Why Roz Doyle is secretly the hero of ‘Frasier’

When I first entered Frasier‘s orbit, I wanted to be Daphne. Adored by an effeminate man, surrogate daughter and chum to her cantankerous charge, and able to toss off passive-aggressive quips in her pretentious employer’s wake, Daphne seemed to have it all. (Okay, I mostly craved the adoration Niles creepily heaped upon her. I was twelve. I’m aware now that his secretive infatuation is no model for a healthy romance.)

And Roz? Sure, she was pretty cool. She expertly and repeatedly took Frasier down a few pegs and kept Bulldog in his lowly chauvinistic place. But it wasn’t until I matured that I fully appreciated what she represented in the Must See TV line-up: a single, career-driven woman totally in charge of and unapologetic about her sexuality. She was real and vibrant and took herself seriously, especially when others didn’t. Roz is who I want to be today.

Roz begins the series as a veteran radio producer, at home in the recording booth in a way that her “boss,” Frasier, can only aspire to be. Her professional achievement is accompanied by a propensity to cycle through romantic partners. These two traits define her character for the duration of the series.

Roz’s comfort with her sexuality attracts no shortage of ridicule from her male acquaintances. Hardly an episode goes by without Frasier or Niles making a snide remark about her dating preferences and practices. It’s usually played for laughs, but their ire betrays the fact that her sexual liberation threatens them. And Roz isn’t shy about calling them out on their puritanical criticism.

During one of countless visits to Cafe Nervosa, Frasier mentions he’d like to introduce Daphne to a nice fellow. Roz whips out her literal little black book and starts making suggestions. Niles soon returns with coffee and takes offense at the idea that Daphne would be interested in Roz’s ex-lovers. They begin arguing and Frasier attempts to make peace, instead betraying his sexist prejudices.

While Roz usually has no trouble defending her choices, there are a few distressing instances when she internalizes the shaming she’s forced to wade through. “No one is more careful than I am when it comes to birth control,” she reminds Frasier when she shares that she may be pregnant. “But then again, even the best protection is only effective ninety-nine out of a hundred times; I can’t beat those odds…”  (“Halloween,” Season 5, episode 3). Her lament is so out of character it sounds like something series writers placed in her mouth to make the prospect of single motherhood more palatable to American audiences. (Guess Murphy Brown didn’t quite get us there.)

Everyone has something to say about Roz’s choices. Usually allies against Frasier and Niles’ snobbery, Martin confesses he’s unsurprised by Roz’s unplanned pregnancy.

Even Daphne judges Roz based on her romantic reputation. Having sifted through Roz’s dry cleaning for outfits, the two of them head out for a Reception at the British Consulate. Roz is visibly upset about the glitzy cocktail dress she’s stuck wearing, daring Niles and Frasier to say anything as she stomps across room to exit the apartment.

Roz’s sexual adventurism is well-trod territory, and the male characters especially consider it fair game for ridicule. Interestingly, the same people who attempt to shame her often turn to her for romantic advice. Both Daphne and Niles make use of her specialized knowledge, joining her on a visit to a singles bar Roz calls The Sure Thing. When Frasier asks her what she does “when the romance goes out of a relationship,” Roz smiles and says, “I get dressed and go home.” Her matter-of-fact admission is met with a jab about her inability to maintain a long-term relationship. But Frasier still takes her romantic advice to Niles, who follows it despite his overt disdain for her lifestyle. Roz is at once pariah and expert.

In spite of a culture that labels her “promiscuous” and co-workers and friends who attempt to shame her every chance they get, Roz owns her sexuality and, for the most part, refuses to make excuses for it. Well aware of the way society judges her personal choices, Roz navigates the gendered double-standard of dating with aplomb, rarely apologizing for her sexual independence.

As much as her sexuality is called into question, her professional aptitude is untouchable. Slip-ups are so out of the ordinary they inspire deep concern when they happen. Roz is indispensable to Frasier’s success as a radio host, a fact made clear on several occasions.

During ratings week one year, Frasier notices how anxious Roz is and reminds her that their “callers always come through.” Soon after we witness Roz frantically prepping callers, convincing them to twist their narratives into tantalizing stories. Frasier is oblivious to her behind-the-scenes machinations, instead believing that callers with fascinating problems drift magically into his headphones over the airwaves. 

Frasier is normally more attuned to Roz’s professional competence, deferring to her superior expertise on many occasions. This is most start during a flashback to Frasier’s first day as a radio host. Roz, who has been assigned to produce his show after another producer (Dave) bails, doesn’t pull any punches. She admits cheerfully that she thinks psychiatry is “bull” and confesses that Frasier drove Dave away with his pretentiousness and lack of radio experience. 

After a disastrous first show, Roz takes the time to give Frasier a few notes so he can improve as a host. Frasier humbly absorbs her pointed critiques, having witnessed first-hand that her confidence is well earned. While Frasier considers himself her intellectual superior, it’s clear that he has nothing on her when it comes to their shared vocation.

Frasier is often Roz’s professional champion. In season two, Roz laments that she has to miss her family reunion. Later, she shares with Frasier that she was ambivalent about attending because of her relatives’ expectations. Downcast and introspective, she succinctly outlines what society expects women to accomplish with their lives:

Frasier listens and validates her feelings, reminding her that she does have a great career, and that she is a female pioneer in her field.

Roz is living a life counter to gendered expectations, prioritizing her career over domestic partnership. While she frequently voices her desire for a steady boyfriend, rarely does she indicate that she wants the marriage her relatives presume she should be chasing. Although there is a memorable moment when Roz declares that when she dies, she’d like it to be on her 100th birthday, and for her “husband to be so upset that he has to drop out of college” (“Death and the Dog,” Season 4, episode 12).

After Roz becomes a mother, she continues to focus on her career. Although dating remains a part of her life, she knows she is enough for her daughter both emotionally and economically.

By the end of the series, Roz has become manager of the radio station, solidifying the importance of her career to her character. She ends the show even more independent than she began it, having achieved more responsibility in her personal and professional life. Roz remains one of the most feminist women on television, a pop cultural role model and ancestor of the many independent female characters who’ve triumphed in her wake.

[Image courtesy NBC]

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