Frasier: A Study in Nonverbal Communication

By: Jennifer Nagy

The hit TV series Frasier enjoyed nearly eleven years of success in prime time television and is one of my personal favorites. Nonverbal communication plays a pivotal role in the expression and development of the comedy within Frasier. Frasier continues the story of Dr. Frasier Crane, who was a character in the television series Cheers. Reeling from a tumultuous divorce, Frasier moved halfway across the country, back to his hometown in Seattle to start a new career as a radio psychiatrist. The series focuses upon Frasier and his relationship with his father Martin and brother Niles, and approaches difficult subjects with comedy and situational humor. Though erudite and at times, egotistical, Frasier often finds himself as the victim of his own mistakes.The TV series also uses inter-title cards to distinguish the beginning and ending of a scene, which is a nod to the nonverbal cues given by the movies of the silent film era.  As we have progressed through the semester, I found the subject of micro-expressions and the universal facial expressions to be particularly interesting.  Therefore, I would like to highlight the use of the universal facial expressions in Frasier as a tool for developing comedic situations.

As I powered through another Frasier marathon last week, I was immediately struck by how much the nonverbal cues relate to what we have studied in class. In the scene above, Martin and Daphne, Martin’s live-in healthcare worker play a prank on various people in the elevator, and the universal expressions communicate the individual emotions felt by the characters involved. As the camera zooms in on Martin, the viewer can see that though he is trying to keep his face in a serious expression, the corners of his mouth lift up ever so slightly. The involuntary lift in the corners of his mouth indicate his amusement and happiness at their prank. Both the female and male bystanders respond with universal facial expressions. The female bystander first drops her jaw slightly and widens her eyes, indicating surprise. As Martin and Daphne continue to spin the story, her eye widen further, her eyebrows are raised, and she dashes off of the elevator very quickly, indicating the universal expression of fear. After her hasty exit, Daphne and Martin share a laugh with the corners of their mouths raised, which indicates their obvious happiness. The male bystander expresses his surprise at their customs story with arched eyebrows and a very pronounced “O” shape in his mouth. In this short scene, the actors utilize the universal facial cues to create a comedic situation. The appearance of genuine universal facial cues, as used by the female and male bystanders, suggested that they took the prank seriously.

Frasier_Daphne's RoomThe series uses nonverbal communication to its best advantage and often, does not find the spoken word as a necessary vehicle for communication. Some scenes do not use the spoken word at all to convey an idea or emotion. For example, the scene to the left did not use dialogue to communicate Frasier’s thoughts as he snooped through Daphne’s room for the first time. The surprise and bewilderment is naked on his face when he finds a picture of Daphne and Prince Charles. His natural confusion makes the audience understand why he would want to snoop more. Without universal facial expressions or nonverbal communication, comedy would be a difficult genre to produce and would be very boring as a viewer!

David, A. (Writer), Peter, C. (Writer), David, L. (Director), & Kelsey, G. (Performer) (1995). Daphne’s room [Television series episode]. In Frasier. Grub Street Productions in association with Paramount Studios.

David, A. (Writer), Peter, C. (Writer), David, L. (Director), & Kelsey, G. (Performer) (1996). The impossible dream [Television series episode]. InFrasier. Grub Street Productions in association with Paramount Studios. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kpc_tUWvho

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One thought on “Frasier: A Study in Nonverbal Communication

  1. Pingback: Happy Overrated Night | Corleones & Lannisters

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