Friday, December 30, 2011

A Few More Words on The Art of Hitting Rock Bottom

It's been over a week since my last post in which I discussed the character of Frasier's seemingly un-organic search for rock bottom. Since that time, I've talked to a few of my friends who read the post while also getting into watching the second half of season four. And because of both those things, I've decided to write a supplemental piece.

I can write all day about rock bottom. The problem, though, is that there isn't a whole lot more to be said about hitting rock bottom through the prism of Frasier Crane as a character in season 4 of Cheers simply because, well, he's been nowhere to be seen.

He spends only a few episodes serving as the maintenance man of the bar. This provides us with a few humorous scenes in which he's sweeping or wiping things down while still dressed in his usual dress shirts and vests. Yet he soon fades away. In fact, he's gone for several episodes (including a landmark episode I will be getting to next week) and is barely even referenced.

These episodes are good, but do little in advancing the love-triangle between Diane, Sam and Fras. Andy Andy, the serial killer Sam set up with Diane back in season one, returns and gets arrested in what seems to be his annual cameo. In an attempt to liven up the place, Diane brings in a mime in one episode, pissing Sam off to no end in the process; leading to the mime also losing his cool and Woody exclaiming "He spoke! It's a miracle!" And the Cheers gang play baseball against cross-town pub, Gary's, in what is the beginning of a rivalry that occurs every year throughout the show's run. Good, decently funny episodes, yes, but nothing applicable to my last post.

Yet the concept of rock bottom applies to the character of Norm in one particular Frasier-less episode. With Sam busy preparing for an interview on local sports radio, the episode focuses on Norm and the allegations that his wife, Vera, is sleeping with his neighbor. The wife of that neighbor is the one to bring Norm the news, which he refuses to believe. Throughout the episode, he reiterates he trusts his wife, even when the neighbor presents evidence that points to the affair being real.

I've said before that Norm Petereson is essentially the second male lead on this show. And this episode supports that with Norm not only being the focus, but also being once again shown in a more realistic, serious light. His torn emotions with the allegations come across as authentic: he talks to Sam, Diane, and his best friend Cliff about the allegations and even pours his heart out to Woody once he begins to believe Vera is cheating on him.

And, as seems to be way of things, the episode solidifies its seriousness with a scene in the pool room, the setting for so many previous serious conversations in the past. Norm and his neighbor's wife share their thoughts on being broken-hearted and kiss one another. Just as this happens, the detective the two hired walks in, disgusted at what he sees. He presents them with audio of the neighbor proposing to Vera they go all in on the affair. Vera, never before heard, says she can't go through with it because she loves Norm.

Now relieved, Norm has another problem on his hands as he's now kissed his neighbor's wife. The reason for me summarizing all of this is to point out how rock bottom can come in different shapes and forms. In what was a serious episode, Norm felt the incredible low of believing his wife has cheated on him. Yet things are more or less tied up at the episode's end in the traditional, cliched sitcomy way.

Additionally, Frasier comes back half-way through the season. He tells Diane he'll be leaving town to go clear his head and then desperately asks Diane to come along. Sam as mentioned previously that Diane drove the Fras mad (presumably explaining his absence), and this seems to come to light with Frasier apologizing to Diane one minute then lashing out at her the next for using incomplete sentences.

It may be too soon to say because I'm not completely finished with season 4, but it seems Frasier may have taken a transformation. He comes across much more like the Frasier I grew up with (which is to say the Frasier from Frasier). He's smug, bitter, at odds with himself. And in his attempts to hang around the bar (simply to spite Diane with his presence), he's hesitant and struggles to relate to the layman, much like he and his brother did for 11 seasons in Seattle.

Nevertheless, as I've said before rock bottom, however it formulates, is something that is universal. Which is why some friends I've spoke with have applauded my playlist of rock bottom songs while others have brought to my attention some glaring commissions (namely, U2's "With or Without You" and the entire Ryan Adams and Elliot Smith catalogs). And the universality of rock bottom is also why this Saturday Night Live skit from a few weeks ago is so great:

Whether your fiancee calls off your wedding, driving you to work as a bar janitor and irrationally exploding at her imperfect grammar or you left work too late for the 100 wings for $0.20 special at T.G.I. Friday's, rock bottom hits us all. And sometimes it can hit hard. And sometimes it lasts in love. Sometimes, though, it hurts instead...


  1. Oh Good Lord Brandon, this actually made me want to start watching SNL again, and I haven't seen that show since the Adam Sandler years. Then again, I don't have a TV so oh well. Here again, brilliant post, young man! Loved it! Thanks for the first laugh of my day. :)

  2. Thanks, Susan! I'm glad I could give you a laugh.