Episode Five: Here’s Looking At You, and Rich Gooey Coffee Cake

The general structure of sitcoms - set up, disaster, resolution - is completely unlike real life, which is probably why they can be so comforting to watch. You know everything is going to be re-set back to the status quo by the time the credits roll, and somehow in 22-odd minutes the gang is going to cycle through some hijinks, delightful misunderstandings, and find themselves ending with a hug. Frasier is no stranger to this routine, but every now and then the show will just gently meander around doing nothing much at all, with the minimal set changes keeping the familiarity rolling - you know that when the black title cards appear the characters are either going to be at the apartment, the radio station, or Cafe Nervosa, and it could be Season 1 or Season 9.

This is one of those episodes: not an awful lot happens, but it’s a total delight from start to finish. Frasier, wanting to do something nice for his father, gets him a telescope. Martin happens to lock crosshairs with Irene, a woman in an apartment looking back at him, and they develop a communication via holding up pieces of paper with notes written on them. He has some uncertainties about meeting her, but decides to in the end (after which point, in true sitcom fashion, she is never spoken of again: the re-set to status quo comes for us all.) Instead of a B-plot we get Niles dropping in with Maris’ aunt Patrice, and that’s about it. 

(I shall never tire of these early-days photo shoots of the cast. The lustrous 90s hair on Daphne and Roz! The vests! The will-they-ever-get-on poses!)

It’s so nice though, all the actors get to have fun with some wonderfully chewy dialogue and it gives us a glimpse of what future episodes will be like, when Frasier and his father aren’t so much coldly antagonistic as just, two fairly different guys who want the best for each other and aren’t the greatest at expressing it. Frasier’s gift of the telescope comes from a genuine place of wanting something nice for his father to do other than just sit in that chair all day. (Spurred on by Roz casually dropping that her mother is the attorney-general of Wisconsin and is digging in Honduras: makes sense that she would come from such heartily go-getting stock.) And Martin is genuinely pleased! He initially demurs Irene-of-the-Telescope’s approaches, telling Frasier it’s because she has the same middle name as Hester, his late wife and Frasier’s mother. This leads to a touching conversation between the two of them, where Martin says to Frasier, “you know, I guess I don’t say it enough, but you’re a good kid.” There’s something about John Mahoney’s gruff admission and an older man calling another adult man a kid that is damn heartwarming; naturally it’s tempered when Frasier goes to reply in kind and Martin says “there’s nothing you don’t say enough.” True, to be fair. Turns out Martin is in fact just self-conscious about his cane, something that Daphne weasels out of him (well, she is a bit psychic.) 

And so, both the truth and the lie reveal a softer side to Martin. 

God but there’s some good stuff in here though - Aunt Patrice being a one-woman floor show and insisting on talking in “g-speak”, a parlour game of hers and Maris’, where you put a hard “g” sound in the syllable of each word, to the general horror of all present. Daphne telling Martin that he shouldn’t be ashamed of his cane with his “silver mane, twinkly blue eyes and whisky voice” could be corny but is really rather sweet in her sincere Mangled-chester accent; and the amount of information we are to believe has been conveyed between Irene and Martin escalates hilariously (Martin: “her older son’s an accountant in Portland.” Daphne: “he was the breech birth, right?” Martin: “No, that’s Dennis in Boise.” Daphne: “Oh right, he’s the one with the wife that won’t let him visit. I can’t stand her.”) 

As for the recipe, there’s nothing symbolic whatsoever here, as I suppose befits so gentle an episode. Daphne briefly mentions having made a rich gooey coffee cake somewhere in the middle of the episode and the power of suggestion got to me. 

The cake tin I had to hand rendered this more like a brownie than a cake, I am confident it would work well whether you decided to bake it thusly, or in a round or loaf tin. It’s wonderfully easy to throw together and has chunks of dark chocolate and spoonfuls of cream cheese dotted throughout, in the hopes of living up to Daphne’s description of what she herself baked. Instant coffee powder is used much in the same way that cocoa might be ordinarily, with the cream cheese providing tangy and indeed gooey contrast. If you refrigerate it, the cream cheese hardens and gives it a delicious mocha cheesecake vibe. Oh and if you leave out the cream cheese the cake is suddenly vegan; not to mention a useful recipe to have in mind when it seems like you have zero baking ingredients in your pantry. 

Daphne’s Rich Gooey Coffee Cake

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspooon baking soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons plain vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar of some kind, I used apple cider because it’s what I had
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup instant coffee powder (the kind labelled espresso gives the deepest flavour)
  • 50g dark chocolate (the kind I use is naturally dairy free because of its high cocoa solid content)
  • 250g fridge-cold cream cheese
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F and line a regular brownie tin or loaf tin with baking paper. 

Put everything except the cream cheese into a mixing bowl. Slice the cream cheese into cubes, or if it’s in a tub, scoop out rough teaspoonfuls into the bowl. Stir everything together till the dry ingredients are just incorporated into the wet. Spatula the lot into your cake tin and bake for 30 minutes. That’s it. 

Favoured quote: David Hyde Pierce in particular is spectacularly good at the particular Niles-ism of delivering anecdotes about his stupidly high-class life or his stuffy, bookish childhood in a nonchalant way. At Cafe Nervosa, he’s telling Frasier about a cunning caper at his wine club, where they swapped the label of a lesser wine with a better wine and the club president in turn mistakenly identified the wine. Niles ruefully conceding “as so often happens, rough-housing turns to tears” at this most prim of pranks gets me every single time. Frasier gets a couple of good shots in himself though, with Kelsey Grammar’s line read on “his face must have turned redder than a Piechone Logeavie” being lip-smackingly good. 

My usual, please: Once more they are at Cafe Nervosa without us capturing them ordering anything, I think I set this particular bit up in anticipation of the final episode of the season where Frasier spends the entire time trying to get his coffee order correct, but I stand by itS inclusion every time I update this blog nevertheless. 

Em-Maris-ment of Riches: This time Maris is absent because, according to Aunt Patrice, she has taken to bed with one of her two-week migraines, but when she says, somewhat wistfully, “to this day, I have no idea how tall she is”, I’m like yes! This is the Maris content I came for! The line is so small, so throwaway, but so efficiently conveys exactly what kind of offscreen character they’re starting to set Maris up to be. 

TFW you had to describe the skin condition that you get in winter to Irene because “we’re discussing family history” 


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