The ‘Frasier’ Reboot Is Every Bit the Bad Idea It Seems
On December 8, 2017, the writer and pop-culture critic Anthony Oliveira graced the internet with a tweet thread I have never forgotten. “Frasier’s son Freddy Crane was born in 1989, which means he is now 28 and the perfect age for my reboot, in which he has become a wealthy hip start-up bro aggravating his aging father and newly-out uncle,” Oliveira wrote. “Freddy texting during the opera. Freddy eats soylent. Freddy only wears athleisure wear. Freddy has a podcast. Freddy’s furniture is all beanbag chairs and yoga balls. Freddy is flirting w(ith) anti-psychiatric scientology, and measures Frasier’s thetan levels….the set is a massive loft full of huge expensive hideous manga art, particle-board Ikea furniture, a playstation VR rig...and, in the centre, Frasier’s gorgeous Eames chair. (I)nstead of Frasier’s arriviste vs his dad’s working-class values the pleasure would be in Frasier as the last bourgeois aesthete pressing against son Freddy’s STEM-bro Zuckerbergian one-outfit ramen anhedonia….Freddy also drinks Ballantine’s, but ironically.”
If you happened to miss this thread at the time, then I apologize for bringing it to your attention: knowing about this just makes the Frasier sequel we actually got an even bigger disappointment.
“It writes itself,” Oliveira tweeted of his version. The one on Paramount+ — arriving with a two-episode premiere on October 12th — feels quite effortful. As we rejoin him, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) has just come out the other side of several major changes in his life, including the end of the televised advice show he’s been hosting for more than a decade. He’s returned to Boston (where we first knew him as one of the many devoted patrons of a bar called Cheers) on the invitation of his old college friend Alan Cornwall (Nicholas Lyndhurst). Cornwall is now a tenured professor in Harvard’s psychology department, and Frasier is coming back to his alma mater to deliver a guest lecture. Frasier is also eager to visit his son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), and is hurt if not entirely surprised when Freddy gives him the cold shoulder; the two have never quite reconciled since Freddy dropped out of Harvard to become a firefighter.
Freddy may not want Frasier to stay in Boston; not so Alan’s department head, Olivia Finch (Toks Olagundoye), who thinks that if she can hire Frasier for a full-time teaching position, his celebrity will boost her to Harvard provost at a younger age than her sister was named to the same role at Yale. Frasier’s relocation to Boston would also please David (Anders Keith), son to Frasier’s extremely off-screen brother Niles and equally off-screen sister-in-law Daphne. David’s hero worship of Frasier is such that David followed him to Harvard rather than to Niles’s alma mater, Yale. Beyond that, David is very socially awkward — enough that even his checked-out psych prof Alan remembers David tripping on the first day of class, spilling coffee and losing a shoe they still haven’t found — so having more supportive family around would be a real comfort. By the end of the series premiere, Frasier has decided to give up his plans to move to Paris and write a book about the writer and playwright Pierre de Marivaux, instead remaining in Boston to repair his relationship with Freddy.
Since the 2018 death of John Mahoney, who played Frasier and Niles’ retired cop father Martin in the first 11 seasons of Frasier, no series revival could have returned us to the exact format we knew. But Grammer, who was never a credited writer on either Frasier or Cheers, the show it spun off from, started laying the groundwork for a more radical departure just a few months after Mahoney died. He imagined that Frasier wouldn’t have stayed with Charlotte (Laura Linney), the woman with whom Frasier finally found love in the original series finale, nor that it would make sense for him to return to Seattle from Chicago, where he and Charlotte had moved.
Sure enough, this series premiere has barely started before we find out Frasier and Charlotte broke up. But otherwise, this iteration of Frasier seems determined to replicate as many elements of the old show as it can. In place of Martin, the first responder and guy’s guy, we have Freddy. In place of Niles (David Hyde Pierce), Frasier’s snobby psychiatrist confidant, we have Alan; David also shares Niles’ physical frailty and timidity with women. In place of Roz (Peri Gilpin, who will reprise the role as a guest star), a reliable sparring partner for Frasier’s closest friend, we have Olivia, always ready with a zinger about Alan’s age, laziness or fading career. Daphne (Jane Leeves), Martin’s physical therapist and Frasier’s housekeeper, has little in common with Eve (Jess Salgueiro), who lives with Freddy but is most emphatically not his girlfriend — but then again, Eve’s also the character who seems most like a placeholder. I’ve watched all five episodes (of 10) that were provided to critics, and I still don’t know if she has a last name.
Given that Frasier ended its first run almost 20 years ago, it’s probably too much to have hoped that the writing staff for this version would be entirely or even largely composed of producers from the first 11 seasons. Show business is youth-obsessed even when it comes to people who work behind the camera; as we were all made aware during the WGA strike, streaming originals pay a pittance compared to network rates, and who knows how many of the original writers feel the same way about the sequel as Pierce, who said last year, “That whole time of my life, the writing on those shows, the actors I got to work with — all of that is deeply important to me. And I would never disrespect that in such a way as to say just offhandedly, ‘Oh, no, thanks. I’m not going to do that again.’ It’s too valuable to me. … But by the same token, because it’s so valuable to me, I also wouldn’t do it just (to) do it.”
Other than producers who are credited with having created the character of Frasier, Bob Daily is, per IMDb, the only writer to have worked on both versions of the show. This show’s credited co-creators, Joe Cristalli and Chris Harris, haven’t ever worked on anything near (original) Frasier’s level of quality. We’re talking about Stacked, the sitcom where the gag was that a character played by Pamela Anderson, snicker snicker, worked in a bookstore, and Maggie, a swiftly canceled Hulu original that was disappeared from the platform less than a year after its premiere.
So it’s easy to point to the lack of continuity at the top — except from James Burrows, the prolific multi-cam sitcom director who’s also credited as a co-creator on Cheers — as a possible cause of the disconnection between the original run and this one. Everything about it invites tinkering that somehow didn’t happen during the actual development process. Canonically, Freddy was primarily raised by his chilly, intellectual mother Lilith; how did he transform from the fragile, allergic nerd Trevor Einhorn played on the original show to the buff dude’s dude of Cutmore-Scott’s portrayal? There are multiple references to how desirable Freddy is to women, but what is his dating history? If he and Eve are supposed to be endgame, why is her character paper-thin? As for Frasier himself, he hasn’t just been a TV star for well over 10 years but, we eventually learn, a cravenly pandering one; his experience among the kind of people who would make a show like his hasn’t dulled his snobbery at all? (Or maybe that’s why we hear him incorrectly use the phrase “the hoi polloi” in the series premiere — life among philistines has lowered his own intellect… or maybe that’s a Kelsey Grammer error no one on set wanted to risk embarrassing Grammer by pointing it out.)
We’re given to understand Frasier’s show has vaulted him to a new echelon of wealth: So why, when teaching immediately turns out to be a bad fit, would he not stay in Boston without having to work at all? If Frasier’s go-to hangout is not a coffee house, as in Seattle, but a bar, why isn’t he going to Cheers? (I mean, I know why — both rights issues and, apparently, a lack of studio space, given how small and cheap all the show’s sets look — but is Frasier ever going to say why he hasn’t returned? Did Cheers close?!)
More so than practically anyone I talked to about the new show, I really was (cautiously) optimistic. The involvement of Burrows, a major creative force on both Frasier and Cheers, made me hopeful. Sure, the show seemed like a patently terrible idea, but so did the original Frasier post-Cheers, and if the new one was actually that bad, wouldn’t Burrows sit out like Pierce and Leeves and all those writers did? But unfortunately, the new show is a blurry copy of the old one: You can almost make out a picture you recognize, but the effort of trying to focus just leaves you frustrated and headachey.
Or, to use another analogy straight out of Frasier’s own mouth in the series premiere: “This is bad sherry.”