Episode Eight: Beloved Infidel, and Fuzzy Navel
A small yet pleasing milestone: this episode brings us a third of the way through season one of Frasier (the blog app decided to celebrate by unceremoniously deleting this post no less than three separate times as I was writing it) and it’s time for him to confront some uncomfortable truths about his past. As we’ve covered previously, this show is happy to spend 22 minutes packaging life’s unhappiness in a comedic sitcom format - episode two alone was honestly fairly grim - but as per usual each installment inches us ever forward in beveling off the sharp edges on Frasier and his father Martin’s relationship.
We kick off with Niles and Frasier going out to dinner after a lecture of Niles’ is cancelled (I’ll have you know I trimmed that speech to two and a half hours and I opened with a really good Al Gore joke.”) They immediately spy their father at the same restaurant, to all intents and purposes on a date with a woman who they recognize as Marian Lawlor, an old family friend. They conceal themselves and watch as she starts crying and leaves (“that’s a Crane first date alright”) and hilariously Niles’ curiosity is overshadowed by his gloomy resignation that if his father is dining here then it can’t be a very good restaurant.
Later, Niles comes over to Frasier’s apartment having had his curiosity piqued again by Ms Lawlor running off. He consults his boyhood journals (the vacation is “a necessary tonic to my troubled youth”) and Young Niles clocked that Martin and Hester, the boy’s late mother, were having a lot of fights on the last summer they ever went away together. Frasier and Niles cannot help but conclude that maybe their father had an affair with Marian Lawlor. Martin walks in on them pontificating and is extremely not delighted, but finally admits that yes, he did. It’s something of a shock as a viewer- Martin is so sound and stalwart and stoic and strident and all those S-words and to see him admit this weakness in front of his sons makes things kind of weird. It’s at times like these that families pull together and gather their collective strength to support each other, notes Niles, so “what should we do?” He has a point though: their family dynamic is hardly cosy, and while they’ve always felt some kind of intellectual superiority to their father, having him be so very much on the back foot when they’re not great at communicating as it is, is very disquieting. Martin has been humanised, but not in a way that they, particularly Frasier, can handle.
The plot inevitably thickens though: Marian Lawlor drops by the apartment to talk to Martin, and is greeted coldly by Frasier. She inadvertently reveals the actual truth: it wasn’t her and Martin that had the affair, but her husband and Hester. The integrity of Martin, that Frasier was so qualm-y about after their discussion, was actually so damn ramrod-ish that he was willing to lower himself in his sons’ eyes to protect their memory of their late mother. I’ve said it before, but John Mahoney as Martin was just so damn good at these tough scenes - when you go back and watch him admitting the affair to his sons again, he gives so little away yet his acceptance of his fate is right there on his face. When Frasier confronts him about it, he’s all “me, you already had a problem with”, and it’s kind of heartbreaking. The gruff old man could be incredibly one-note in the hands of anyone else! But John Mahoney gives us this guy who does these backwards, self-effacing things to show he cares for his fussy son, completely at his own expense and admittedly, unsurprisingly, at the expense of any real communication. Frasier confides in his father that Lilith cheated on him too, and it’s an odd little moment of bonding between them (Martin’s all “wait, Lilith?” And yeah, her character is deeply unusual but we all know Bebe Neuwirth is hot as hell, right?) Typical of Frasier, that something so uncomfortable as infidelity is what bonds this father and son - Martin asks Frasier if he’d tell his son Frederick about Lilith cheating and he doesn’t have an answer, but it does answer why Martin said what he said. Infidelity is so utterly heart-pulverising and neither of these men knew that they had it in common. We end the episode there, with the father and son still warily at arm’s length, but having gained a lot more depth of understanding about each other’s lives.
The recipe to accompany this episode is a Fuzzy Navel cocktail, which Frasier orders at the restaurant at the start. To be honest with you I think it’s slightly weak on the part of the writers - Frasier is a sherry-drinking would-be sommelier and his request for a Fuzzy Navel is directly juxtaposed with him telling Niles to man up about something, and I guess the fruity nature of the cocktail, “blended nice and frothy please”, is supposed to be funny, but I just don’t actually think he would genuinely order one, you know? Nevertheless, I decided to make one, which called for the procurement of peach schnapps (“I’d like your most off-brand peach schnapps, please”) and orange juice and that’s actually all there is to it. Is it good? It tastes like the flavoured toothpaste that the dentist used to give me when I was a child, which is kind of a compliment. Fuzzy Navels and Sex on the Beach and all those other 80s cocktails rarely raise their heads these days, so as a bartender it was fun to try something from a bygone era. Were we later in the 90s at the time of filming I can imagine him ordering a Cosmopolitan instead for similar comedic effect.
“Fuzzy Navel, Blended Nice And Frothy”
60ml/2oz/two shots of Peach Schnapps (may I point out here that my schnapps was very low ABV, feel free to tinker with proportions according to your sensibilities)
90ml/3oz/3 shots of good orange juice
a handful of ice cubes
Place everything in a blender and blitz till, well, nice and frothy. Pour into a glass.
More tragic than infidelity is the fact that neither Maris nor a coffee order get a look-in this episode, but there are still some excellent quotes, such as, Frasier calling his father a “sly boots” on his date, Niles insisting that when he was a child he was just looking at National Geographic for the maps and Frasier saying “that’s what made it scary”, Daphne looking at their old holiday photos and describing Martin as a “handsome, sinewy bloke” - there’s something about her compliments for him that warm my heart - but my absolute favorite thing about this episode was the way that Niles, when talking about their camping trips, says the word “moths” with a soft th. Maybe it doesn’t translate on paper so well, but try saying “moths” out loud with a very soft th, like “mother” without the “er”. I don’t know, it cracked me up.
TFW it’s a Crane first date, alright.