Frasier and the Problem of Elitism
Though I rarely imbibe in them, I do have a soft spot for some traditional sitcoms. Frasier remains one of my favorites, and I would usually watch it whenever I could on cable. Now with Netflix, I can catch up with the show properly.
Frasier has a few elements that I particularly enjoy. For one, it’s partially a workplace comedy dealing with media production, and I quite like those. (Heck, I once watched half of a yaoi because it was about making shoujo manga!) It’s a critically acclaimed show, so it’s always been on my radar once I became more media literate (i.e. Top X Shows lists.) The media scholar and media completionist in me practically demands its consumption. I also enjoy the show because it has smart jokes.
Niles: Although I feel perfectly qualified to fill Frasier’s radio shoes, I should warn you that while Frasier is a Freudian, I am a Jungian. So there’ll be no blaming Mother today!
Frasier and his brother, Niles (played by the scene-stealer David Hyde Pierce), play highly educated psychiatrists. Much of the humor resulting from their relationship with their working class father (a retired cop) and his nurse. Class tension undergirds much of the show. While Fraiser and Niles’ presumptions are often punctuated and deflated for the pomposity that they are, the humor cuts both ways. Though I haven’t seen the bulk of the show, I have witnessed a few jokes that are rather uncomfortable in their elitism. So far though season one, Frasier dumped a few with the the first couple episodes, but has since refrained from straight up elitism. It’s a balance Frasier walks, mining the tensions between modes of living (“sophisticated” vs. “basic”), though I suspect it’s shed such a simple dichotomy.
To what degree is this show elitist? I find that it primarily punctures elitism through the brotherly bond of Niles and Frasier. Niles is what Frasier could become had he never become a barfly in Cheers. as the A.V. Club notes, Niles is “an effete, Cheers-less version of his (relatively) rougher older brother, he nimbly reflects and exaggerates Frasier’s snobbish tendencies, while simultaneously establishing himself as his own lovably neurotic man.” His neuroses and attitudes are often the object of mockery. Meanwhile, Frasier’s father plays the brusk patriarch that often pushes his sons to have a more down to earth approach to their lives.
I’ve always identified with Frasier and Niles. As a graduate student, I notice that I relate to them even more. Let’s hope I can learn from their mistakes. After all, I think the show has its heart in the right the place.