It is fair to say that, of this fall’s new and revived television shows, the reboot of Frasier was seen as at best a difficult proposition and at worst a cynical exercise in artistic necrophilia. There was no doubt that the original show was one of the finest American situational comedies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; a pitch-perfect farce, acted and written with enormous sophistication by a peerless cast, even if Jane Leeves’s “Mancunian” accent as Daphne is still one of the most peculiar things to have been heard on television. Even a lessening of impact after Daphne and Niles finally became a couple did not stop Frasier being regarded with enormous fondness after the show came to an end in 2004.
It’s also a given that, over the past two decades, Kelsey Grammer’s career has never again hit the same heights, partly because of his unashamedly right-wing politics — including praising Trump for “disrupting the fabric” of conventional government — and partly because his performance as Dr. Frasier Crane has been his defining role throughout his life, ever since he first played the character in Cheers. Therefore, it was unsurprising that he was the driving force behind the series’ reboot. His erstwhile co-stars David Hyde Pierce and Leeves showed no interest in reprising their roles, and the late, great John Mahoney, who played Frasier and Niles’s loving but bewildered father Martin, died in 2018.
Little about the revived series offered much in the way of optimism, and my judgment from earlier this year that “it is hard to be particularly excited by its reprisal” seemed vindicated by a dismally unfunny first trailer for the show that appeared in August, and suggested that Frasier had very much left the building. So it was with a mixture of surprise and relief that we can see that the early reactions to the show have been generally positive. Granted, there have been some duff notices: Rolling Stone lambasted it for being “an unfunny, uninspired dud” and TIME, in a review that read as if it had been written before the series had been aired, sighed “the project starts to sound especially dire. And it is.” But many other publications have praised the show, not least for Grammer’s assured reprise of his signature role. As Consequence wrote, “Grammer is as cool and confident as ever, while still fearless about taking on even the most absurd comedic challenge. When he talks, we still listen.”
It sounds as if many of the jokes and situations owe a significant debt to the past, and Frasier’s quip in the first episode that “I am no stranger to an underperforming dinner party” immediately brings to mind any number of classic and farcical incidents from the first time around. Yet there has been some adroit casting, not least the appearance of Nicholas Lyndhurst — a superstar in Britain, thanks to Only Fools and Horses, but little known outside it — as Frasier’s cynical and booze-driven academic colleague Alan. By all accounts the absence of Hyde Pierce is made up for by the casting of Anders Keith as Niles and Daphne’s son David (another nice nod to the original actor), who comes complete with a laminated card with his allergies listed on it; “the ones in red are fatal,” he solemnly informs those around him.
The father-son dynamic between Frasier and his Harvard dropout-turned firefighter boy Frederick could yet descend into schmaltz, and many will still question whether this was really a necessary revival so much as a retirement plan for Grammer. But, in the words of Variety, “there is something so charming about dusting off and polishing up a past relic that makes it as refreshing as you remembered it.” In a world where we are mired in uncertainty and misery at every turn, sometimes returning to a more uncomplicated, sunny past is exactly the tonic that we all need. Frasier is back in the building, and it seems to have transpired that he was much missed, after all.