S1 E16: The Show Where Lilith Comes Back

FDs1e16-07Airdate: February 3, 1994
Director: James Burrows
Writers:
Ken Levine & David Isaacs
(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
This episode presents Lilith’s first appearance on the show. It’s always interesting to get a chance to examine the seams sewn between sitcom universes. When I’m reminded that Frasier was a spin-off, I tend to remark on how vitally different it is from its parent show, Cheers. As far as I’m aware, there are no wrinkles in continuity between them, but the psychic format determining the tone and value of whatever occurs– the hows and whys of the characters’ motives and relations on each show– is as different as Beatles and Melvins.

The only time that Frasier ever seems to even touch on a wisp of Cheers jive is during the tender pauses (and the “Kind of a Great TV Moment” moments, perhaps). That’s neither for better or worse– sometimes you feel like Beatling; sometimes you wanna Melvin– but our Frasier wonking noggins enjoyed Lilith’s contribution to the Frasier canon. She brought a stiff dose of her n(eg)ative reality– heretofore only available on Cheers episodes– which, to be specific, is a hell of a lot more straight (no pun intended) than anything the Crane boys have afforded us.

Maybe it’s because of the Cold War. Maybe it’s because a show set in a bar had to work a little harder to be taken seriously. (Double cliché!) Whatever the case, it’s a feat to reconcile the cartoon-grade psychological surrealism of Frasier with the stoic, gritty adult drama of its wooden-floored East Coast ancestor.

Anywho, this one’s for you Lilith fans. She certainly gives the show a little range. As for the title, I initially wondered whether the crew wanted go with “The One Where Lilith Comes Back,” but altered it to eschew Friends mimicry (since Friends begins each episode title with “The One with…” or “The One Where…”) but according to Uncle Internet, Friends would not premiere for another 7 months. Friends was, however, directed primarily by James Burrows for the first season, so maybe he recalled directing this Frasier episode, thought fondly of Lilith (as we all often do), and made history with the cutest possible way to title each Friends episode. (Scrubs also does this, starting each title with “My…”)

As we continue our Frasier Denial, I’m glad that Lilith strolled in and brought all this up. I think the most important point her frosty, funerary presence raises has to do with atmosphere. I find that good art takes the right balance of “grit and soul,” and (if you haven’t already noticed) Frasier is a sort of bastard child in the sitcom section of my viewership. Grit is something of which it has almost none. I might even say it has only “plastic grit,” preferring that its darker elements stay disposable, slapstick-glossed, or both.

Rebuttal: Then, we remember that Frasier has Martin Crane. Then, we scratch our chin for a bit, nod curtly, and apologize to Frasier for calling him a bastard. For now.
FDs1e16-02Our episode Synopsis:
Open at KACL. Frasier is on the air with Hank (voice-over by Timothy Leary) who, despite his every effort, is unable to lose weight. Frasier has him hold to be referred to a local psychiatrist.

The next call is from Lilith, Frasier’s ex-wife. She disagrees with Frasier’s advice to Hank, and she insults Frasier at length, not to mention his methods in general and the direction his career has taken.

Roz suggests that Frasier and Lilith have dinner together. Because she has done so over the air, Frasier is magically compelled to comply.

Scene 2: The Return of the Magnificent Sternin
(Nice and incoherent. We at Frasier Denied like our coffee black, our steak raw, and our scene titles barely in God damned English, yep.)

At the apartment, Frasier, Martin, Daphne, and Niles have gathered to have dinner with Lilith. Martin emphatically describes how much Lilith weirds him out, and Niles explains his feud with Lilith, which began when she snickered at Niles and Maris’s wedding when they were giving their vows. For some reason, that really seems to drive home how much of an Ice Royalty she is (may as well not be sexist about it).
FDs1e16-01Daphne receives a copious amount of psychokinetic “evil” waves from Lilith. Lilith continues to taunt Niles and insults Martin prolifically, while with cold subtlety.

They all sit down for dinner. Lilith catches Frasier up on Frederick’s activities. He has been at summer camp, and his allergies are causing lots of problems. This is because of the 1980s “nerd” stereotypes no doubt still lingering in the collective unconscious.

Scene 3: Look What I Found With the Dust Bunnies
(What this scene title lacks in coherency, it gains back triple in sheer courage.)

Martin tries to converse with Lilith. Even though Martin is a completely honest person who never gives anyone grief unless they truly deserve it (double cliché!), Lilith insists on responding to everything he says with heaps of passive-aggressive condescension.
Daphne continues to receive painful waves of evil from Lilith. Martin goes to bed.

Niles dismisses himself. On his way out, he asks Lilith to apologize for ruthlessly insulting him all these years. She does so, after prefacing with an elaborate description of how little real value the apology will have. Niles gratefully accepts.

Now alone with Frasier, Lilith admits that she is in fact not in Seattle to attend a convention. She produces a letter, which she explains, through some twisty exposition, to have been left by Frasier a month ago. She reads the letter aloud. It expresses love and a longing to reconcile.

Frasier reports that the letter was in fact over a year old– he had written and left it before moving to Seattle. They surmise that the letter had merely fallen out of view behind the furniture, then recently recovered by the housekeeper.FDs1e16-06-08Scene 4: Untitled
Frasier and Niles are at Cafe Nervosa. Niles is holding the letter. Frasier is once again torn about whether he should reunite with Lilith.

Frasier decides to see Lilith again that night.

Scene 5: Untitled
Lilith is alone at her hotel room. Her hair is down. There is a knock at the door. She answers it. It’s Frasier. He is especially attracted to her with her hair down.

Scene 6: Fried Eggs and Other Small Tragedies
Frasier and Lilith are asleep in the morning, with both standard TV-sex tropes in use: (a) they had a full night’s sleep together, naked except for boxer shorts on the male, and (b) the bed sheet is tucked and krazy-glued around Lilith’s breasts.

Room service brings breakfast. Frasier rejects Lilith. She weeps and confesses that she is afraid to raise Frederick alone, which she now realizes is the reason she has pretended to still be in love with Frasier. They agree that life is better this way and eat breakfast peaceably.

Speaking of which, though, given all the options that the world might afford, is it really necessary that Frederick only sees his father once a year (on average)? Freddy barely shows up more often than Maris. I mean, I know he was born in a taxi, but for some reason, it seems that Cheers would have managed to maintain that Dr. Crane would be in his son’s life more than just every other Christmas. The lesson that we learn from this is that access to the pleasures of West Coast living is worth becoming a ghost to all of your known relatives.

Credits vignette:
Daphne lies on the couch with tea and a hot water bottle. Cut to Lilith’s plane taking off. Daphne rises, delighted that her evil-waves migraine has lifted.

Since the Frasier canon maintains that Daphne is psychic, if Frasier and Cheers are to qualify for mutual trans-series continuity, then Cheers must endorse Lilith’s role as a legitimate satanic spirit incarnate.
FDs1e16-04-05Closing thoughts:
Currently, Netflix is the best way for me to watch Frasier (and when I watch it on my computer, I use Internet Explorer. I prefer its white, sentence-halving subtitles to Firefox’s yellow ones– though the font is better in Firefox). I do have some TV shows on DVD, but I reserve that space for shows on which I really want to needlessly binge, especially when ‘making of’ featurettes are included in the implication of ‘Play All.’ (Thank you, Seinfeld!) There are also the commentaries and deleted scenes, of course, and that’s really the clincher for DVD ownership. (There are rumors that Netflix is going to be offering those soon, so hooray for holistic sitcom wonking).

Currently, the only TV shows on my shelf are Seinfeld and The Office. This blog gives me all the meta-Frasier I can handle, and my other favorites are either not available, sufficiently memorized so as to render ownership unnecessary, or, as in Frasier’s case, quite honestly, satisfactory without special features. For some reason, I’d rather not see John Mahoney without his Martin mask on.
FDs1e16-03Since this is a Lilith episode, hence I know my personal Film Nerd Community informant will be reading this:

Remember when I brought up the distinction between “muffled” and “bright” formats in sitcoms? (It’s in the episode 10 review if you missed it or want a refresher– skip to the Closing Thoughts.) It turns out that the distinction is actually simply between film and video.

I know, right? Because this is foremost a comedy blog, I will leave that post intact, including my disclosure that, in attempting to convey the film vs. video distinction, “muffled and bright” is probably less professional an articulation than most screen-swiping 5-year-olds of today would have been able to muster on the same Tuesday, and as I crush Cheerios in my own pudgy fists, I’ll just copy the following description from the notes I took while my patient friend explained.

He tells me that “film looks like fantasy.” I can’t argue with that. A Perfect Strangers clip would do just fine as a dream sequence for a Full House episode or a soap opera.

On film, you have 24 frames per second. For video, it’s 30 frames per second. With film, there are also black bars that alternate with filmed content frame to frame, but since it alternates so fast, the brain perceives smooth motion. That may sound screwy, but we’re talking about 480 horizontal lines (in the U.S., that is. Overseas, it’s 540).

One can only hope that I have butchered that description sufficiently that our film nation ambassador will insist on clearing it up for the citizens of Frasier Denial. (Ah!– there’s my phone buzzing right now.)

Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
Lilith’s spell on Niles is nonsensical. There are two distinct problems with it. Firstly, where does Lilith get the motivation to exact such punishing mockery on someone for years on end? Scorning someone’s wedding vows ranks pretty high on the list of shitty things that you can do to a person with mere speech, and someone of Lilith’s intelligence would reserve that kind of ammo for a party who has somehow earned it with equivalent nastiness, I would think.

Next, Niles just takes it without ever tiring, protesting, or feeding it back to her. These are two unusual, vastly exaggerated behaviors that combine for a completely absurd interaction one can only hope to soon forget. At the very least, I hope that Lilith’s next guest plot leaves this “Bugs and Daffy in hell for no reason” trope out of it.

Continuity errors or anachronism:
This episode features the only time that we ever see Frasier refer a caller to a local psychiatrist. Not a flub strictly speaking, but worth mentioning.

# of women Frasier has dated:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

NEW CATEGORY! (thank friggin’ God):
# of women Frasier has slept with:
Episode: [1]                                          series cumulative: [1]
FDs1e16-10# of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

# of “Dad’s chair is awful” jokes:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [5]   series cumulative: [5]

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:
Episode: [1]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [4]

Mentions of Maris:
Episode: [4]   previous cumulative: [29]   series cumulative: [33]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [10]   series cumulative: [10]

# of tender pauses:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [9]   series cumulative: [9]

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:
Frasier and Lilith waking in the same bed is one of those shots that would qualify for a category that accounted for “Kind of great Frasier moment” moments, but we don’t have that category. Because I continue to list them here, however, at series end, we will have a list for that category anyway, so.. everybody wins.

This moment was key not only because it addresses trans-series continuity, as we have already sufficiently discussed, but it is also one of the few events in the whole run (along with her other appearances, Frederick’s appearances, a couple of career complications, and Niles and Daphne’s romance) that take Frasier, the man, out of the King of the Hill-caliber homogeneity of “the ensemble’s general adventures.”

Check out the King of the Hill (or as we call it at home, “Unka Hank!”) series finale. It’s just another day in Arlen. We don’t learn anything, no one has a baby, gets married, moves to Europe, dies, or gathers in their living room to glurge all over ours.

I find this a strength, by the way. King of the Hill and Frasier both suit that approach pretty well (and I’ll save you the time– I do realize that Luanne had a boyfriend die and got married, but in 259 episodes over 13 years, that was it.)

TV Guide version (© Netflix): “Frasier is surprised to hear the voice of his ex-wife Lilith on his radio show.”
FDs1e16-09

 

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6 thoughts on “S1 E16: The Show Where Lilith Comes Back

  1. “As far as I’m aware, there are no wrinkles in continuity between them”

    Not sure if these count, but John Mahoney played a piano player in an episode of Cheers, and I don’t remember the exact details, but Fraiser mentions a sister or that his father is dead or something like that in an episode of Cheers.

  2. I cannot express to you how irritating I also find it when a character reacts in a way that seems completely in the wrong. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we made this person behave this way?” No. No, it would not. That is why fanfiction exists.
    There are ways in which to explore someone acting or reacting in a way that seems counter-intuitive to their nature, and pulling it off well because the full psychology behind the character has been explored. There is a really good example of both the right and wrong ways to go about it within the first season of the original Star Trek series. In the episode “The Naked Time”, the crew becomes infected with an illness which forces them to behave as if they were drunk. One man becomes paranoid and angry. One sings mournful-sounding Irish tunes. One gleefully brandishes a fencing foil at his shipmates. In the original script, Spock was supposed to be acting out in some way that was completely incongruous with what was known about him thus far. Leonard Nimoy remarked upon this, as suggested an alternative: Spock should enter a darkened room alone and sob to himself about being unable to coincide his human and Vulcan halves. The scene worked because Nimoy had carefully considered Spock’s background and attitudes, and how he might be affected by a breakdown.
    The next time we see Spock out of character, it is in “This Side of Paradise”, a story about feel-good drugs. To be blunt, Spock gets high and bangs a blonde. They cloud-gaze and talk about rainbows. And I grind my back teeth together in irrational anger. This is not Spock, not even an altered version of him. He has switched over to a loopy, carefree human, which is not at all in accordance with his stoic Vulcan upbringing. A trivia search reveals that the original story called for helmsman Sulu to be affected by the drugs and fall for the girl, but that a change was made to the script, so that Spock was now in a position of being completely out of sync with himself.
    The rest of the story from that episode is fairly well done, so I can’t fault the entire episode, but the scenes with Spock make me wonder who had been drunkenly reviewing fan letters that week, and thought it might be fun to “mix things up a bit.”

    • Thanks for the comments, and taking the time to give examples! One thing that we’re trying to start deconstructing is what sort of lines the creators really meant to draw in terms of how surreal the characters’ inner lives and worldviews are. For example, are they meant to be conveyed as characters with reasonable ongoing lives, or just loose archetypes of certain attitudes? Or, is the comedic atmosphere meant to be liberal enough with its realism and continuity that when a character acts out of turn, it’s an intentional joke, one not meant to be judged as part of the context of that particular character’s motives and experiences? As a side note, it seems to me that “character” is a term that in fact describes not a person, but a portfolio of motives and experiences anyway. Thanks again, and Deny on! Cheers, Andrew

  3. I am not defending Frasier’s rather absent dad routine, but just stating for sake of it that they do seem to see each other a lot more often than once a year. In the episode 1.5 Here’s Looking At You, Frasier is on the phone with Frederick (“Senator Thurmond is not in your closet”). He then says “I’ll see you next weekend”. I think there are other ocassional references throughout the show that Frasier flies to Boston every now and then. However, Lilith is of course the one who is truly raising him.

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