The first thing you’ll notice about Paramount+’s reboot of “Frasier”—it’s more of a revival, really—is the sight of iconic ‘90s sitcom character Frasier Crane puttering around in a blazer, jeans, and sneakers. It’s a jarring sight, especially for those of us who grew up watching the snooty Seattleite’s penchant for well-tailored suits and baroque aesthetic tastes. Frasier? Looking like he just stepped out of a Bonobos Guideshop?! Egads!
Perhaps it’s the inevitable softening of time; Frasier Crane, much like Kelsey Grammer himself, is now in his late sixties—no longer as committed to being the wannabe lothario or the performative intellectual. But it does feel endemic to Paramount+’s approach to this zhushed-up take on television’s favorite snoot: Dumb it down, make it cheap, and stay approachable. And while nu-”Frasier” eventually finds some footing over its first few episodes, the specter of its more successful cousin looms over it like a phantom.
Instead of staying in Seattle (or even Chicago, where the character traveled at the end of his previous series), “Frasier” sends our favorite psychiatrist back to Boston, where we first met him haunting the stools over at “Cheers.” But don’t expect an appearance from that iconic bar, nor indeed any of Grammer’s cast members from the original “Frasier.” Instead, writer/developers Chris Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”) and Joe Cristalli (“Life in Pieces”) port over Frasier’s signature bone-dry wit and delusions of grandeur to a show that feels less like “Frasier” and more like, well, “How I Met Your Mother.”
This time around, everyone knows Frasier’s name because he’s spent the last few decades hosting a “Dr. Phil”-esque TV show in Chicago, one which gives him both national renown and personal embarrassment. But after a brief stopover in Beantown in which he reconnects with his son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), who dropped out of Harvard to become a firefighter, he decides to stay—while reluctantly taking a psych professor job at said university.
It’s an intriguing remix of the original show’s dynamics: While David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, and the rest are nowhere to be found, the new cast offers old conflicts in new, if less exciting, packaging. Freddy essentially acts as the new Martin, with the generations swapped: Where Frasier turned his nose up at his low-class cop dad, now he scoffs at his son’s insistence on drinking scotch from a plastic handle. Freddy’s friend and roommate, Eve (Jess Salgueiro), is a cross between Roz and Daphne, snarky and helpful in equal measure while also trying to juggle enormous responsibilities as a single woman. And though the show lacks Niles, we have his son David (Anders Keith) as a fussy stand-in, carrying his dad’s prim ineptitude while holding his famous uncle up on a pedestal. (Keith grows into the role as the show progresses, but David still reads more like Sheldon Cooper than Niles.)
Of course, the show's center remains Frasier himself, and to its credit, “Frasier” keeps his curmudgeonly spirit alive. Shameful as it is to see him ditch the well-tailored suits for a more Casual Friday look, Frasier still feels innately Frasier, softened though he may be by the effects of time. Grammer glides through each scene with the magnetism of a seasoned performer; he’s had a lot of practice playing Frasier Crane, and it’s comforting seeing him on our television screens again.
Unfortunately, the show around him struggles to rise to his level. The remixes of old character dynamics are fun, but they're like shortcuts to avoid giving Frasier some truly new ground to cover. Freddy’s not nearly as interesting a straight man to Frasier’s fussiness as Martin was, David is simply obnoxious, and Eve floats in the periphery, with little to do—as does Toks Olagundoye’s Olivia, the high-strung university department head whose sharp comic instincts only get to rear their head in a few scant scenes.
The most successful of these new characters, blissfully, is Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Alan, a boozed-up, burnt-out old pal of Frasier’s from college who coasts through his tenured job in Frasier’s new department. He manages to blend Martin’s curmudgeonliness with a friendly rivalry with Frasier that evokes his old feuds with Niles; plus, Lyndhurst’s deliveries are as dry as a Sussex breeze, which makes for some spirited back-and-forths.
But for as much as “Frasier” tries to recapture the aesthetics of Fraj’s old stomping grounds—the non-sequitur scene cards (e.g., “Our Apologies to Thin Lizzy”), the relaxed reprise of “Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs” that caps off every episode—it still feels beholden to the trappings of more modern network sitcoms. Frasier’s postmodern Seattle penthouse has been replaced with a more minimalist, workaday apartment that just happens to have a Steinway piano in it.
Every episode has a lesson baked in for Frasier: He could stand to be a little less judgmental about something, whether decor, career choice, or teaching style. The attempts at farce are limp retreads of better comedies-of-errors from the old show, right down to yet another episode of Frasier trying to worm his way into his host city’s high society, only to be undone by his own hubris.
Don’t get me wrong: the new “Frasier” is perfectly palatable, especially for someone who’s worn out every episode of Dr. Crane’s previous escapades. And after a rocky first episode, the cast settles in a little better than one initially fears. But it’ll have to do a lot of legwork to lift itself to the annals of David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee’s iconic sitcom. Starting, of course, with those sneakers.
The first five episodes were screened for review. “Frasier” puts on its thinking cap on Paramount+ starting October 12th.