Anyone who has invested years into Frasier and his previous escapades will quickly realize that the 2023 revival, now streaming on Paramount+, cashes in on a great deal of nostalgia. Spearheaded by Chris Harris and Joe Cristalli, the new series rehashes storylines and tropes in ways that pale in comparison to the original series yet desperately attempt to replicate it. This new show’s fundamental lack of originality can be felt most acutely in its characters.
In the revival, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) returns to Boston, where his character was first introduced in Cheers, the hit show that revolved around a bar teeming with hilariously irregular regulars. Frasier, the spin off, saw him return to his hometown of Seattle. His marriage had ended, his career had stalled, and he was in desperate need of a recharge.
The original spin-off’s creators – David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee – wisely created a rich world of quirky but beloved characters into which they placed their lead, never once falling into the trap of believing that he should be the centre around which everything revolved. Frasier wanted to reconnect with his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), and estranged father, Martin (John Mahoney). By re-igniting his career with a radio psychiatry program, the creators also shaped a fertile universe of eccentric radio personalities that eventually became like a chosen family.
Now, spurred by an invite to guest lecture at Harvard from his old chum Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst), the man who can never resist the chance to impart his wisdom – whether called upon or not – stops on his way to Paris to oblige. He’s always loved the sound of his own voice, but Frasier also believes that this will also give him the opportunity to reconnect with his prodigal son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), who has not only shunned his father for years but was inexplicably absent from his grandfather’s funeral.
Alan, a bitter but established academic, is Frasier’s equal in this series and thus acts as a replacement to Niles, especially in his snobbery. Although one can see that the actor is capable of wonderfully dry wit, the writers give him mostly throwaway lines about alcohol and his apparently annoying children. He only gets lines of dialogue as a sidekick and is not called upon to exercise his comedic chops in any other way, so this imitation of Niles really leaves one begging.
After a haphazard series of thrown-together, wafer-thin premises, Frasier ends up settling in Boston. Not only is he determined to win back his son’s affections, but his ego has been shamelessly stroked by the overly manipulative (and desperately underwritten) Olivia (Toks Olagundoye). She, as Harvard’s head of psychiatry, convinces Frasier to join the faculty as their star. She functions in part as a replacement Roz (Peri Gilpin), but the latter wouldn’t be caught dead pandering to Frasier’s ego so shamelessly. Roz had more heart, soul, and gumption.
Olivia is a prime example of the show’s tendency to oversimplify and condense. The new creators have taken the Frasier-Niles sibling rivalry storyline that Frasier managed so carefully across the entire original series and jammed it into one character’s motives, making it the raison d’etre for every action she takes. Olivia’s sister is in a similar role at Yale, so she desperately wants to keep topping her.
Not only are these characters just copies, but they are so narrowly outlined by the writing that these actors have very little room to stretch. Neighbour Eve (Jess Salgueiro), who functions as replacement Daphne (Jane Leeves), is presented as a flaky actress and not even a very good one, as seen by the third episode when she rehearses a scene with Freddy. She has no real reason to exist except as a mildly spunky woman that reminds us of Daphne, but Daphne was funnier as a personality even at the outset.
It’s thornier when the characters have a blood relation to their progenitors. The revival seems content to use them as send-ups, but this strategy turns them into lame ducks. David, Niles and Daphne’s son, is in part a replacement Niles. When we are introduced to him, now a Harvard student, he accompanies his uncle on the flight back to Boston. David insists that he be allowed to carry a rather large suitcase off of the luggage carousel. Of course, like his father, he can’t manage it. After David’s initial (eventually permanent) fawning attitude towards Frasier, this is simply too predictable an action.
David’s awkwardness harkens back to Niles’ lack of physical prowess but completely undercuts the memory of Pierce’s physical comedy genius. In the new series, the attribute is overplayed to the point of annoyance. Daphne’s relatives were grating on the nerves, but they were always played as loveable kooks. By just the fourth episode, David has been reduced to a mascot amongst Freddy’s buddies at the fire station and even the most empathetic among them has had enough.
Worse yet is the situation with Freddy. Frasier has not only decided to stay in Boston but has reordered his son’s private life. Freddy understandably resents Frasier from the outset since, even in his 30s, he feels his own father is embarrassed by him. Turns out that he is more like his grandfather, Marty. While the revival begins with a good idea – in a nod back to the first Frasier episode, “The Good Son,” Frasier tries to be “The Good Father” – the execution doesn’t quite work. The revival doesn’t know how to balance this strife between the common-sense common man and the so called intellectual as well as Frasier did.
Unlike his grandfather, Freddy is reduced to a bitterness that is more biting than humorous. Even when he throws a good zinger at Frasier involving a person on fire to prove his point (“Let’s see who this person runs to.”), it falls flat in the context of what Frasier does next. He can’t function as a proper replacement Marty unless he’s given more room to breathe. He can’t just be grumpy all the time.
As opposed to creating a situation in which things seem to organically flow step by step, Frasier unilaterally makes it happen. He forces Freddy to live with him in a way that wrests control from his adult child. No wonder then that, in the following episode, Freddy is reduced to the passive aggressive tactic of inserting an air hockey table into their dining room. La-Z-Boy chair, meet air hockey table.
Even though it uses simple scenarios to create a foundation, which often makes for the best sitcoms, the revival feels forced in ways that are unnatural. There’s an elemental fact missing from this revival: that Frasier always needed strong characters to bounce off of, to contrast from, to keep him in check. Frasier as a character functioned best in a universe of interesting characters, as an ingredient in a perfectly balanced dish. He was never meant to be a solo element. Frasier, as a series, was successful because it didn’t even attempt to entertain this strategy. The revival, meanwhile, fails because that is its only strategy.
New episodes of 2023’s Frasier air every Friday on Paramount+.