The Seal Who Came to Dinner
Post # 3 of 10 in "The Frasier Series"
Season 6, Episode 8
Air Date: 11/19/1998
Episode 8 in Variety's Top 25 Frasier Episodes
WARNING: There will be episode spoilers in this blog series.
This series mostly aired in the 90's so, I think it's on you if you've found anything "spoiled" for you. Anyways, fair warning - I'm not holding anything back for your viewing surprise.
Call to Action:
Name Your Problem.
Continue reading to take a journey through this Frasier episode,
"The Seal Who Came to Dinner",
or skip ahead to dive right into the details of this Action Call!
" A dead seal “crashes” Niles’ gourmet dinner party. "
Where the Episode Starts
In Cafe Nervosa, Frasier’s usual coffee spot across from the radio station, sitting down with Roz.
Frasier, enthusiastically: “What a glorious day!”
Roz, deadpan: “If you’re going to be cheerful, sit somewhere else.”
Niles joins them, clearly in a glum mood, too. He explains, his gourmet club is holding elections to see who will hold this year’s “Golden Apron” award.
Normally for this award finalists would give lectures, but now they are required to host dinner parties in their homes.
Unfortunately, due to Niles’ pending divorce from Maris, his assets are tied up and he had to move out of his prestigious building, The Montana, into the furnished, “no credit, no problem” Shangri La apartments. Niles would be too embarrassed to host his haute society crowd at his current dwelling.
As Niles grumbles of his problem,
Frasier: “Every problem has a solution.”
A problem is when your kid keeps you up 3 nights in a row with colic, and you’re so burnt out that you rear-end a Lexus with four passengers, each and every one a lawyer, so you’ll probably be sued and spend the rest of your working life, if you ever even get a job, lining the pockets of 4 blood sucking, whiplash faking, fat cats. That’s what a problem is!”
(if you were already reading below... *jump back to Money Lessons)
Frasier goes right back to Niles as if Roz never spoke, regarding the dinner party dilemma, “Can you have it at a restaurant?”
The brothers are grossly dismissive to Roz for a moment, which is cringe and even though Frasier and Niles are often cringe, they usually aren’t this style of yuck.
They discuss that Niles needed something to restore his manhood which is what he sought in the Golden Apron award. Then Frasier offers his place for hosting the competitive dinner party.
Niles notices Frasier only makes the offer after finding out the party will include an attendee who is a “rich station owner who could give [Frasier] a job.”
Either way, they gleefully wrap up, now excited to co-host a fancy dinner party (something that repeatedly does not go well for the brothers throughout the series).
The opening scene introduced us to the plot already.
The brothers would co-host a dinner party to allow Niles to remain a finalist in his Gourmet club’s “Golden Apron” award.
At Frasier’s condo, as they begin to plan, Niles notices a small chip in the window, peering out to the magnificent, often admired in the show, completely fictional, city-scape view, at the Elliot Bay Towers (also fictional).
With this imperfection discovered at Frasier’s, and Niles's paranoia thick in preparation for his highly critical and snooty guests, Niles realizes he can host the party at his almost-ex-wife’s beach cottage secretly while she is out of the country, “having her elbows done”.
In fine tuxedos, the brothers enter the beach cottage the evening of the dinner party, ready to welcome their very prestigious Chef Marcel scheduled to cater the event. There is coincidentally going to be a meteor shower on this particular evening so they exit out to the beachside porch. They are greeted with an overwhelmingly repugnant smell and gnats.
There is a large, very dead seal that has washed ashore right below the deck they intended to have their star gazing upon. Remember, this evening is supposed to be perfect, so now panic has struck.
After a quick call, they learn that animal control does not tend to dead animals and they are instructed to either bury the body or bring it out to sea, preferably weighted and with holes pierced into the body to remove buoyancy.
🦭 ☠️ 🤢 🌊
This dinner party is so important to Niles, and now to Frasier too has hopes of making a job connection introduction.
The panic is thick over this literally large obstacle. Given the beach house is not equipped with digging gear, they opt to use the dingy to take the body out to sea.
Niles, being the germaphobe that he is, does not want to touch the body with his bare hands, so from the cottage he gets a silk robe, Maris’s peach peignoir, to hoist the body. Niles also took some of Maris’s perfume in an attempt to mask the smell. 🙈🙊
In classic Frasier style, their first attempt is fruitless when the body drifted to shore just as they paddled up in the dingy.🚣🏼
For the second attempt, they begrudgingly stab the seal carcass multiple times in hopes their next effort would be successful and they could proceed with their decked-out evening plans. ⚓️ 💫✨🌟 🥂
Niles was already hiding from the German neighbor, Gretchen. She noticed him enter and we’ve already learned he did not gain permission to use Maris's beach house, while she is out of town. Nosey Gretchen ends up seeing the stabbing of the seal. She only sees the peach peignoir though and smells Maris’s signature scent. She assumes the body dragged out to sea was Maris!
Before dinner can be served, the police arrive and declare a crime scene.
The episode ends with Niles and Frasier being taken away in handcuffs by the police in for questioning of the possible homicide of Maris Crane.
It’s safe to assume that Niles did not get the Golden Apron, and we know Frasier did not get the job.
I already used the word “classic” in the plot so I’m regretful to use it again,
Classic. This is a classic Frasier episode.
The way in which the brothers push and pull with one another and misunderstandings abound.
It's not one of my favorites because of how little Martin and Roz are in it, but alas, it makes sense why this is in Variety's top ten episode list.
Even though the plot is tightly focused on the dinner party and the seal, I think the most economically revealing part of this episode is right at the start. The stress that Roz shares with us at the beginning of the episode is a tune I think many Americans can sing, both back in the 90s and still to this day.
Call to Action!
Name Your Problem.
Life can be messy. Money can certainly follow that messy pattern, too.
It doesn’t need to be this way, but you’ll find countless financial references in pop culture that indicate finances are a topic out of reach, or financial goals are something to be in denial over.
Part of demystifying and conquering our financial fitness is to plainly call out the facts as they are.
What problems are you trying to solve?
What items do you want that you're not sure you can afford?
Our wise financial decisions require us to be honest with ourselves and to clearly identify the problems we’re trying to solve. Otherwise, we stay stuck in a dissatisfied money merry-go-round
(*again, if you got it, go ahead and click the gif / link 😘, but come back!)
For context, we are on the 8th episode of Season 6. Frasier got himself and all his peers at the radio station fired back on the last episode of Season 5.
In my first three posts to The Frasier Series, we haven’t discussed Roz too much yet. In the TV Series, we learn and grow with Roz and know her to be a stand-up woman. While definitely not a saint, as her very active sex life is constantly in discussion among the characters, Roz is an independent successful career woman. When she becomes pregnant (she gives birth in Season 5), she proceeds to grow into an amazing mother while still holding down her career.
Roz is a shining example slutty role model. 😍
I laugh at Niles the most, but Roz Doyle is hands down, my favorite character. 😘 🥇 😘 💕
Back to this episode...
Roz shares with us her deep stress. She’s been unemployed for a while now.
Roz is annoyed by the privileged comfortable problem of Niles when she has real problems. On top of this already stressful baseline, she gets into a car accident which could really be costly.
She doesn’t go into detail about what type of car insurance she has. After all, that wouldn’t hold us viewers in the show… 😴
Roz names multiple problems in her life and bemoans them in full honesty. While (again) classically, Niles and Frasier live in their fantasy world.
When we’re doing a financial review and first assess what problems need to be solved, sometimes we can easily tackle all the problems at once with resources available to address the issues. Other times, which I believe is more common for most Americans, we cannot solve all the problems at once.
When we don’t have the resources to solve our problems, the problems start to multiply.
I think we’re failing on our emergency funds because we don’t know how to start them in the first place.
We don't know how to do the big-picture review first to then come back to the smaller problems and decide the correct course of action.
The brothers are clearly more privileged than Roz, as they both are Doctors, while she is a radio producer. While in my opinion all of us humans are equally valuable, the numbers don’t tend to agree with me. And that's another blog series for another day.
I'm about to go into some details.
- Consider the finances of both Roz and Niles
- Consider Lifestyle Creep
- Consider many of us are coming from a wounded place with our money
- Let's make a change.
We're talking about the 90s with Frasier, but let’s look at 2021-2023-ish numbers for a minute…
Note: I will use the abbreviation "k" to represent "thousands." For example, $20,500 is $20.5k
- In Seattle,
- The average private practice Psychiatrist is making about $279k per year, per ZipRecruiter.
- The average radio producer is making about $56.5k per year, per ZipRecruiter.
Take averages with a very large grain of salt, but with that in mind, let’s continue to look at these figures.
This is all for "entertainment's sake" so I'm not trying to be precise.
i.e. this is not tax advice - if you want some, contact me 😎
Let's review Roz:
- The specifics...
- Roz is better than average, so let’s say she earns $60-66k per year. This is higher than the average for the area but not by too much.
- She has one dependent and she rents. She would file as Head of Household for her taxpayer filing status when completing her annual income tax returns. After credits, she will pay about $1,980 in Federal tax. She likely has adequate withholdings from her radio station W2 paycheck and therefore gets tax refunds each year with her return.
- She is in the 12% Federal tax bracket. WA is one of nine states that does not have a personal income tax. For reference, if she lived in CA with these facts she’d be in the 4% bracket, but would effectively pay no tax with credits. After credits, Roz’s effective tax rate is 9.8% on about $40k of taxable income (after head of household standard deduction from her $60k salary).
- If you compare her tax due to her gross income, and after-tax credits (Child & Earned Income), she’s paying about 5% in income taxes.
- This leaves her with $58k after taxes.
- For cost of living, if we use this site’s information on Seattle. Let’s take the average of the 1-person vs 4-person figures since Roz provides for her daughter, Alice. This average expense data doesn’t reference the cost of child care. For Roz’s tax estimate, I assumed she paid $3,500 in child care out of pocket, which she gets a tax credit for. I’m also assuming that the Radio station provides additional support, which is generous and not available to the average person.
- … not go overboard here I skipped mention of Social Security and Medicare tax which would reduce Roz’s take-home pay even further. ... and again for simplicity, let's say due to her seniority (we are on Season 6 remember), her income, before she lost her job, was actually high enough that after all her taxes, childcare, and trips to her hair stylist, Naj, she just about breaks-even. Maybe she's able to save $5k -$10k absolute max after real thrifting and making sacrifices (i.e. reducing expenses). I'm going to assume she can save $1,000 each year.
This is how Roz's annual $66,000 income would be used up:
How is she supposed to build up an emergency fund?
An emergency fund for a single parent's income should be at least 6 months of expenses. From our calculations, that's something like $29k; 6 months of $58k (total divided by 2). It will take Roz 5.8 years, once she gets a job again before she can save this amount up.
Any outlier, like a car accident, can steal up that small $1k per year savings making the amount of years for her to build her emergency fund continually out of reach. She will have to give up things she wants to be able to change how much she can save each year.
She is currently unemployed. Unemployment assistance is generally very low so now Roz is running a financial deficit each month. She’s either eating away at savings she was able to build before getting let go, running up debt, or asking a relative or friend for a loan or gift. Her mom was the Attorney General of Wisconsin, and therefore she’s likely financially comfortable and won’t let her daughter and granddaughter suffer for too long. Anyways… Roz’s stress makes a lot of sense. It’s an active everyday challenge to be able to save just a dollar.
Now, let's review Niles:
- Let’s assume he's about average and earns $250k per year, after expenses, net for his private practice (with a full-time receptionist).
- Knowing Niles, he's probably a higher-than-average earner, but even using the low-end of Niles's hypothetical income proves the point of the vastly different financial worlds Roz and Niles live in.
- With his self-employment, let's assume he contributes the maximum amount under the SEP-IRA rules to his retirement.
- In most years he would likely find even higher contribution limits through a 401(k) plans, being able to save even more than with a SEP. But given that he’s going through his divorce, and we see his financial turbulences during the process in this Season, let’s assume he’s not funding his tax advantage retirement accounts up to the maximum amounts. The max SEP in 2022 allows him to move $61k of his current taxable income.
- Funding tax-advanced retirement accounts reduces your current year's taxable income and then that retirement account can invest and grow without tax on current earnings/gains. You cannot draw from the account before retirement age without penalty. All funds are fully taxable when withdrawn at retirement age, whether it be the money you put in or the investment earnings you accumulated.
- With him maxing out a SEP-IRA, this leaves him with roughly $189k net from his practice. He would likely be established as an S Corporation and would issue himself a W2 for about $165k. His WA business taxes are probably around or less than $5k and his personal taxes are about $47k in wage and income taxes. Ultimately his take-home pay results to about $126.5k.
- He lives in luxury so let’s multiply Roz’s living expenses for 2 by 2, that’s about $116k (vs the $58k for Roz).
- This leaves him still with an additional $10k annually for savings, and this was after he’s funded his retirement with $61k this year too! Of course, Niles has an advantage. Roz was not able to fund any retirement savings in this scenario.
This is how Niles's annual $250,000 income would be used up:
Let's look at those two charts, side by side.
That first blue group is Expenses. Look how much of Roz's income is eaten up by expenses. Even though Niles spends double the amount on his living expenses, his % of income spent on expenses is half of Roz's % (46% vs 88%).
Even while living more luxuriously, Niles is able to save 35% of his income; Roz can maybe save 1%.
Here's another illustration...
Niles gets to choose for his lifestyle to be more expensive. He can easily pull back on lavishness to be able to increase his annual savings whereas Roz would really need to sacrifice to be able to reduce her expenses. Don’t forget once you start a cycle of debt, now you're adding additional expenses, interest, to your total expenses each year.
With Niles, we see a new “problem”: lifestyle creep. With all this extra money Niles has after expenses, he can afford to level up, as he does with his fine clothing, food, wine, dwelling, furniture, and even entertainment. If he fought against lifestyle creep, he could retire early easily.
But again, Roz is treading water. She'll be working for as long as she can unless she gets an inheritance or can negotiate higher salaries in future years. This is the position of the average American. It is stressful and damaging to our health.
This is why our clarity and honesty with our “problems” is essential to be able to properly make financial decisions.
The thing that bothers me about the general financial advice that is out there, they speak so generally. But we can’t speak generally about finances without acknowledging the immense differences between low and high-income earners. Advice for Niles is not appropriate for Roz, and vice versa.
I think it is important to stress you cannot solve financial problems or opportunities without first assessing the starting point. There is a vast spectrum of resources available to different people; not everyone has access to the same starting place.
A lot of us are coming from a place of hurt.
- 40% of middle-income Americans say they’re depressed about their finances as inflation and higher interest rates take a huge mental toll
- Most Americans are significantly stressed about money — here’s how it varies by demographic
- More Americans are so worried about money, it's hurting their mental health
I hear that.
I can completely empathize with Roz and the many Americans like her feeling financial stress.
I can also look to Frasier and Niles as to how not to demonstrate your privilege.
I believe there needs to be a change in the dialogue about finances. There is a massive need for change in our national policies on community assistance, taxes, and supporting the dignity of Americans. For that matter, this belief applies to all people, regardless of country, that the global community deserves financial dignity.
I’m here for you to bring clarity to, and prioritize, your problems and desires.
Let’s honestly calculate where you’re at, Name It. Name Your Problems, clearly.
Then, curate the plan that nurtures your best life and solves the problems of your choosing.
💜 Coach Jacque