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October 6, 2015

Frasier: Star Mitzvah - VIDEO

by Allison Waldman, posted Jul 10th 2008 10:03AM
Frasier- Niles and FrasThe bar mitzvah is a Jewish rite of passage, the time in a boy's life when he becomes a man -- symbolically -- by reading from the Torah. When a girl does the ritual, it's called a bat mitzvah. I mention all this because in TV, the bar/bat mitzvah has been the catalyst for some wonderful episodes, mostly on sitcoms.

The Simpsons celebrated Krusty the Klown's bar mitzvah in the episode "Today I Am A Klown," which was a variation on one of the all-time great sitcom bar mitzvahs of all time: the episode "Buddy Sorrell, Man and Boy," on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Square Pegs shared "Muffy's Bat Mitzvah" with viewers, and this past season, Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David used his friend Jeff Greene's daughter Sammi's bat mitzvah to announce that he never put a gerbil up his butt.

Another Hollywood style bat mitzvah was thrown by Ari Gold for his little girl on Entourage, and The O.C. had a "Chrismukkah Bar Mitz-vahkkah." On 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan made a Thriller-inspired video called Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.

My favorite TV bar mitzvah, though, was in 2002, on Frasier. It was called "Star Mitzvah," and it was a wonderful melange of high class sit-comedy, Star Trek mythology, and just a smidge of schmaltz. Schmaltz, by the way, is a technical show business term that means sentimentality that verges on over-sentimentality.

By November 5, 2002, Frasier, in its tenth season, was running like a well-oiled machine. Not just any machine, a Maserati. The actors were so comfortable in their characters, and the writers so in tune with world of the Cranes that the show rarely failed to click week in and week out. But an episode like "Star Mitzvah" shone even brighter than usual.

Fraiser and the family are planning a trip back to Boston for Freddy's bar mitzvah, and even though he's not Jewish, the intellectual Dr. Crane wants to give his son a blessing from the bima. Since Freddy's sent invitations to everyone at the radio station -- the more invites, the more gifts -- techie Noel Shempsky (played by ace character actor Patrick Kerr) -- overhears Frasier wishing he could translate his words into Hebrew and offers to do it.

But the act of kindness comes with a price: he wants Frasier to attend a Seattle Star Trek convention and get Scott Bakula's autograph to complete his collection of ST captains. He can't go himself because of a William Shatner restraining order. Frasier says yes, and accepts the picture, in its acid-free covering, and agrees to handle it only with white cotton gloves.

Circumstances -- a lunch with a Udo Fritzmeyer, a Da-Da master -- arise. The art event runs long and Frasier misses the ST con because of traffic. He tells a disappointed Noel what happens, then, constructively, suggests he grow up.

Noel nods, but murmurs, "By the rings of Septarus Five, you will pay, Dr. Crane. You will pay." Revenge is a dish best served cold, as they say in The Wrath of Khan, and after Freddy completes his Torah portion, Frasier is presented to give the blessing as he learned it from Noel. In Klingon! Watch the clip:

There are a few salient points of interest in this episode, beyond the laughs. Frasier proves that he's a mensch (Yiddish for a quality person). After failing to keep his end of the bargain with Noel, he has a gift delivered to him -- Joan Collins wig from the "City on the Edge of Forever," episode 28. "It still might have her DNA," Noel tells Roz, who cries that Klingon is not even a language, "This is what you people don't understand. A man named Gene Roddenberry had a vision..." in true Trekker fashion.

Another point of interest is that unlike so many shows, Freddy remained an important part of Frasier's life even if he lived across the country. Throughout the series, every year there were Freddy episodes -- holidays especially -- and something as important as a bar mitzvah would have included the entire Crane clan.

The blending of Star Trek with Frasier was a stroke of genius. The writers, Sam Johnson and Danita Jones, clearly knew ST very well. Their accuracy made the jokes even funnier. And their knowing about the Jewish traditions were also on target and not at all pandering.

As I mentioned, there was a touch of sentiment in the show, but nothing to make you cringe. Just enough to make you smile in recognition even if you've never been to a bar mitzvah, or -- as in this case -- a Star Mitzvah.

Other points of interest

-- Martin's camera was a hilarious, the Schmeerblatz 7XK. "The blindingest, noisiest 15 pound camera ever produced in the former Soviet Union," said Niles. Then, later, Frasier refers to it as "The old flash and whine!"

-- Lilith looking at his post-birth slide and recalling that this was taken, "Just an hour after being wrestled from my grudging womb."

-- Freddy's embarrassment when Lilith recited lines from Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat.

-- The end credits featured the photos from the Schmeerblatz, including the horrified looks on everyone's faces from the flash!

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It was also amusing because Kelsey Grammar guest-starred as a starship captain in an episode of ST: The Next Generation a number of years before he became a household name. Bebe Neuwirth herself played an alien in another TNG episode a little later, I believe.

July 15 2008 at 4:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks so much for the clip. I had never seen the end of it. The photos from the Schmeerblatz in the ending credits had me in tears from laughing.

July 10 2008 at 1:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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