blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Frasier (1993) s01e16 – The Show Where Lilith Comes Back

Bebe Neuwirth’s visit to the new show, coming in the back nine of the first season, is everything it could and should be. Writers Ken Levine and Davis Isaacs craft this perfect plot, which showcases Neuwirth and gives her a relationship—active or not—with all the regulars, then still manages to keep it an episode for Kelsey Grammer, but one where the narrative distance is so focused there’s extra room for Neuwirth.

Even when Neuwirth’s not onscreen, once she arrives, she’s very present. She calls into Grammer’s radio show in the opening (Merry Prankster Timothy Leary is the guest caller, which seems random) and cuts him down to size on air as far as his professional diagnoses, giving Peri Gilpin as many laughs as it gives the viewer. Gilpin’s reaction to finally hearing Lilith—though, Grammer assures Neuwirth, his listeners have heard all about her—has a great punchline too, foreshadowing how well Levine and Isaacs are going to do getting them in after the main action.

Because even though no one’s ever seen Lilith interact with Frasier’s family, she’s obviously got history with both Martin (John Mahoney) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce). Mahoney’s pretty funny—especially when Neuwirth’s grilling him over repressed sexual urges when he was beating people with his nightstick—but Hyde Pierce is the cake. He’s still mad about Lilith mocking Maris’s wedding vows—great line about Lilith being weird versus Maris being a little strange (Levine and Isaacs’s barbs are particularly sharp, as the show immediately establishes Neuwirth can take them and doesn’t care if anyone else can).

Meanwhile, Jane Leeves has sensed a disturbance in the Force and has a constant headache… until she actually shakes Neuwirth’s hand, at which time she loses all sensation in the arm.

The family scene isn’t the point of the episode, however; there’s some unfinished business for Neuwirth and Grammer, which catches Grammer off guard. The rest of the episode is pretty damn good for a nineties sitcom episode dealing with recent divorcees. The balance of laughs and drama work out and it gives Grammer a nice range. Neuwirth doesn’t get a huge range because she’s Lilith, but still… very nice guest appearance.

I’m sure James Burrows directing didn’t hurt either.

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