It’s generally accepted that anyone who watched Frasier (and especially anyone who still watches it) is kind of a fucking weirdo. Not “sophisticated” like Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce), and not ever “blue collar” like Martin, but just a bit of an odd bird. That being said, the resuscitated interest in the show on the heels of John Mahoney’s death has an unfortunate headline attached to his legacy: “Of Frasier fame.”
Was this show a significant part of how Mahoney made his money as an actor? Absolutely. Did it showcase his natural ability to play a stern parent? By all means. Nonetheless, the performance of his dad-playing career is, let it forever be known, as James “Jim” Court in Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut Say Anything… Like everyone else orbiting lead character Diane Court’s (Ione Skye) existence, her father, most of all, seems to think the sun shines out of her never shit-caked ass. It is because of this unshakeable perspective that Jim has done everything in his power to ensure that Diane will be financially secure in her future, both academic and beyond.
Thus, the appearance of a “hoodlum” like Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) infiltrating her life and distracting her the summer post-high school graduation with such activities as learning to drive a stick shift, sex in the backseat of her car and boombox serenades of “In Your Eyes” at inappropriate hours (though isn’t it always an appropriate hour for that?) drive Jim to feel extreme concern over whether or not Diane will keep her eyes on the prize: her fellowship in England at the end of the summer.
Considering Lloyd’s own ambitions are, at this point, rooted only in Diane and kickboxing, his plan, as far as Jim can tell, is to sponge off of the fruits of his only daughter’s talents and where they will eventually get her. At a tense dinner in which Jim asks, “What are your plans for the future?” Lloyd responds in earnest, “Spend as much time as possible with Diane before she leaves.” Jim balks, “Seriously.” Lloyd returns, “I’m totally and completely serious.” But Jim won’t have it, continuing, “No, really.” Lloyd shrugs, “You mean a career? I don’t know. I’ve–I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I would have to say…I don’t wanna sell, buy, or process anything as a career. Or sell anything bought or processed or buy anything sold or processed…or process anything sold or bought…” To Jim, this blatant lack of focus or direction is precisely what he doesn’t want his precious Diane getting involved in, not what he’s been embezzling thousands of dollars from the old people at the rest home he manages for.
Mahoney’s simultaneous yet subtle need to control his daughter, who is clearly becoming her own person, not the sheltered little girl he’s hoarded all to himself these past years, is what makes Jim such a complex character and antagonist. To boot, there are very few narratives of a non-ancient Greek nature in which the love triangle in question involves a girl, her boyfriend and her father. The Gordian knot that is Jim’s inner turmoil regarding maintaining a tight rein over Diane (helped by the fact that she, too, works at the retirement home) is part of what makes the love story between her and Lloyd so interesting to watch unfold.
And when all of Jim’s attempts at denial driven by the motive to give his daughter the very best catch up to him, the poignant moment of him being forced to take the emotional blow that has been waiting to wallop him all these years if only he would have sat still long enough occurs in the bathroom. Crouched in the empty tub, Jim is forced to reconcile a potential fate in which Diane can no longer look at him the same way, let alone as her best friend and hero–and worst of all, that she might now look to Lloyd that way. And it is an unbearable source of pain.
As things between Lloyd and Diane progress romantically in spite of her insistence that they should just be friends so that she can maintain her focus, Jim grows increasingly discomfited, though he does his best to conceal it from her. After Diane loses her virginity to Lloyd and comes home in the early hours of the morning, for instance, Jim insists, “You can say anything to me, you know.” She assures, “I know that… I spent the night with him.” Jim questions, “Lloyd?” She rolls her eyes, “Dad, yes. And I’m scared to death of what you must think of me right now.” Jim urges, “Sit down.” Diane continues, “Dad, do you know what he did the first night I went out with him? We were walking across by the 711…and he pointed out some glass for me to walk around. I think of that when people say, ‘What are you doing with Lloyd?'” The implications of this overall brief dialogue exchange are far-reaching. First of all, it’s very disturbing that this girl would feel inclined to tell her father about her first bang session and, secondly, that she’s most concerned not about pregnancy or STDs, but whether or not her new whorish persona will soil Daddy’s original perception of her as an “unbesmirched maiden.” But that’s just the level of power Mahoney brought to the role of Jim. He’s the kind of man that you don’t want to disappoint–unless, he, in turn does something so egregious and against everything he ever raised you to be that you have to forsake him, leaving him a pen and paper as the sole means through which you will allow him to communicate anything.
In the paternal part of a lifetime, Mahoney established himself as the perfect curmudgeon to embody Martin Crane. Then again, he also played an even better one as morning show host Grant Gruber in Reality Bites (iconic for more reasons than just that “My Sharona” scene). So what’s the takeaway? Mahoney was far too multi-faceted in his career to be remembered solely as “the dad from Frasier.”