Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Frasierquest 1.16: The Show Where Lilith Comes Back

Lilith, snarking as usual
Lilith: Congratulations, Frasier, you’ve done it again.

So, after the holidays and starting something that is like work but without the money, I’m ready to start back on Frasierquest before everyone thinks I’ve abandoned it. Rest assured, I have no intention of stopping.

And what an episode to come back to. I really loved Frasier and Lilith as a couple on CHEERS, and was disappointed that they divorced off-screen before this series, as hilariously as it was handled. Of course, the main reason for this is that Bebe Neuirth is first and foremost a stage actress, and wasn’t willing to abandon Broadway for L.A., but thankfully, she was available to visit every year or so. Something about Lilith forces the writers to bring their A-game; her appearances are pure gold, and her first guest shot is no exception.

Lilith drifts back into Frasier’s world first by calling into his radio show to counter his advice to the previous caller; she’s apparently in town for a psychiatric convention, but she couldn’t help it. As it happens, though, she’s there because of a letter she discovered, in which Frasier implores Lilith to give their relationship a second chance. Frasier wrote that letter over a year ago, now he’s starting to think maybe it would be worth a try. He goes to see her at her hotel room, and inevitably, mistakes are made.

A common thread in Lilith episodes is that her arrival is something the other characters dread. Her first appearance in Seattle is heralded by Daphne getting the mother of all psychic headaches, and dark spiritual portents crop up in subsequent episodes. But of course, she’s not that bad. She’s a good person at heart, just with a very dry wit and an oddly blunt approach to social situations. The contrast between the legend of Lilith and the reality is arguably one of the things that makes her appearances so much fun; her intelligence and charm becomes more disarming, and she gets to be a foil for the regular cast while still being sympathetic.

Part of the fun is also just watching Neuirth in the role. I’d say she has the ease that comes with having played a character for years beforehand, but honestly, she had Lilith down from early on. (Arguably it was her second CHEERS episode, “Abnormal Psychology” from the fifth season, where she found her groove.) The biting sarcasm, the deadpans, the occasional sexiness, there’s an entire essay that could be written about this performance.

This time around, though, Lilith’s visit serves a specific purpose, which is to give closure to a relationship that ended offscreen. By flirting with reviving their marriage, Frasier and Lilith get to show why it ended in the first place; not because they hate each other, all jokes aside, or because of any specific character flaws. They’re just in different places. We never do find out what the catalyst was that ended things once and for all, but it doesn’t really matter. And of course, there’s a nice redemptive note, in that they’ll always be connected by Frederick.

The Lilith episodes are really a good example of the depth of characterization that sets FRASIER apart. There’s something classical in the way these two people who just can’t get along keep getting pulled together, but at the same time it reveals a Hell of a lot about both of them. “The Show Where Lilith Comes Back” is a great kick-off to the tradition, and one of the first season’s best episodes.

And the next one is even better, folks.

Guest Caller: Timothy Leary as Hank

Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Directed by James Burrows
Aired February 3, 1994

Frasier: Well Seattle, we have a celebrity of sorts on the line. This is my ex-wife Lilith.

Lilith: What do you mean by celebrity?

Frasier: Oh, they know you.

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