You’re reading The Complete Infinite Crisis, a Comprehensive and Encyclopedic look through the universe-changing superhero event published by DC from 2005 to 2006. Shelfdust are proud to provide a complete overview of the story, and everything that happens in it. We’ve had to get some experts in though – there’s so much going on that needs to be explained!
Oh baby we’ve heard the blues a-calling, and we’ve been spending a lot of time in Seattle recently, as our investigation into Infinite Crisis has led us deep into the lore of Frasier. We thought this would be easy! We thought this would all make sense. But there’s so much more that needs to be dealt with here. Such as: there’s a secret second Crane brother out there? Jules Scheele, please could you explain everything about this mysterious and shadowy “Niles Crane”, thanks?
Jules! This is an important comics question: could you tell us all about Niles from Frasier, please? What’s his whole deal?
Jules Scheele: When I grew up, I didn’t see many variations in what masculinity could be like on TV (especially in afternoon sitcom reruns), so Niles Crane, with his ethereal and androgynous quality, always made an impression on me as a notable and strangely relatable character. Niles, as a role, was written specifically for actor David Hyde Pierce, who is an excellent comedic physical actor. He campily and archly swoons and temper-tantrums throughout the show in a way that could easily have been mean-spirited, but ends up being not only endearing but, to me, infinitely watchable and relatable (both David Hyde Pierce and screenwriter David Lee are openly gay, and Frasier largely avoids the gay-panic-for-laughs tropeiness of other 90s TV sitcoms).
At first glance, you might think Niles is very similar to his brother, Frasier. But how would you say the two are different?
Scheele: Niles definitely suffers from younger sibling syndrome (another thing I can relate to). Frasier, although awkward himself, and definitely a blowhard and a buffoon at times, is still presented as the more confident of the two. Niles, though characterised as an excellent and respected psychologist, comes across as much more insecure and deeply sad and lost inside. He is prone to judging those around him (especially Frasier) for decisions that fall outside of his own safe and elitist worldview. He looks down on his brother’s success as a celebrity psychologist, while at the same time being obviously envious of it and craving that celebrity for himself.
Niles is more sensitive and dramatic than Frasier, and though his life choices copy his older sibling’s, they are always somehow more extreme. He fulfils the function of being Frasier’s camper mirror image, and therefore makes Frasier less exaggerated and flamboyant himself. One good example of this is their marriages – Frasier’s ex-wife Lilith (played by Bebe Neuwirth), is a woman who is characterised as sophisticated and cultured, but cold and distant. Niles’ wife Maris, in comparison, is based on a similar model, but so outlandishly and cartoonishly exaggerated that the writers actually gave up on casting her (citing that no human actress could have measured up to the role). When he does fall in love with Daphne, he pines for her desperately from a distance.
What is it about Niles that makes him your favourite character on the show?
Scheele: There is a perpetual panic in everything Niles does: he is constantly overwhelmed and put upon by the taxing realities of the chaos of life, which clashes with his wish for a neat, sophisticated existence. Niles exists in a constant state of melancholy, tormented by the restrictions he puts on his own life to protect himself from bullying (of course both Cranes were intensely bullied as boys, Niles more so than Frasier), and embarrassment (an impossible task as Niles’ panic about handling social situations well will always lead to him greatly embarrassing himself).
But the great joy of Niles, for me, is that as the show goes on you can see how quickly he is willing to break out of his own ordered lifestyle, how much he yearns for passion and excitement, and large, all-consuming feelings. Niles is described as having been an “unusually sensitive child” in the show, and is someone clearly at odds with the ideas of masculinity and gender imposed on him by his father, and in this I heavily relate to him, while navigating those ideas of masculinity and gender in my own transition. When he has moments of breaking free his joy and energy is immense, and I feel it right along with him.
Thanks Jules! I think this has given us all a proper understanding of Niles, which rounds out our look at the three members of the Crane family! But wait a second – did you say “Daphne”? Who is this… “Daphne”? We’ll need to find out next week, I’m sure!