TV Review: Frasier (2023)
(Frasier premieres October 12th on Paramount+ – I’ve seen the first five episodes.)
The Reboot/Remake/Revival/Spinoff Era we’ve been living in never seems to end, and in fact gets stranger with each passing month across all forms of entertainment (lest we forget, a fucking Trolls movie reunited *NSYNC for new, abhorrently mediocre music in 2023). It’s not a time without its bright spots, for sure (the new Quantum Leap? It’s good!); but those occasional highlights are drowned out by the endless desperation of series like Bel-Air, And Just Like That, and Velma (just to name but a few), and with each forgettable debut, calcifies the cynicism audiences approach them with.
Paramount+’s Frasier, debuting with a pair of episodes this Thursday on Paramount+, would seem to fit neatly into that mold; “Goodnight, Seattle” completed a two-decade long journey for Frasier Crane on network television with a touching sendoff for the good doctor, heading into the third act of his life with a world of possibilities in front of him. It was a great ending for a series that had more than run its course, and as perhaps the most successful spinoff of all-time, a proof of concept that revisiting a character can have meaningful value, if done right. So why return to Frasier Crane in 2023? That was the question Frasier has faced since rumblings of its conception back in 2016. After 264 episodes (plus 202 credited appearances on Cheers), what is there left to say about the good doctor?
The answer, unsurprisingly, lies in the past – but while the new Frasier certainly understands the power of its own nostalgia, it refuses to just shower the audience with unadulterated fan service. Instead, Paramount+’s Frasier uses the twenty-year gap between Frasier’s years in Chicago and his unexpected return to Boston as propellant for new generation of meaningful stories about fathers and sons, of legacies and communities, in a way that is both abundantly familiar, and unexpectedly refreshing.
Like the original, Frasier understands the power of time. “The Good Father”, the series premiere, sees Frasier move back to Boston to take a job at Harvard and reconnect with his son. After three decades on radio and television, Frasier is looking inward in his later years – professionally and personally, a search for meaning that provides an important, if slight, undercurrent of existentialism (something later seasons of Frasier abandoned for hacky sitcom plots, as long-running sitcoms always do).
It also smartly mirrors “The Good Son” with its intergenerational Crane dissonance, observing the scars formed during unseen formative years of its main characters – specifically Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott, who really finds his footing in the role after a few scenes), whose career choices took him down a different path than what his father expected, one more familiar to the now-deceased Marty than the high falutin world of intellectual elitism and sherry his father had hoped he would.
Not only does it build in a little mystery into its premise (the premiere, in particular, is more high concept than it might initially seem), but it offers Frasier an entirely new well of storytelling that looks forward far more frequently than backwards (though when it does, it nods to Frasier’s previous lives with a wonderfully light touch). And it takes advantage of its new setting, surrounding Frasier with a wonderfully thought out supporting cast; including Freddy’s roommate Eve (Jess Salgueiro, wonderfully cast), and his old Harvard friend and fellow professor Alan Cornwall (a delightful performance from Nichloas Lyndhurst).
Though there are still elements the series is figuring out in its first five episodes – mainly Niles and Daphne’s anxious, neurotic son David (Anders Keith), and headstrong department head Olivia (Toks Olagundoye) – but the first two episodes establish such a strong emotional core, I’ve got a lot of faith for the second half of this ten-episode season. Developed by Chris Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Joe Cristalli (Life in Pieces), Frasier is grounded in the the best elements of its predecessor (impeccable comedic timing, grounded emotional conversations) without being bound by them, able to build out characters like Eve and Alan in really interesting ways – without sacrificing their depth, no small accomplishment for a series with such an iconic, lauded protagonist at its core.
This also applies to its main character; the older Frasier Crane is still pompous and passionate, but a touch gentler and more reflective, in ways that are a bit more honest than Frasier’s usually-hornier approach to looking inward in the previous series. Grammar’s performance follows suit; he still can land the big, gaudy faces and performative moments of Frasier – but also lands every big emotional swing in these opening five episodes, a reminder of the carefully measured moments that made Frasier such a memorable character (and mostly leaving behind the louder, repetitive low points of Frasier‘s later episodes).
Led by Grammar’s performance and the writing around it, the Freddy/Frasier dynamic is also impeccably crafted and delivered; it needs to be, given what a iconic act it is trying to follow (there are numerous moments the series pays tribute to Marty Crane and John Mahoney, all of which I teared up at). Freddy is very much a mix of his influences – and for those familiar with Lilith, Marty, and Frasier’s misadventures, Freddy’s character is such an intelligent evolution of those character traits and the man they’d eventually form. More importantly, it understands how Freddy’s journey would come into conflict with Frasier’s – and from that foundation, springs forth some particularly well-crafted storytelling beats.
It shows the thoughtful craft behind the conception of New Frasier; though we don’t need another Frasier Crane story – nor it is the Series To Save the Sitcom, despite how well the cast translates the live audience’s energy to the stage – the genesis of it is crafted with such care, it shows a consideration for poignancy not offered the many other revivals, sequels, and reboots it will inevitably, and wrongly, be lumped alongside (for example: I mostly enjoyed That 90’s Show, but that series never justifies its existence in the way Frasier does in its first 30 minutes).
I’ll have plenty more to say about Frasier with my episodic reviews each Thursday (and if you haven’t been keeping up, my Second Look at the OG’s first season), but I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised with the writing and performances driving Frasier‘s first two-plus hours. Though a bit softer and quieter than its predecessor, the smart tweaks to its established formula and the dimensionality of its new characters breathes fresh life into the tired, old psychiatry blowhard. Time will tell whether Fraser Crane’s third act will be as prolific as its first two (or whether it can find a new audience, something many of these nostalgia plays have failed to do) – but these first five episodes have certainly proven it is a worthy return for Dr. Crane, and one with plenty of potential for this series to build a new legacy upon.