Over the course of its 11 seasons, “Frasier” won a slew of Emmy Awards. Actually, it earned 37 out of 107 nominations, including five for guest actors ranging from Jean Smart to Anthony LaPaglia. But somehow, someway, even amidst the glut of gold showered upon Frasier’s cashmere-clad shoulders, the show’s stealth secret weapon never scored even a nomination for her 11 episodes.
“Frasier” fans know there is only one person it could possibly be: The irresistible, indefatigable, and indelible Harriet Sansom Harris as Frasier’s agent, Bebe Glazer. (“Lady Macbeth without the sincerity,” as Niles described her.) And Bebe was exactly the type of fast-talking snake charmer who could make that alliteration seem not just virtuosic but mesmeric.
Every Bebe episode is the best Bebe episode because Harris (who scored her career-first Emmy nomination for “Hacks” Season 2) is the kind of actress who understands how to make a meal out of every line. As Frasier’s on-again, off-again agent who beguiles him with material wealth in exchange for something as paltry as his ethics and integrity, she’s the only character who could possibly out-talk — and out-smart — Frasier. Pitched somewhere between Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday” and Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard,” Bebe is a whirling devil — er, dervish — always ready with a contract to be signed in blood and the promise of a first-born to extract. Like that time a publicity stunt with Frasier and an actual crane goes awry until it conveniently chokes to death… on a jawbreaker. Who would feed a bird a jawbreaker?
“Is there any chance it wasn’t you?” an aghast Frasier asks Bebe.
“Oh darling,” she replies. “There’s always a chance.”
And as Harris glosses her tacit admission with so much histrionic camp that it breaks the sound barrier to turn almost sincere, she cements her place in the “Frasier” pantheon (and as a performer who deserves to be played on a loop in gay bars nationwide). If Frasier needs his illusions, well, like any good agent, she’ll make sure he gets what he needs. Just stay out of the grown-ups’ way and leave her to it. After all, if she paid attention to signs with little pictures on them, she’d never get a parking space.
As the series’ anchor, Kelsey Grammer had to balance Frasier’s pomposity with humanity. That he did so without sacrificing any of the show’s laughs is what earned him multiple Emmys (and a third stint as Frasier). But as a once-a-season guest star, Harris was under no such obligation. Harris and Bebe both swoop in and depart without having to stoop to such things as “likability.”
Who else but Harris could pull off a stunt that found helicopters sav, with her innate knack for the mid-Atlantic accent, could perform a paean to cigarettes that had the Crane household skulking about in the middle of the night for a furtive puff? Like cigarettes themselves, Bebe is the triumph of artifice and desire over the dreary day-to-day, with Harris providing the ice-cold martini counterpoint to the sherry-swilling Frasier.
A Bebe appearance on the new Paramount+ “Frasier” seems unlikely; though Roz and Lilith have been announced, nothing has been said about Harris reprising her role. Just picturing Bebe walking into Mahoney’s is comedy gold, but if no one bothered to reach out about her triumphant return? As Bebe herself knows, if they can’t prove you were anywhere near that air-conditioner when it plummeted out of the window… well then.
“Frasier” is currently streaming on Peacock. Bebe’s first appearance is in Season 1, Episode 9.