – and the rare moments the two feel like they understand each other and do know what to say – going just a little bit longer.

“Travels with Martin” is an unintentional, but meaningful, microcosm of Frasier‘s freshman season; when its focused on the Crane family and their interactions, Frasier feels much more mature than most comedies in just their 21st episode. However, Frasier is a series quickly developing a proclivity for being a more traditional, silly sitcom (and we haven’t even gotten into the show’s obsession with farce); that dichotomy has driven it to some disappointing places in the middle of season one, and is almost disruptive enough in this episode to take away from the show’s biggest strengths. But while “Travels with Martin” is not a perfect episode, it’s definitely a fitting one, a half hour putting the strengths (and occasionally, bad habits) of the series on full display, right in time for season one’s closing trio of episodes.

Grade: B

Other thoughts/observations:

  • “Sure. Sure? Sure!”
  • Niles putting on a baseball cap. That is all.
  • “Oh Winnebago boy” is still a joke I make to people; I don’t think anyone has ever gotten it.
  • “The Gally Pagos Islands?” Marty is not one for geography.
  • Can we state again how fucking creepy Niles is in this episode? The closing credits sting… whoo boy, that is just unpleasant.
  • “I want to take you on vacation.” “… Why?”
  • “This calls for a celebration! I think I’ve got a couple of beers… and there’s a bag of pork rinds back here somewhere!”

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