Second Look: Frasier Season 1 Episode 15 – “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover”
Frasier Season 1, Episode 15 “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover”
Written by David Lloyd
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Aired January 27, 1994 on NBC
Though the first season of Frasier‘s done a great job focusing on the three Crane men, it’s been a rougher go for the sitcom’s two starring women. Roz and Daphne have had brief opportunities to establish their strong personalities, but none of the first dozen-plus episodes have really offered either one any sort of narrative agency. “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover”, for the first half of its running time, seems to be in the same vein, biding its time with a rather pedestrian Frasier/Marty story – that is, until the episode shifts its gaze towards Daphne Moon, turning a rather undercooked episode into a much more entertaining, thoughtful episode about the strange, headstrong woman the Crane family’s brought into their reforming nucleus.
“You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover” certainly takes an unsuspecting route to get to its story of Daphne the English Pool Shark, with a premise one would expect Frasier to absolutely delight in. When Marty invites a few former colleagues and associates over to play cards, he challenges Frasier to pick out the one felon amongst them; continuing the trend of episodes like “I Hate Frasier Crane”, “Call Me Irresponsible”, and “Can’t Buy Me Love”, this story is really just about Frasier’s willingness to make snap judgments about people, his cocksure self righteousness once again turning distinguished psychologist into deserved comedic folly.
Unfortunately, the comedic value of Frasier observing Marty’s poker game is sorely lacking: save for some eye-rolling felon panic, “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover” leaves a lot of meat on the bone when it comes to shaming its protagonist for his idiotic analyzations (he assumes the woman is a felon because she might be a lesbian, after wrongly accusing the socially awkward one of being a convict). And as the episode leans into this story – Daphne agrees to go out with one of the men at the card game, who turns out to be the actual criminal – it turns its unnecessary moral panic into a more visceral one, which one would assume would lead the episode to lean into the show’s more underwhelming, superficial aspects.
But when Daphne agrees to go out with him over the Crane men’s loud (and lightly misogynistic) objections on their duty to “protect” her, “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover” suddenly shifts, finally establishing Daphne as someone with some agency in her own story – perhaps the first instance she’s had since her decision in “the pilot “The Good Son” to take a job working and residing with the Crane family. Suddenly, as Frasier and Niles try to track down Daphne to ‘save’ her, “You Can’t Tell a Crook” slowly begins to reveal the real purpose of its story, to introduce us to the poolhall slumming, ass-kicking English fireball who not only beats up her creepy date (offscreen, an underwhelming resolution to the episode’s first half, if we’re being honest), but hustles multiple men at the local biker bar out of their paychecks with her pool skills.
(Side note: Ken Levine wrote in his blog once about Jane Leeves and her scenes in this episode. She did not know how to play pool before this episode, and learns incredibly quickly – there are a lot of impressive action shots in this episode, and director Andy Ackerman gives Leeves so much space to show off her newly-developed skills. Really cool stuff).
It’s quite a fun little twist on the morality play of the episode, re-assembling Daphne’s character into something a little smarter and tougher than previous installments, rather than hyper-fixating on her flighty tendencies as a ‘psychic’ and silly, young English woman just trying to find her way in the world. Her character is always a quietly difficult balancing act for the series, a woman who is oblivious to Niles’ obsession with her, but also astute enough to verbally spar with the likes of Frasier and Marty – that’s a lot of ground for one character to cover, and an episode like “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover” does such a great job of bringing dimension to her character, displaying some of the harder edge that makes her such an effective counterpart to someone as headstrong as Crane father and son.
The only problem is that the episode is basically split in half between Frasier and Daphne; the latter works so much better than the former, but neither are given enough room in the episode to really elevate the episode to something as deep as say, “Beloved Infidel” or “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street”. Had the conflict between her and the men in the family arisen a little earlier in the episode, a little more life could’ve been given to the Daphne/Frasier dynamic, allowing the show to give a bit of depth to her story adjusting in the US, and Frasier adjusting to not making assumptions about her as a human being – but it still utilizes what time it has well, giving great voice to Daphne Moon as an passionate spitfire, a woman who, like all Frasier characters, are so much more than their first impressions.
Of course, as a story about Frasier the psychologist, “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover” is a much less effective episode – and it is probably better if we just put aside the Crane brothers and their moral panic over the mere existence of felons, though it is certainly consistent for a pair of men always looking for their way to transcend the normal problems of everyday people, so that they might live out their lives as pompous assholes without interruption from their pearly, sherry-soaked pedestals. There aren’t enough episodes of Frasier that lean hard into this idea, though – and rightly, “You Can’t Tell a Crook” is really hiding its true intentions behind Frasier’s weightless, pretentious histrionics.
While it certainly isn’t entirely successful – especially as a comedy; outside of a couple early Marty zingers, there just aren’t a lot of good punchlines in this episode – the opening act of “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover” works well as a sleight of hand to set up a rather unexpected, and effective, story about Daphne. It’s certainly not a template the series would often follow (perhaps to its detriment in its later, creatively flat seasons), but as an interesting twist on its now-established formula, “You Can’t Tell a Crook” is an interesting, if openly flawed, experiment for the freshman comedy.
Frasier and Niles order two lattes with skim milk, which the barista refers to as “Gutless Wonders.” What the what?
Niles’ Tae Kwon Do lessons are going well: “My instructor says I’m two lessons away from being quite threatening.”
The guy who keeps changing his bet with Daphne at the bar is played by infamous character actor Robert Miano (who, as of 2023, has over 270 acting credits to his name, and is still acting regularly at age 81).
Frasier’s Harvard graduation did not go well: after a car backfired, half his graduating class walked with wet gowns.
“Don’t you believe in second chances?” Marty: “I did. Then we had Niles.”