Monday, August 29, 2011

Frasierquest 4.7: A Lilith Thanksgiving

Frasier gives Lilith a pinch
Frasier (on phone): Hello? Yes, Lilith. Yes, Lilith. Yes, Lilith.

Martin: Gee, it's like they're still married

Thanksgiving already? The gap between the last two episodes was pretty big (I think this was due to Grammer's absence, or else NBC had baseball), but it's a shock to be this far along. November sweeps means it's time for Lilith to return as well, in an episode that takes us out of Seattle but is still within the recognizable territory of high-class farce. Usually at odds, Frasier and Lilith team up to make bigger idiots of themselves together than they could ever be on their own.

Frasier, Niles, and Martin are all planning to take Frederick (and Lilith) to a rustic cabin for Thanksgiving (well, it's Niles', so it's not too rustic.) However, Frasier discovers that Frederick is a candidate for the prestigious Marbury Academy, and decides to move the celebration to Boston, so that he and Lilith can make sure their son gets in. To this end they visit with Dr. Campbell (Paxton Whitehead), the head of the school, and do their best bootlicking; but after their visit, they decide they weren't clear enough on some points, and go back to try and clarify. The second meeting doesn't go well, which means they have to go back and try again, and again. In the meantime, Martin and Niles are looking after Frederick, and, well, it starts when Martin tries to teach him to play catch and goes downhill from there.

Not having raised children myself (and not being terribly rich), I can't speak to the authenticity of Frasier and Lilith's conflict. The idea that a child's fate can be sealed as early as grade school never made sense to me, but it is something parents make a fuss over when they don't have enough actual problems to worry about, and it's something that Frasier and Lilith would totally do. Enrollment in ivy-league elementary schools comes up a lot as a plot point when television writers want to show status and overparenting gone mad, and both our protagonists are known for that. Lilith's often the "sane" one in her Frasier appearances, so it's fun to see her being just as unreasonable as her ex-husband.

Both she and Frasier suffer from perfectionism, so it makes total sense that their problems in this episode stem from an unwillingness to leave well enough alone. It's almost symbolic when Frasier tries to tug off a stray thread from his jacket, only to find that he's unraveling the pattern on one of Dr. Campbell's chairs. They just can't stop pulling. Their desperation builds beautifully, culminating in a brutal intrusion on Dr. Campbell's Thanksgiving dinner. (The scene is also notable for an early appearance by Jane Lynch, almost unrecognizable.)

A similar escalation occurs when Martin and Niles try to babysit Frederick (the first appearance by Trevor Einhorn in the role, which he'd play through the rest of the series.) In theory a small child being repeatedly accidentally injured by his caregivers is not funny at all, but Frederick's blasé acceptance of whatever happens to him is hilarious and contrasts nicely with Martin and Niles' panicked incompetence. (There's also a brief mention by Daphne that she's spending the holiday with her transvestite uncle Jackie, who is also apparently a minister, and I can't tell you how disappointed I am that we never meet this guy.)

"A Lilith Thanksgiving" ends on a weirdly triumphant note, and it's made all the better for how Frasier and Lilith handle it. They care more about the welfare of their son than they do about being liked or even tolerated, and that's admirable, even if their zeal blinds them to Frederick's increasing number of injuries. The episode's parallel action and escalating absurdity makes for some great laughs, and it's a worthy visit with Frasier's inescapable ex.

No Guest Caller

Written by Chuck Ranberg & Anne-Flett Giordano
Directed by Jeff Melman
Aired November 26, 1996

Niles: Oh, just a little depressed. It's my first Thanksgiving without Maris.

Martin: Oh, yeah, I know, son. It's hard.

Niles: Do you remember the year I plopped that big wedge of pumpkin pie in front of her, and we all laughed? Then I put a big scoop of whipped cream on top of it and we laughed some more! Then her eyes welled up with tears and we all knew it was time to stop.

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