“30 years ago, I left Boston with my tail between my legs. I had dreams of returning, triumphant. Now, those dreams just keep slipping farther and farther away.”
Paramount+’s “Frasier” reboot is psychiatrist Frasier Crane’s (Kelsey Grammer) latest reinvention. He first reinvented himself when he left Boston for his hometown of Seattle (spinning off from “Cheers” to his own original series). Then he did it again when he left Seattle for Chicago to be with the woman he loved, in the series finale of “Frasier.” 19 years after the original series ended, Frasier Crane is reinventing himself once again. This time, back in Boston, with a new career in academics and a new role as a present father to his (now adult) son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott).
If your question regarding a “Frasier” revival isn’t simply “Why?” then it’s surely “Why now?” The late 2010s saw the floodgates open with a number of revivals of beloved ‘90s sitcoms, starting with Netflix’s successful “Fuller House.” We’ve had reboots of “Will & Grace,” “Roseanne” (which spun off into “The Conners,” for reasons far outside the realm of this review) and “Murphy Brown.” For shows like “Will & Grace” and “Roseanne,” part of the appeal of those revivals was that they were able to rectify (or more accurately, retcon) what were otherwise considered disappointing series finales (or entire final seasons). These revivals as a whole banked on the promise of showing beloved characters in a contemporary setting, far removed from their various ‘90s sensibilities. And while the “Murphy Brown” revival was one and done, it arguably had more visibility than forgotten reboots of the era like “Mad About You” (which toiled away as a Spectrum original series for its one-season run) and “Coach” (picked up to series but canceled before it ever aired).
At this point in the revival era, “reimaginings” like the stellar, canceled-before-its-time “Saved by the Bell” (a reboot with a creative perspective shift) and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (approaching the same premise of the original as a drama) have proven to have more creative legs. Which again, begs the question of “Why now?” for “Frasier.”
This reboot certainly fits into the 2010s revival mentality, though it arguably doesn’t have much to say about the current time. Instead it relies on moments of “Remember when we did this funny thing on ‘Frasier’? On ‘Cheers’?” peppered in between the broadest comedy beats imaginable.
This show really is “Frasier” in name only. John Mahoney, who played Frasier and Niles’ father Martin Crane, passed away in 2018. (The series does pay tribute to him in the premiere.) It kicks things off in the wake of Martin’s passing… without the presence of Niles or his wife Daphne, as neither David Hyde Pierce nor Jane Leeves returned for the revival. So far, the only non-Grammer “Frasier” names set to make appearances are Frasier’s ex-wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) and former radio show producer Roz (Peri Gilpin). And despite the Boston setting, it appears that no “Cheers” patrons are waiting in the wings either. So filling out the roles of “legacy” characters for this “revival,” in addition to Frasier, are Freddy and David (Anders Keith), Niles and Daphne’s son.
In the case of Freddy, Cutmore-Scott is a recasting of the original Freddy Crane, who was played by “The Magicians” actor Trevor Einhorn. It’s hard not to compare this recasting to the Mae Whitman/”Independence Day” recasting scenario, as the adult version of Freddy is a “Mr. July” in the Boston Fire Department’s yearly calendar sort of guy, just barely a step removed from (British actor) Cutmore-Scott’s original starring role as a grown-up Parker Lewis in Fox’s one-season “Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life.” As for David Crane, Niles and Daphne had him in the final episode of the original series, and now he’s a freshman at Harvard University. He’s also the piece that works the least in a sitcom full of ill-fitting pieces. The revival could use more polish, but David’s character could stand to go back to the drawing board completely. It’s easy to even forget he’s part of the show. Until he shows up, uninvited, to most events.
Part of it is the fact that the 14-year or so age difference between Freddy and David instantly functions as a handicap for their familial relationship. The other part is that the series so badly wants to make David be the new Niles. It is perhaps a disservice to Keith, but Hyde Pierce’s ability as a performer — comedically, physically, and emotionally — has never been more apparent than when watching another actor attempt to do a faded facsimile.
And that is so much of this “Frasier” revival, a faded facsimile. There is something to Frasier (and Lilith, really) raising a son who is more like Martin than himself — which is Freddy’s purpose — but in its execution, the difference between what is there (Cool Guy Freddy) and what is not (the gruffness that defined Martin, which seemingly can’t be there at a young age) is staggering. Freddy is a 33-year-old essential worker who is written more like a 20-something frat guy, with the only saving grace being that the series doesn’t climb on a soapbox about millennials (Freddy) or Zoomers ( David).
A show like “Frasier” stands the test of time because it felt more like a comedic stage play than your average sitcom. In their hey-day, shows like “Frasier” and “Will & Grace” — as well as “Roseanne,” which was outside of the NBC bubble — felt like a murder’s row of “real” actors doing what they did best on stage, only the stage was in front of a live studio audience and for weekly episodic consumption. Unfortunately, the “Frasier” reboot leans more into broad comedy than in that stage play interpretation, from the sets to the acting to the hackneyed plots.
To be clear, “broad” isn’t necessarily a bad word when it comes to “Frasier;” the show’s entire identity came from its ability to excel at farce in a way no other sitcom has ever come close to. But this revival isn’t doing that.
It would be one thing if the revival played to “Frasier’s” strengths in that realm, while still managing to change things up for the present-day audience. For example, FX’s “Justified: City Primeval” functioned as proof of concept for what a series like “Justified” could look like with today’s version of storytelling and television-making, while still maintaining a good portion of “Justified’s” DNA beyond the Raylan Givens character. Frasier’s DNA was almost always in its farce, a realm in which the revival just barely dips its toe in. There are beats of misunderstandings — and unsurprisingly, the first two episodes set to drop Thursday are the ones that most lean into those beats, to lure viewers in surely. But instead of letting these misunderstandings build to a cacophony of confusion for the characters and delight for the audience, the five episodes available for review tend to drop the issues after the second (or even first) time they come up.
“Frasier” does, in a way, maintain the workplace-home life balance that the original series did, but even its version of the workplace leaves much to be desired. While Frasier’s professor companions in this realm — his old Harvard chum Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and the head of the psychology department, Olivia (Toks Olagundoye) — provide some of the better moments of the series, they are also a part of a larger problem with this particular setting. Harvard comes across more like a small community college — with only three employees, including Frasier. It all feels insular and cheap in a way the radio station never did.
In Chicago, Frasier had his own television show called “Dr. Crane,” which started as a serious reinterpretation of his radio show and devolved into a pop psychology, fluff piece-ridden, daytime talk show. While the glimpses we get of Frasier’s show are supposed to depict how far Frasier got away from what matters, they end up making the audience wonder why this isn’t the show we got instead.
Frasier Crane is a character Grammer can clearly play in his sleep. It’s quite striking just how much into the cadence and rhythm of the character Grammer is from moment one — which makes the fact that the rest of the series isn’t in the same rhythm so disappointing. It’s difficult to see this show even existing in its current form if not for the fact that Frasier Crane is part of it.
If some other stuffy old white man character was in the lead, this concept wouldn’t have even gotten off the ground.
“Frasier” premieres Thursday, Oct. 12, on Paramount+.