Frasier, Season Six, Episode Ten, “Merry Christmas Mrs. Moskowitz”
Original Airdate December 17, 1998
Like The Office (US), Frasier was a series that loved doing Christmas episodes. And also like The Office (US), choosing one of them to cover for the Advent Calendar is a “kid in a candy store” scenario, since a lot of them were memorable for various reasons. The first one (“Miracle on Third or Fourth Street”) had Frasier take the Christmas Day shift at the radio station and spent the whole time listening to the most sad and depressed callers imaginable. “Perspectives on Christmas” had one of my favorite Martin moments where with Frasier and Niles’ help, he tries and fails to hit the high note in “O Holy Night”. And “The Fight Before Christmas” had Daphne dealing with the bombshell of a drug-addled Frasier telling her of Niles being in love with her for the last 7 years as well as her burgeoning feelings for Niles as she was engaged to Donny. But for this year, I thought I’d tackle “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz”, which demonstrates the show’s incredible ability to mix expertly timed farce and deep emotion perfectly.
The episode begins in a department store where Frasier is trying to get the right sweater surreptitiously for an in tow Roz. After being saved by Helen Moskowitz (Carole Shelley), a shopper who recognizes Frasier and notices the menorah in his bag (which he got for his son Frederick who’s half Jewish), he pays her back for helping him out by agreeing to go on a blind date with her daughter Faye (a very young Amy Brenneman) a lawyer turned pastry chef. Despite having Niles there at Cafe Nervosa as a potential out, Frasier and Faye hit it off. Weeks later, Faye drops by Frasier’s apartment on the way to the airport with Helen as Frasier and Martin are arguing over Christmas decorations and Daphne has roped Niles into being the musical director of the holiday revue that’s going on in the common room of Frasier’s apartment building. But upon seeing the wreath above the fireplace, Faye realizes that Frasier isn’t Jewish, which is in direct conflict with what Helen told her and her designs for Faye. So the majority of the episode is a madcap farce in which Frasier, Faye, Niles and Martin have to convince Helen that they’re Jewish as various set up elements (Eddie in a Santa costume, Niles as Jesus, a decorated Christmas tree delivery and a ham in the oven) almost derail the ruse. But when the ruse is eventually uncovered, this leads into two arguments between a parent and their child (Helen and Faye, Martin and Frasier) over expectations and the roles they play in each other’s lives. Harsh words are yelled, tears ensue and both sides reconcile in time for their respective holidays.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz” is Frasier distilled down into its purest form. I’ve been rewatching the series this year thanks to Kevin Smith and Matt Mira’s “Talk Salad and Scrambled Eggs” podcast and while I’ve always known how brilliant a comedy the show is, it’s nice to be reminded how consistently great the series was for the majority of its run. And by season 6, Frasier was already a well oiled machine that could pull off a physical and verbal comic high wire act with effortless ease. From the intricately constructed verbal wordplay to the precise physical timing of everyone involved to the expert character work on display (my favorite being Niles going along with Frasier’s request of pretending to be Jewish and bringing just the right layer of thickness over every Hebrew term he uses), this episode is like watching a Swiss timepiece working flawlessly. But rather than just rest on their comedic laurels, the show brings back a long running arc (Frasier and Martin’s strained relationship) after dealing with it for the majority of season 1. It’s rather effecting to see them get really down and dirty with each other before finally recognizing their value to each other and that they can’t just throw these words out and expect to patch things up easily since they’re not Jewish. That deep emotional core is what helped to separate Frasier from the majority of most 90’s sitcoms as well as to elevate it beyond its Cheers spin-off reputation into a series worthy of its own esteem.
In terms of commentary about the holiday season, this episode could be seen as a take on the conflicting nature of the holiday season. With so many holidays happening at the same time and the bullshit “War on Christmas” that conservatives and modern fundamentalist Christians try to perpetuate each year, this episode could be seen as a satire of political correctness with not only Christmas and Hanukah trying to get precedence over each other to the often mentioned Christmas cabaret that sounds like the most cacophonous Christmas production as the 1st act ends with “Santa’s Elves and the Three Wise Men all linking arms and singing ‘Frosty the Snowman'”. This all plays into the madcap nature of the episode as well as play into the theme of conflicting expectations of what the holidays are for different people. And so for bringing a deeper thematic resonance in between the madcap humor and emotional core of the series, “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz” is one of the best Christmas episodes (as well as great episode in general) that Frasier ever did.