Paramount+ series brings back Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane and supplies him with some very cringe jokes

Left to right: Kevin Daniels as Tiny, Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane, Jimmy Dunn as Moose, and Jack Cutmore-Scott as Freddy Crane in ‘Frasier.’ CHRIS HASTON/PARAMOUNT+

There’s a joke in the fourth episode of the Paramount+ revival of Frasier that is not the worst to be found in this new take on Kelsey Grammer’s famous psychiatrist Frasier Crane, because there are unfortunately a lot of bad ones to choose from. But it typifies the biggest problem the new show has.

Frasier has joined his new Harvard colleagues Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Olivia (Toks Olagundoye) for a night of bar trivia, competing against a team of firefighters led by Frasier’s son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott). At one point, Frasier is confused about why everyone is mispronouncing “Celtics” while talking about Boston’s beloved NBA franchise. It’s a dumb punchline — but, again, plenty of those to go around here. Worse, though, it ignores the fact that, after being introduced in the third season of Cheers, Frasier Crane spent a decade of his life hanging around a Boston sports bar. Celtics legend Kevin McHale once tended bar there so he could play on Cheers‘ basketball team against Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern! In a game Frasier attended! Woody Boyd used to gripe about how much he hated Larry Bird because their respective Indiana towns were rivals! For that matter, Frasier’s best friend in the world for years and years was former Boston Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone, so he understands why Bostonians treat the Sawx as a religion, yet the good doctor is utterly baffled that one of Freddy’s most cherished possessions is a Lucite case of Fenway Park dirt!

This could seem like I’m overly fixating on a couple of gags. Except that those jokes are representative of the way that this new Frasier struggles to deal with the detailed and familiar history of a man who previously appeared in 20 seasons of television. It’s a muddle that doesn’t exist because Grammer and new executive producers Chris Harris and Joe Cristalli have something interesting to say about what Frasier is like in 2023. It exists because the title is familiar IP, and will get to reside on the same streaming service that features both Cheers and the original Frasier run.

When last we saw Dr. Crane, he was moving from his native Seattle to Chicago, to follow his new girlfriend Charlotte. The relationship didn’t last, we’re told, but Frasier found a new level of celebrity in the Windy City, becoming the long-running host of a Dr. Phil-esque daytime talk show. In the meantime, though, he’s become deeply estranged from Freddy. The once-nerdy kid has become a blue-collar first responder just like grandfather Martin, and he has nothing in common with his snobbish, effete father. During a layover in Boston on his way to Europe, Olivia offers Frasier a teaching job at his alma mater, and he takes it in an attempt to reconcile with Freddy.

It’s a clear attempt to flip the dynamics of the original Frasier premise, with Freddy as the son who can’t relate to his old man. But it doesn’t work for several reasons. The first is that Cutmore-Scott is incredibly bland in the role, and in no way seems like the character we last saw 20 years ago. Played then by Trevor Einhorn — who is still a working actor (Mad MenThe Magicians), and who has a much greater facility with comedy than Cutmore-Scott does — the young Frederick Crane was an anxious nerd with many allergies. It’s not that he couldn’t eventually grow into this person, but that the new episodes never acknowledge what Freddy used to be like, how much of a transformation this is, or what aspects of his old self he still retains, even if he doesn’t want anyone to know about them.

There’s also a story in one episode where Freddy admits that he’s told the other firefighters that his father is dead. This in theory seems to be a callback to the Frasier episode where Sam visited Seattle and discovered that Frasier had told everyone at Cheers that Martin was long-dead. It’s an obvious way to link father and son, and the past show with the present one, yet it doesn’t come up. To use a basketball metaphor that Frasier should understand, but that this incarnation of him wouldn’t, it’s an easy layup that the new show doesn’t even think of attempting.

There’s a lot of that. Since David Hyde Pierce is absent(*), the revival attempts to fill the Niles-shaped hole with both Alan and David, Niles and Daphne’s socially awkward son, who’s a student in Frasier’s class. (As David, Anders Keith leans very hard into a Pierce impression, with uneven results that can either make him the most appealing part of an episode or the most grating.) Alan is presented as Frasier’s oldest and dearest friend, yet the Frasier on Cheers was such a lonely man that he spent all that time hanging around with Sam and a bunch of other people to whom he could barely relate. Where was Alan during those miserable years? For that matter, Frasier here talks about his Cheers days as something of an embarrassing episode, yet when Sam, Woody, Carla, Norm, and Cliff guested on Frasier in various episodes, it was clear he still held deep affection for all of them. (Well, maybe not Cliff.) Why wasn’t Frasier hanging out with Alan back in the Eighties, when the gang at Cheers seemed to be the only people who would have him? And why does he not so much as mention the idea of seeing Sam in this show? (Even if Ted Danson didn’t want to reprise the role one more time, there could be a reference to Sam retiring, and Frasier thus having one fewer connection to his adopted city.)

(*) That goes for the whole original supporting cast. John Mahoney died in 2018, and Jane Leeves, like Pierce, did not return. Peri Gilpin will guest star as Roz in an episode, but she’s not in any of the five sent to critics.

Jack Cutmore-Scott and Kelsey Grammer in ‘Frasier.’ PARAMOUNT+

The whole endeavor feels like a very superficial read of what makes the character, and what made the Nineties version of Frasier, work. There are a lot of wacky misunderstandings, particularly involving Eve (Jess Salgueiro), the woman living with Freddy at the start of the series. And my lord, there are a lot of puns. When Frasier considers furniture options for his new apartment, he says, “It’s a real sofa’s choice.” At one point, Olivia complains about her sister being made provost at Yale, loudly repeating the name of Harvard’s Ivy League rival several times, which prompts Frasier to retort, “Don’t you Yale at me!”

The original series had plenty of groaners, and many plots that wouldn’t exist if someone just asked one additional question in a given conversation. But it worked because it had an all-time great ensemble flanking Grammer, because the relationships felt real and detailed, and because it had a Hall of Fame writing staff (including future Modern Family creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd) who made sure that all the jokes, no matter how corny, were the best possible versions of themselves. The revival is built almost entirely on whatever built-in affection we have for its title character, and for Grammer’s performance in the role.

There are occasions that remind you of Grammer’s genius, like a silently pained Frasier struggling to choose between being loyal to Alan or getting admitted to an elite Boston club. There just aren’t enough of them to compensate for everything else, especially when the show takes such a pick-and-choose approach to all the things we know about Frasier.

“The thing about me is,” Frasier tells Alan in one episode, “I’ve always wanted to fit in somewhere, you know? Even when I was back in Boston, I used to be a regular at a bar, and yet …”

“Nobody knew your name?” Alan suggests.

“Well, not exactly,” Frasier says. It’s a meta joke in more ways than intended, since this Frasier doesn’t feel exactly like the one we knew so well on his two previous series.

The first two Frasier episodes are streaming now on Paramount+, with additional episodes releasing weekly. I’ve seen the first five.

From Rolling Stone US.

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