Waiting for Lilith to descend, bat-like, upon Frasier is like the anticipating the “five gold rings” stanza in The Twelve Days of Christmas. Heeeeere’s Lilith!
Frasier achieved a rare trick in television that we may not see the likes of again, the goalposts being so different now: it began as a spin-off of Cheers and became every bit as successful as its source material. The show so deftly established its own world, removed not just geographically but stylistically from Cheers, and didn’t rely in the slightest bit on the viewer making a connection between the two. It would have been all too easy to have the bulging cast of Cheers rotate through the apartment door to the predictable applause of the live studio audience, offering comfort and familiarity, but instead the showrunners would shrewdly bide their time, waiting till episode sixteen before tantalising us with the sweetmeat that is Lilith.
But who is Lilith? Who is this impenetrable laser beam of a woman who makes ex-cop Martin nervous and gives Daphne a psychic headache? Well even if you haven’t seen Cheers, there’s enough exposition in the lead-up episodes of Frasier for us to know that she’s his ex-wife, she cheated on him, they have a young son who lives with her, she’s also a psychiatrist, and that the Crane family on the whole regards her with distrust.
Not to mention Frasier’s radio listeners: rather cleverly, Lilith’s entrance occurs off-camera when she psychologically jumps him during his show. She’s in town for a conference and couldn’t resist ringing up to behold him “doling out worthless little advice pellets” from his “psychiatric pez dispenser.”
“Congratulations, Frasier, you’ve done it again. You’ve led another unsuspecting innocent down one of your dark, dead-end Freudian hallways.”
Bebe Neuwirth is a bona fide Tony Award-winning Broadway star (did you know she is the only person to have portrayed three different roles in three different productions of the musical Chicago?) She brings nuance and warmth to a role that could quite quickly be one-note. Lilith appears, to all intents and purposes and certainly to Martin and Niles, to be ice-cold, withering and scorn-filled, as pale as a blanched parsnip and twice as severe. Over the course of the episode though, she slowly reveals her vulnerabilities and her struggles and general human-ness. In case it all gets too nuanced, Daphne has her aforementioned psychic meltdown from the “clawing at the cosmic continuum” caused by the “negative force” out there, hilariously just before Lilith knocks on the door of the apartment. Pure evil and vulnerable – women can have it all.
The plot is less important to me than just being able to bask in Bebe Neuwirth’s acting prowess, but to bring you up to speed: Lilith said she’s in Seattle for a conference, but really she found a letter Frasier wrote to her begging for her to reconsider their relationship and flew to see him; Frasier actually wrote that letter over a year ago and has since moved on. They end up sleeping together at her hotel room anyway and somehow further misunderstandings transpire, but it ends on the sweeter end of bittersweet – Lilith admits she’s just been feeling alone and finding single motherhood hard, and while she and Frasier still care for each other and have unconditional love for their son Frederick, they know they’re not supposed to be together.
Lilith is all about that voice – so monotonously sassy, a straight line of barbed wire, wit as dry as a teething infant’s rusk, which is rather delicious when paired with the equally dry and suspicious-yet-baffled Martin.
Martin: So, I chased this guy down a dark alley, and when he got to
the end he turned and pulled a knife on me. So I gave him a
couple of good shots with my nightstick.
Lilith: Fascinating. I have to ask, were you at all aware of any
repressed sexual urges while you were pummeling him so
Martin: Yeah, but I didn’t put ’em in the report.
Lilith: You’re having some fun at my expense, aren’t you?
Martin: Not much.
Such splendid solemnity.
The recipe I made to go with this episode is based on the scene when Frasier and Lilith wake up in her hotel room and have room service eggs; Lilith says “this was a mistake” and Frasier’s all “oh my god I know sleeping together was a terrible idea” and Lilith is like “no…I mean I ordered poached not fried.” Now, I don’t personally eat eggs but was not going to let this stop me from making something approximating them. Tofu scramble is a delicious snack any time of day: brunch, supper, post-coitus with your ex-husband. Nutritional yeast is the linchpin of this recipe, like the love-child of parmesan and roasted mushrooms it affords your scramble a handsomely savoury intensity, even if you do eat eggs I feel like it’s worth having a container of this stuff in your pantry. If nothing else, it really is nutritional.
- 100g firm tofu (I prefer plain firm as opposed to extra-firm, but you do as you please)
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder (or a dash of English mustard)
- salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
This comes together so quickly that you can put your toast on and, depending on how well-done you like it, it’ll be ready by the time it pops.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, and use a fork to mash the tofu in a small bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients, and tip the lot into the hot saucepan. Stir for a couple of minutes until the tofu is thoroughly warmed through. Slide it onto your hot toast, top with more salt and pepper if you like, and you’re ready to go. Optional but recommended – the merest drop of truffle oil added to the tofu will make it taste extra buttery.
Lilith and Frasier are really not so different: their sincerity overrides their ability to read a situation, they both know exactly how smart they are, and they’re both trying to navigate their way through this particular chapter of their life. It’s nice to have Lilith brought back not just to be a joke of a person, but as a fully-formed woman with a future and a past.
Em-Maris-ment of Riches: I haven’t even mentioned Niles’ presence in this episode, his every interaction with Lilith is…transcendent.
Lilith: Where’s Maris?
Niles: She’s visiting her sister in Chicago.
Lilith: Oh. I thought perhaps she was sailing up the transplendent
river of your love.
Niles: Frasier, I’m going to pop into your bedroom and use the phone. Maris was developing some sniffles, I just want to make sure she’s taking in enough liquids.
Lilith: Isn’t it enough that she’s eternally sipping from the font of your perpetual adoration?
Favoured quote: this whole episode is brilliant from start to finish, and I loved Frasier asking Lilith in his deeply unchill manner, “would it be a dreadful contretemps if I kissed you right now?” but my favourite bit of all was Lilith answering the door with her hair down, Frasier responding to it with surprise, and she replying: “Yes, after several hours of careful deliberation, and weighing all the consequences, I decided to be playful.” What a magnificently earnest iceberg.