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As revivals/reboots/sequels/whatever-we’re-calling-these-now go, Paramount+’s Frasier isn’t awful. The new series neither tries too hard to pretend nothing’s changed, nor strains to reinvent itself for the modern era. It’s good for an occasional chuckle — mostly thanks to Kelsey Grammer, who still wears the title character comfortably all these years later — and here and there for a nostalgic sigh.
But if there’s nothing in the new Frasier that’s painfully bad, there’s not much about it that’s especially exciting or interesting, either. Forget trying to live up to Frasier 1.0; with its mild jokes, forgettable characters and uninspired storylines, Frasier 2.0 barely makes any impression at all. It’s a franchise extension that primarily feels like just that — a franchise extension, rather than a worthwhile creative endeavor in its own right.
Airdate: Thursday, Oct. 12 (Paramount+)
Cast: Kelsey Grammer, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Toks Olagundoye, Jess Salgueiro, Anders Keith
Developed by: Chris Harris, Joe Cristalli
Any resurrection of a long-dormant property requires a careful balancing act, and it’s easy to imagine the many conversations that must have gone into determining the tradeoffs and updates that comprise this one. Dr. Crane is no longer a radio host in Seattle, but a new job at Harvard provides an opportunity to catch him at the start of a new chapter in life. (As well as a convenient excuse for some Cheers references: “I may have spent a little too much time at a certain bar,” Frasier remarks, to giggles from the live studio audience.) The act titles remain in place, as do the wordless comic tags; the recording of “Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs” is a new one, but most viewers probably won’t notice enough to mind.
The most glaring difference between the two Frasiers, of course, is that all of Grammer’s former co-stars have declined to join him on this new outing (Peri Gilpin’s Roz and Bebe Neuwirth’s Lilith are expected to make guest appearances, but neither was in the installments sent to critics). Nevertheless, some of their characters live on in rough analogues. Frasier’s contentious relationship with his more down-to-earth policeman father Martin is echoed in his contentious relationship with his more down-to-earth firefighter son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott); Niles’ nerdy neuroticism is even more concentrated in his Harvard-freshman son David (Anders Keith).
Frasier 2023 aims for the same low-key sense of humor as Frasier 1993-2004, reaching for the same formula of low-stakes antics plus silly highbrow pretensions tinged with earnest feeling. Over the first five installments (of a 10-part season), Frasier fusses over an invite to an elite academic club, stages an elaborate ruse to win the respect of his students, serves up a fancy French stew along with “a soupçon of historical context.” Above all, Frasier and Freddy butt heads over the former’s apparent distaste for the latter’s lifestyle — Freddy suspects his father disapproves of his blue-collar career, especially since he chose it after dropping out of Harvard because he just “didn’t get along with any of those snooty, pretentious eggheads.” (“You make them sound like Yalies,” protests Frasier.)
It is, in other words, trying very much to be as much like the previous Frasier as it’s possible to be without Niles and Daphne and Roz and Martin. And as long as you’re not expecting too much or watching too closely, it does manage a rough approximation of those throwback charms. Its rhythms feel familiar, if a little bit shaggier (the Paramount+ episodes run 30 minutes each, as opposed to the broadcast-standard 22). Its punchlines are almost soothing in their predictability. No controversial themes or prickly tones trouble its gentle, easy vibe. It makes for a perfectly fine background show or sleep aid, which I don’t mean entirely as an insult — classic Frasier, for all its sparkling wit, was also ideal for tossing on during chores or before bed.
What the new Frasier lacks, however, is a sense of creative purpose. The business case for bringing it back seems obvious; one can practically hear the studio execs huffing that in this IP-mad era, not resurrecting this ’90s hit would be leaving money on the table. The artistic one is less clear. That Frasier isn’t aiming for reinvention or self-reflection isn’t a problem in itself. There can be pleasure in a show that serves up exactly what audiences expect, no more and no less. If it means that its lead is stuck rehashing the same arguments with his son that he had with his dad decades earlier — well, any psychiatrist could probably tell you that humans have a way of replicating the familial dynamics.
But this Frasier, developed by Chris Harris and Joe Cristalli, doesn’t really recapture the magic of its predecessor, either. It’s not only that the original gang is sorely missed, but that their replacements aren’t drawn with nearly the same precision. They’re broadly likable character types that, after half a season, have yet to emerge as memorable individuals. Keith’s David is so exaggeratedly awkward that he seems to have dropped in from a different show, or maybe from a different planet. Cutmore-Scott is a natural at the multicam format, on the other hand, but Freddy has no real personality beyond his knee-jerk opposition to Frasier. His bartender love interest, Eve (Jess Salgueiro), is even more vaguely drawn, and appears to have been included solely for the purpose of giving Freddy someone his own age to interact with.
Frasier’s workmates fare slightly better. The mutual contempt between Frasier’s college pal turned colleague Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and their boss Olivia (Toks Olagundoye) yields some of the funnier lines in a show whose jokes are otherwise hit or miss: “If you’re interested in obscure Europeans who haven’t been published in 300 years, you should just stay here and study Alan,” she snarks to Frasier. But it comes as a surprise when Alan tells Frasier amid some cocktail-hour shenanigans that Frasier is one of the only people he cares about in the world, seeing as Frasier simply hasn’t done the legwork to set up their relationship as anything more than an amiable acquaintanceship.
Then again, it is Alan who grasps better than anyone Frasier’s guiding philosophy. As Frasier sighs about wanting to find his place in the world, Alan expresses surprise that his buddy even has the energy to care. “We’re in our 60s, man,” he retorts. “What’s wrong with ‘good enough’? What’s wrong with ‘this’ll do’? What’s wrong with limping towards the finish line?” Frasier the character might still be searching for more — more meaning, more adventure, more love. Frasier the show, on the other hand, is perfectly content to aim for “this’ll do.”
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