Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) is my favorite character on Cheers. I love Diane (Shelley Long) too, but Lilith is like Diane in overdrive. She’s very intelligent, and like Diane, she’s also mocked for her smarts, but Lilith is good at putting people in their place and holding her own. She’s analytical, often calculating, and definitely needs to work on her social skills. However, that’s one of the most humorous aspects about her character: Lilith’s lack of social skills usually lands her in some kind of kooky situation that’s hilarious for audiences to watch as she muddles her way through her predicaments, with Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) usually along for the ride.
Season 9’s “Rat Girl” stood out to me in the comedic scale for several reasons, most notably with the argument that takes place between Lilith and Frasier while they’re interviewing on behalf of their son Frederick at a private preschool. If they wanted to make an unforgettable impression, they did that and more.
Lilith and Frasier have a noteworthy relationship. Initially they despised each other, but it seems Lilith literally letting her hair down changed all that, and they discovered a spark they didn’t know they had. Like any marriage, it doesn’t come without its problems and spats, and their spat in “Rat Girl” is my favorite.
Lilith doesn’t show emotion; she’s generally very composed, even considered cold, in her overall manner. That’s why when we see Lilith attempting to cry, it’s a bit unsettling. It’s not the Lilith we know and love. That means things are serious, and Lilith’s unusual tendencies are only about to increase, amplified by her grief.
She admits herself in “Rat Girl” that losing Whitey, her favorite lab rat, is a more detrimental loss because she was close to him. No one really takes the loss of her lab rat seriously, and perhaps undermining her grief made things worse. Grief is unpredictable, and for someone like Lilith who doesn’t allow herself to show her emotions, that kind of build-up can lead to serious problems. Like carrying a dead rat in her purse.
While strange, and definitely disgusting, Lilith’s intentions were good. She wanted to give her beloved Whitey a proper burial and save him from being dissected by undergraduates. Thankfully, she never intended on taking him to her dinner with Frasier, so she does have some boundaries in place.
Watching Lilith lose her composure offered us further insight into her character. Despite her primary analytical manner, Lilith is still human and she is not perfect. She allows her strongest feelings to surface, and she experiences them to the best of her ability, processing how she feels, as it is a part of how she moves on.
Lilith & Frasier’s Clash
Frasier, naturally, is horrified to discover a dead rat in his wife’s evening bag. He jumps to conclusions too soon and takes the initiative to throw the rat in the trash, which does not go over well with his wife. She digs Whitey out of the trash and leaves, but not before we hear her yelling at Frasier while simultaneously listening to a rush of banging sounds among trashcans, and watch as Carla (Rhea Perlman) opens the door to reveal Frasier stuck in a trashcan, his feet sticking upwards. Frasier was trying to help Lilith, but he went about it the wrong way, and had to learn that the hard way.
Unfortunately, the two don’t work things out immediately, thus ruining Frederick’s chance of attending the preschool they were set up to interview for. All is well as they put on an act for the two people they’re meeting with—until they introduce Frasier and Lilith to the school’s pet hamster’s babies, triggering World War 3. Lilith comments that one looks “just like Whitey”, and the look on Frasier’s face is priceless as he, like the audience, can pretty much predict what comes next. Everything just goes downhill from there, as Lilith snaps, her tone changing and her voice rising as she declares, “He (Whitey) was my favorite dead rat that this BASTARD took and THREW in the TRASH!”
There are many great lines exchanged in this short spat; I consider it one of the best scenes between Lilith and Frasier. They make one Hell of an exit, too, as Frasier yells after a departing Lilith “And you are a troubled, disturbed woman!”, then turns back to the two bewildered people in the room, who have remained silent the entire time, adding with a smile, “but a wonderful mother.” The interview is pretty much beyond repair, but the woman interviewing them offers an awkward smile and says, “Well, we’ll get back to ya!” That’s pretty much code for “you’ll never hear from us again.” Can you imagine being in the background, watching Lilith and Frasier’s fight? Awkward…
Obviously Lilith allowed her emotions to control her, triggered by the hamster’s babies. She began the downward spiral, but Frasier participated just as equally. In many ways, it’s like watching two children fighting, trying to pick at one another, but it’s based on grief. Lilith is experiencing something Frasier doesn’t quite understand, and is frankly disturbed by. Their main problem was communication, but had they talked beforehand, we wouldn’t have this hysterical scene to remember them by.
I laughed until I was crying the first time I saw it. I still laugh each time I see it. The kind of scene that can make an audience laugh again and again is timeless and worth remembering; plus, it makes “Rat Girl” that much more uproarious. Cheers was always a good show, and the fact that it was still finding new ways to make audiences laugh nine years into its run is very commendable.
Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger) together are sidesplitting in any given episode. The know-it-all mailman and his lazy, beer-guzzling friend are brilliant together. My second favorite scene in “Rat Girl” is just after Frasier has discovered the rat in Lilith’s purse.
Of course, Norm and Cliff dare each other to look in the purse. Both are grossed out, but Norm takes it a step further, adding “bet you won’t kiss him” to Cliff. Before the dares can continue, they’re stopped short by a horrified Frasier who declares the two are “sick”—Frasier’s declaration is perfectly timed and humorous because clearly it’s Lilith who’s sick in this instance, not Norm and Cliff. Sometimes childhood antics, like daring one another to check out a dead rat, are the best gags, especially on Cheers, and that’s one of the many reasons why Cliff and Norm are so beloved.
I wasn’t really into the storyline of Sam’s (Ted Danson) woes of trying to seduce a woman in the bar, but can’t, given she’s into a specific kind of guy (those that are more on the overweight side). Sam is relentless, determined to win her over, but his charms don’t work, much to his own consternation. I thought it was funny in the sense that Sam got some karma in the form of his worst nightmare—his charms are no longer working. No wonder he tried to convince himself he was dreaming. Sam had to learn the hard way that sometimes you can’t win them all, and the fact that it bugged him so much was the icing on the cake of the joke.
Rebecca’s (Kirstie Alley) attempt to eat healthy was a good storyline. She kept going on and on about how great she felt and she tried to push her new diet on the others, taking things too far. Obviously she wasn’t aware of just the kind of peers she was among; like Norm, Cliff and the others were ever going to be fooled into eating vegetables or try out rice cakes. Instead, they use rice cakes as target practice, which was a suiting end to that storyline. We heard you the first time, Rebecca.
I love that despite their frequent and brutal clashing, Lilith and Frasier recover in the episode’s end and are happy, Lilith especially, reaffirmed by life itself. They are grateful for the son they have, and this leads them to their mutual desire to create life again in the form of another child. In a manner that works for a Cheers storyline, Frasier shares his reflections over recent events to Sam before going home to sleep with his wife. All things considered, their chaotic day ended on a high note.
Sometimes sitcoms have a tendency to glaze over the bigger issues that are turned into storylines meant to deliver comedy, but I thought “Rat Girl” did a wonderful job in doing the exact opposite. Lilith is grieving but reassured and ready to move on by the episode’s end, helped along in her journey by her husband, as the two finally do have a talk and Lilith confesses why she had Whitey in her purse.
Divulging vulnerabilities and finding a solution is their way of moving forward, and it’s a good one. A lesson is learned and the world is sunny again, so to speak. Married couples will go through plenty of things; finding a way to get through them together is the best way moving forward. Going from serious to comedic to heartfelt in one storyline is hard to do, but it was done beautifully, and Lilith and Frasier were the perfect characters for the jobs, Bebe Neuwirth’s and Kelsey Grammer’s performances stellar and admirable.