A Disappointing ‘Frasier’ Reboot

Jack Cutmore-Scott and Kelsey Grammer in 'Frasier.' (Picture via Paramount+)

It’s been 30 years since Frasier premiered on NBC, but the force of time hasn’t blunted its sharp wit. Even today the original series embodies live-action comedy at its televised peak. Its characters spoke in rapid repartee that offered more urbane wit than the complete Cole Porter songbook, but that sophistication was accompanied by a healthy amount of slapstick. No other sitcom could alternate between pratfalls and “O. Henry” references to the same hilarious effect, all the while maintaining a robust emotional core around its relatable characters.

Now it’s 2023, and during an age in which nostalgia is Hollywood’s favorite marketing tool, snobbish radio psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) is back for another broadcast. For the most part, though, the first seven episodes of this revival could only be compared to the original if it suffered a frontal lobotomy. 

A Frasier reboot never sounded particularly necessary. The original series ended with closure for all of its main characters, even if Frasier’s fate was somewhat questionable. After spending the final season desperately searching for love while his father, Martin (John Mahoney, who died in 2018), and his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), each found new wives, Frasier left Seattle for Chicago in pursuit of Charlotte (Laura Linney), a matchmaker who’d stolen his heart. But throughout the series, Frasier had vainly attempted to form lasting relationships with an endless parade of women, and it was never clear why Charlotte was more compatible with him than any of them. 

Unfortunately, the writers of this reboot have no interest in even raising that question. In fact, they’re so eager to disentangle themselves from past continuity that Charlotte’s role in Frasier’s life is dismissed immediately in less than a sentence. The reboot makes light references to its predecessor to earn a few cheap smiles, but otherwise there’s little connection between them. Niles, Daphne (Jane Leeves), Roz (Peri Gilpin), and other primary members of the old cast are absent here, replaced by a new assortment of eccentrics who, seven episodes in, still mostly resemble walking punchlines. 

We find Frasier back in his hometown of Boston, which he’s passing through after spending the last 20 years in Chicago as a talk show host. He’s in town to visit his son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), who dropped out of Harvard to become a firefighter, much to Frasier’s dismay. Their relationship is strained, and though Frasier intends to move to Europe, a predictably contrived sequence of events forces him to stay in Boston, join Harvard’s faculty as a psychology professor, and move into Freddy’s apartment building. Soon enough, the two are living together, in a strange twist on the old dynamic between Frasier and Martin. This time, the son is the blue collar everyman and the father is the effete elite. And once again, Frasier can’t help but inflict his pompous taste in art and design on his weary-eyed relative. 

It’s an awkward premise, but in the show’s defense, there’s an intriguing aesthetic on display. Frasier has stepped gracefully into old age. His baggy brown suits and trench coats of old have been replaced with crisp overshirts, chinos, and sneakers. He’s moved from a palatial high rise penthouse into an angular ground floor space. And even the theme song he croons over the end credits is a smokey, subdued lounge number rather than a swinging, upbeat bop. 

It helps that Grammer inhabits the part flawlessly. He’s as magnetic as ever, and his gestures and inflections give the impression that he never really stopped playing the role. All of this indicates that there’s genuine potential to the concept of an aged Frasier navigating the final stage of his career while blundering through some traditional mishaps along the way. But the writers have no idea how to evolve his character or explore it in new contexts. Instead, they propel him aimlessly through a series of limp plots and hackneyed one-liners.

This reboot’s greatest sin is that Frasier’s defining traits have been hopelessly diluted. Leaving aside some occasional references to luxury brands, his snobbery hardly surfaces at all, and locations like opera houses and high-end restaurants are scarcely even mentioned. His bumbling, insecure tendencies have all but disappeared, largely because none of the other characters are developed fully enough to be effective comic foils. 

Freddy, for instance, has no real qualities beyond a mild resentment toward his father, and most of their interactions are repetitive arguments that never reach a resolution. (Distractingly, Freddy also blames Frasier for preventing him from following his own interests throughout his young life, despite the fact that Frasier learning to accept his son’s autonomy was a plot point explored more than once in the original series.) The rest of the cast is similarly one-note. Frasier’s nephew David (Anders Keith) is a dweebish substitute for Niles, whose dialogue could have been taken from a rejected Big Bang Theory script. Alan Cornwall (Nicholas Lyndhurst), a friend of Frasier’s in Harvard’s psychology department, can only endlessly repeat that he’d rather drink than do his job, a joke that could be mildly amusing if deployed once.

Characterization isn’t all that’s lacking, either. The pacing is stiff and labored, the sets look cheap, and most of the gags are excruciatingly obvious. Every now and then an inspired line or biting exchange will surface, but these are akin to paper cups of water scattered throughout a desert. There was an erudition to the original series that distinguished its writing among rival sitcoms, but most of the jokes here are no more intelligent than what’s available in standard Disney Channel programming. 

Ultimately, this revival gives no justification for its own existence. If Frasier had to be resurrected, the writers should have been prepared to explore new themes, scenarios, and ideas that could expand our appreciation for the character and his universe. What we’re offered instead is stale and toothless; it’s the television equivalent of a tribute album with an exclusively D-list lineup. 

Even in the latest episode, “Freddy’s Birthday”—which features the return of Frasier’s icy ex-wife, Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), whose appearances were reliable highlights of the original series—the show’s execution betrays its potential. Neuwirth and Grammer’s chemistry is undimmed, but the dialogue they’re forced to work with is almost wholly devoid of wit, and there’s no attempt to examine their relationship in new and interesting ways. 

Three episodes of the series have yet to be released, and it’s possible that things could suddenly improve. But if the majority of this reboot is anything to go by, Frasier shouldn’t have called again.

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