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Festive Rewind: Frasier “Merry Christmas Mrs. Moskowitz”

20 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

Today’s guest post comes from Noel Kirkpatrick as he discusses Frasier’s take on different faiths celebrating the holidays.

FrasierMoskowitzIt’s a Chanukah miracle! Andrew Rabin discussed Rugats and its lackluster take on Chanukah earlier in the feature, and now I present you with “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz” from Frasier. If Andrew “A Rugats Chanukah” credited with at least exposing kids to a non-mainstream holiday even while still sort of abandoning it, then “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz” demonstrates why it might’ve been helpful for those who celebrate in Christmas — even if it’s in a more secular than religious way (something else this episode touches on) — to be aware of other religions and traditions other than our own. The episode is classic Frasier farce, complete with mistaken identities, hiding people and things from unsuspecting guests, near-constant lying, and it all culminates in the big reveal that brings all the chaos down a single big punchline. In this case, it’s Niles dressed up as Jesus, hiding in the bathroom with a Christmas tree.

You see, Frasier was buying his son, Freddie, a menorah (Lilith, Frasier ex-wife, is Jewish, which makes Freddie Jewish) and a woman overhears him. After helping Frasier pick out an appropriate sweater for Roz, Helen, the woman, asks Frasier to do a favor for her daughter: “A date with a nice, unattached doctor.” Frasier and Faye actually hit it off very well, but as Faye and Helen are about to head off to Florida, they decided to stop by Frasier’s apartment, which is in the processed of being decked out with a tasteful (horrid) Christmas, and here we learn that Faye and Helen are Jewish, and that Frasier not being Jewish may be a point of concern for Helen. So Frasier, Niles, and Martin pretend to be Jewish until Helen and Faye finally leave. Oh, and Niles is helping Daphne put on a Christmas revue that’s a combination of religious and secular songs.

As farcical episodes of the show go, “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowtiz” isn’t their best, though David Hyde Pierce dressed up as Jesus is still a total hoot. Much of the humor of the episode derives from the fact that for all their supposed learning and culture, Frasier and Niles are largely clueless about Judaism. When questioned about his bar mitzvah, Frasier mentions that the mohel was there, so not to show there were any hard feelings. Niles’s toast is a string of Jewish platitudes — “L’Chaim! Mazel tov! Next year in Jerusalem!” — and when Martin asks Niles “how to be Jewish,” Niles advises him to answer questions with a question.

The episode should be horrible since it trades in tired Jewish stereotypes — meddlesome mothers, massive amounts of guilt — but it trades more heavily in the fact that non-Jewish people know next to nothing about the traditions of Judaism. Not only are there the above examples, but Roz doesn’t know what a menorah is, and Frasier isn’t aware of how kosher wine is supposed to taste (apparently kosher wine has gotten tastier). The episode is funny because a) because people who don’t know anything about Judaism see their own cluelessness on display, and in a safe way and, more importantly, b) Jewish viewers get their experiences of dealing with gentiles distilled into one 22-minute episode, and, hopefully, get a good laugh at reliving the conversations when people ask about their faith and traditions.

Of course, if we were all a little more aware, then this wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place! This idea is complemented by Frasier and Martin’s battle over Christmas decorations in the apartment. Being aware of others’ needs and lifestyles is an important aspect of our lives, and it’s a one that is very much a part of the season.

Noel Kirkpatrick is the co-founder of Monsters of Television and This Was Television and he writes episodic criticism for TV.com. You can follow him on Twitter, if you like, as well.

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