Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Lilith Thanksgiving

I always enjoyed the Thanksgiving episode of the Frasier series that aired 15 years ago tonight.

I don't always enjoy holiday episodes, but I liked the ones on Frasier. They were always entertaining and creative, not sappy and sentimental like so many other holidays episodes I have seen over the years.

Anyway, on this day, the Cranes were planning a family Thanksgiving in Seattle. Lilith and her son, Frederick, were coming to town. But, at the last minute, the plans changed. On Thanksgiving morning, Lilith and Frasier had to meet with the headmaster of a prestigious school where they had submitted their son's application — so Frasier, Niles and Martin had to fly to Boston.

The first meeting with the headmaster went poorly, and Lilith and Frasier went back on the pretense of looking for an earring that Lilith would claim she had lost. Once they were inside the headmaster's house again, they would renew and intensify their pitch on behalf of their son.

"I wouldn't even think of asking [to come in to look]," Lilith told the headmaster, "but it was a treasured gift from ... Golda Meir."

When the headmaster left the room, Frasier protested that Golda Meir was not one of the details upon which they had agreed. "It got us in," Lilith replied.

But, when he returned to the room, the headmaster had a curveball of his own. "I've always been a great admirer of Mrs. Meir," he said. "How did you meet?"

So Lilith had to ad lib some more, but she just couldn't — so she passed the baton to a somewhat startled Frasier. "It was back in college days," Frasier said. "Lilith spent a summer at a kibbutz and was dating her grandson, Oscar."

The headmaster wasn't finished. "That would be Oscar Meir?"

"Just imagine the ribbing he took!" Frasier replied with a little artful ad libbing of his own.

I always thought that was an especially funny piece of comedic dialogue — in an episode that seemed to be full of them.

Most such snappy exchanges occurred when Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) were talking with the headmaster (Paxton Whitehead), but there were others.

For example ...

When the Cranes had to change their holiday plans so Frasier could be in Boston to join Lilith for the meeting with the headmaster, Frasier talked Roz (Peri Gilpin) into looking after his apartment while he was gone. But he had a few ground rules.
Frasier: By the way, I frown on overnight guests.

Roz: Then you're not doing it right.

Getting out of Seattle for the holiday probably wasn't a bad idea, at least in Niles' case. He was going through his first Thanksgiving since his separation from his wife, and a change of scenery probably did him some good, even though it was a last–minute decision to shift everything to Boston.

Yep, it was completely understandable that Niles was having a rough time.

After all, it isn't uncommon, around Thanksgiving and Christmas, for people to be at least a bit despondent over separation, either temporary or permanent, from loved ones, but Niles may have been a little too nostalgic.
Martin: What's wrong?

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.

That one might qualify to be one of Jack Handey's "Deep Thoughts."

Once the Cranes were in Boston, though, Niles — who, as previous and subsequent episodes indicated, was a pretty good cook — took it upon himself to finish preparing the family's Thanksgiving dinner so Frasier and Lilith could make their appeal to the headmaster.

He still managed to work in some zingers at Lilith's expense, though — and found that Lilith could give as good as she got.
Lilith: I'm nearly done defrosting.

Niles: And the turkey?

Lilith: Might I suggest you stuff it?

I especially liked the frustrated headmaster's speech at the end of the episode.
"I will die a happy man if I never set eyes on either of you again. Unfortunately, there is only way I know of to ensure that. Your son Frederick is hereby admitted to the Marbury School. However, he will be immediately expelled if either of you violates any of the following conditions:
  • "You will not bring him to school.

  • "You will not collect him.

  • "You will not attend any recitals, plays, sporting events or school functions — up to and including Frederick Crane Day, should we ever have one.

  • "And when graduation comes, you will dispatch an appropriate envoy with a video camera.
"And now it is with great pleasure that I bid you goodbye forever."

Instead of being insulted after being hustled out the door, Lilith and Frasier only smiled at each other with satisfaction and said in unison, "We're in."

I guess what makes Thanksgiving happy depends on one's priorities and desires — whether one wants a certain kind of stuffing or a certain kind of pie for dessert — or to be sure one's child is enrolled in the most elite school around.