The Character who Nearly Ruined (But May Have Secretly Saved) "Frasier"
On the days that Seinfeld isn’t my favorite television show of all time, Frasier is my favorite television show of all time, and this all in spite of the fact that I am aggressively indifferent to Cheers. (Although I do hope that Woody Harrelson reads the audiobook version of Tabernacle; I think he’d be a great fit. If you know him, tell him to get in touch with me.) For my money, no show before or since has been able to match Frasier’s perfect mix of intelligent writing, razor-sharp wit, and tremendous physical humor, all of which combined to make it one of the most-celebrated shows in the history of television. It’s about as close to perfect as a TV series gets.
I have a few deeply personal ties to the show as well: My brother-in-law’s nephew David is named after David Hyde Pierce (I assume), and I once saw the guy who played Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe in the Indianapolis airport. I didn’t ask him for an autograph because I didn’t want to bother him, but it would have been a different story if it had been Mr. Hyde Pierce in that airport—I would have pestered him for a picture to send to my sister, seeing as Niles is her favorite television character of all time (non-Golden Girls category). (Aside: Two points if you can name the Best Picture winner in which Bulldog makes a brief appearance as an entomologist.)
Now, there are many people who will say that Frasier’s quality declined sharply once Daphne and Niles got together at the end of Season 7. (Spoiler alert.) They’ll say the comedic tension generated by Niles’ unrequited infatuation—one of the show’s driving forces—was lost and that Daphne’s personality became much angrier and meaner after she started dating Niles. There’s merit to both of these arguments—I myself have never understood why Daphne’s personality changed so drastically once she and Niles became an item—but even an entitled and semi-bratty Daphne is still a trillion times more endearing than the loathsome philistine who very nearly ruined the show: Veronica Lawrence.
Ah, Ronee. (Even the way they spelled her nickname is atrocious. "Row-knee".) If you’re a Frasier fan, there’s a good chance you cringed upon reading that name, if not recoiling in outright disgust. Played by Wendie Malick, Ronee first appeared in Season 11’s “The Babysitter” and almost immediately established herself as an obnoxious vulgarian, a train wreck of a human being who sucked the air out of every single scene she appeared in. (Aside: THREE points if you can name the character that Ms. Malick played on Seinfeld, and an extra two points if you can name her occupation during that guest spot. Five additional points if you can name the character Ms. Malick played on Baywatch. Twenty-five points if you can name the character she played on Just Shoot Me, which I cannot, although David Spade’s Dennis Finch is always good for some laughs.) Her boorish behavior and mannerisms stood in stark contrast to the priggish brothers Crane, which was certainly part of the point, but the show did that well enough with more or less EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER WHO WASN’T NILES OR FRASIER, which meant that Ronee always seemed superfluous.
But Marc, you’ll say, Marty’s character was getting stale and they needed something new for him to do. This is a semi-fair assessment, but I’ll tell you this with my dying breath: I would rather they have had Martin dig up the corpse of Hester Crane and hid it in his bedroom than have us as an audience spend a single moment with Ronee. (I recognize that this is essentially the old “Reverse ‘A Rose for Emily’”, which I admit is as hoary a trope as there is; half a point if you can name the episode of “What’s Happenin’” that employs the “R’ARFE’” plotline to hilarious effect.) It would have served the purpose of allowing Marty to develop as a character while simultaneously generating boffo new storylines. Think of the possibilities: How will Martin keep Frasier from finding out that his beloved mother’s dead body is lying in state in Martin’s bedroom? Will the cops find out who did it, and if they do, will they look the other way seeing as Marty is a retired Seattle detective? How will Niles and Frasier cope with the knowledge that their father is grave robber? And think of the laughs when the incorrigible Eddie keeps stealing Hester’s decrepit bones and hiding them throughout the apartment, under Frasier’s couch (“an exact replica of the one Coco Chanel had in her Paris atelier”), or next to Martin’s Viagra in the refrigerator! (Aside: Fifty-seven points if you can name the artificial foodstuff in which Martin hid his little blue pills.) The highest of jinks ensue.
But I digress. While the show went to admirable lengths to explain how Marty Crane could fall in love with a woman like Ronee, I personally never bought it. Hester Crane is repeatedly referred to as a classy, elegant, intelligent woman; a paragon of grace and femininity. Ronee, in rather stark contrast, is repeatedly shown to be a crass piece of garbage, a talentless nightclub singer whose “banter” appeals only to a small room full of half-soused rabble who probably had never seen a naked woman in their entire lives and most likely had just been released from prison that episode. It seems that Ronee appears to Martin's blue-collar sensibilities, but one can be blue-collar without being trashy and obnoxious.
Yes, few things enrage me more than how badly Ronee ruined Frasier, which—as we established earlier—is the greatest television show of all time aside from Seinfeld. From her awful bouffant hairdo to her retro (if we're being charitable) sense of style, Ronee remains a blight on the bountiful orchard known as Frasier. With all that said, however, I hope to someday write a character who annoys people as much as Ronee annoys me (I may have already done so; who knows), because we’re generally only this annoyed by characters when we truly care about and enjoy the works in which they appear.
But to be fair, Ronee’s appearance didn’t stop me from watching Frasier and enjoying its innumerable non-Ronee charms; in a way, it probably threw my favorite parts of the show into sharper relief. I found myself appreciating the Crane boys’ witty repartee more, Roz’s and Niles’ interactions more, and I rejoiced at every sighting of Kenny Daly. Perhaps the show's producers knew that they needed to make us love the series again, albeit in a different way, given that Frasier was in its final season and in danger of losing its steam, and perhaps they went about it in an unusually clever way.
A bold choice, to say the least, but what artistic satisfaction can be found in playing it safe all the time? I personally find that I only enjoy writing when I can say what I want to say, and not when I’m writing to meet other people’s expectations or what I think they’ll like. I’d guess that a lot of the other people who are trying to create something meaningful feel the same way. I personally wouldn’t bother writing if I thought I was just mimicking someone else or telling a story that I was aware had already been told, and I can imagine that Frasier’s staff felt the need to change things up a bit after a decade of working on the show.
So bravo, Frasier’s producers, for doing something rather unique in television history: Creating a detestable character who somehow manages to make an eleven-year-old show even better in a certain way. Not how I would have done it, but who am I to argue with their success? They are clearly better at what they do than I am.
She still sucks, though. Like—enormously. I fast-forward through all the scenes she’s in.
So awful and unfunny.