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Deep in the dark of a Soho screening theatre in London, I am watching a preview of the new Frasier show through my fingers. Why? Because I can hardly bear to look. Is it going to be terrible? Is it going to be terrific? Is it going to be a pale imitation of the greatness that went before?
There are millions of viewers around the world who believe that Frasier was perhaps the greatest sitcom ever made and I am one of them. For the 11 years it ran, from 1993 to 2004, Frasier was certainly one of the funniest, cleverest, most perfectly drawn and hilariously scripted television shows of all time.
Set in Seattle, it featured a ship of lovable fools played by a pitch-perfect cast, with a loving but fractured family dynamic at its heart. There was Frasier himself, the pretentious psychiatrist and radio host, played by the great Kelsey Grammer. Then there was his equally pretentious psychiatrist brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and their salt-of-the-earth father, retired policeman Martin Crane (John Mahoney).
Support came from Martin’s carer Daphne (Jane Leeves), man-hungry radio producer Roz (Peri Gilpin), and Frasier’s ex-wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth). Everyone was funny. Even Martin’s dog, Eddie, was funny.
I still fondly remember classic episodes such as The Ski Lodge – 22 minutes of pure, delicious farce – and The Innkeepers, where Frasier and Niles buy a posh restaurant where they argue about the souffles and flambe the Cherries Jubilee, with predictable consequences.
The reboot of Frasier has been picked up by Paramount+. It finds the eponymous psychiatrist relocated in Boston after leaving his home in Seattle, and charts his attempts to restart his relationship with his grown son Frederick ‘Freddy’ Crane
The original series was based in Seattle and was broadcast on NBC. It ran for 11 seasons between 1993 and 2004
Laughs could even be mined deep from an everyday Crane brothers discussion about the price increase despite the lack of pistachios in the biscotti at Cafe Nervosa.
‘Fewer nuts, more money – something I’ve been aspiring to my entire professional life,’ bawls Frasier, a line which perhaps wouldn’t pass the censors in these grey days of wokedom and hurty feelings.
Is that one reason why Frasier should have been left to rest in peace, its magic safely stored in our collective memory banks? Too late. A brand new Frasier begins streaming on Paramount+ next week and there is no going back now.
The opening scenes find Frasier complaining to his old university friend Alan Cornwall (Nicholas Lyndhurst) about the lack of female company they had to endure when studying for their English degrees at Oxford all those years ago. ‘The only women we could curl up with were the Bronte Sisters,’ he bellows, which did make me laugh. And, more importantly, gave me hope.
For these reboots of once-popular television series, these reruns that play on our nostalgic affection for the familiar and the cosy, are almost always a mistake. Over the years, revamped versions of popular television series such as Dallas, The Bionic Woman, Charlie’s Angels and Gossip Girl have all flopped miserably.
The BBC’s 2015 revival of Poldark, starring Aidan Turner as the ravishing Cornishman, was an honourable exception to the rule, going on to become a bigger success than the 1975 original.
More typical is a recent reboot of Sex And The City, a cynical and sad exercise in creative defeatism, which was no match for the energy and verve of the original.
As the great Dr Frasier Crane himself once said, perhaps wearing his breakfast robe while playing the piano and contemplating a reviving glass of mid-morning sherry in his humble Seattle penthouse: ‘It may be an unwise man who doesn’t learn from his own mistakes, but it’s an absolute idiot that doesn’t learn from other people’s.’ And now this.
Kelsey Grammar has returned in his role as Dr Frasier Crane. The new show finds Frasier back on the east coast of America – via two profitable decades as a television star in Chicago
The opening scenes find Frasier complaining to his old university friend Alan Cornwall (Nicholas Lyndhurst) about the lack of female company they had to endure when studying for their English degrees at Oxford all those years ago
The new show finds Frasier back on the east coast of America – via two profitable decades as a television star in Chicago – and he seems a little more relaxed than before, uncharacteristically willing to adapt to his surroundings. ‘What is it about the city of Boston that makes me want to forgo the pleasures of the fermented grape?’ he says in the first episode, forsaking his beloved sherry for a glass of beer.
This is one of the many Easter eggs seeded throughout the new show; the in-jokes and throwbacks that refer to Frasier’s complicated hinterland. The beer was a reference to Cheers, the original Boston bar-based sitcom in which the character of Frasier first appeared back in 1984. Grammer’s Dr Crane popped up in the third series and stayed for years, before becoming a spin-off character with his own hit series.
The question is, can the magic happen again? To be honest, the show’s producers, which include Grammer himself, are asking a great deal from the audience; perhaps more than any audience might be willing to give.
For a start, there are two hurdles for Frasier fans to overcome. One is that Frasier himself is the only major returning character, except for his son Frederick, but even he is played by a different actor (the deeply dimpled Jack Cutmore-Scott) now that he is an adult.
Daphne, Roz and Lilith will all be making cameo appearances but there is no Niles, which is a disaster. No Niles! We are talking Hardy without his Laurel, Seinfeld without George, a fish out of water without his chips on both shoulders.
David Hyde Pierce, the actor who played neurotic Niles so brilliantly, apparently had no interest in returning to the role.
David Hyde Pierce, the actor who played neurotic Niles so brilliantly, apparently had no interest in returning to the role
Frasier was a pretentious psychiatrist and radio host in the first offering but it appears more relaxed in the reboot
The original cast of the show received 108 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, with 37 wins
A shame, as his way of delivering a line was peerless. In one old episode, Frasier tries to reassure his younger brother of his love for him. ‘I would shave my head for you,’ he says. ‘A gesture which becomes less significant with each passing year,’ replies Niles, beadily eyeing Frasier’s receding hairline.
In Niles’s place comes David (Anders Keith), Niles’s and Daphne’s son who is merely camp and confused and rather a weak spot in the new set-up. John Mahoney, who played patriarch Martin Crane, died in 2018 and there is an affecting tribute to him at the end of the first episode which, I must confess, made me cry.
Also the neighbourhood bar in the new series is called Mahoney’s Tavern, a nice touch. His spirit also lives on in the character of Frederick, a fireman who has inherited much of his grandfather’s peppery loathing of fancy and fuss.
The mutually exasperating but essentially loving relationship between Frasier and Martin lives on between Frasier and Frederick.
Secondly – and this is the big one – British audiences have to somehow get their head around the fact that Rodney Trotter from Only Fools And Horses is now Frasier’s best friend. Not only that, he is a Harvard professor, complete with a lavish vocabulary and a taste for expensive whiskies.
Nicholas Lyndhurst tries his best and perhaps with time the shadow of Rodders will fade, like the elbows on his tweed jackets.
His boss Olivia (Toks Olagundoye), the chairman of the Harvard psychology department, treats him with energetic disdain. ‘The only woman on your arm would be someone putting a blood pressure cuff on,’ she tells him.
Yes, there are signs of life – despite the fact that the younger members of the cast just aren’t funny and Frasier is the only truly comic character, a star turn instead of being what he should be; part of a terrific ensemble. And is it me or are there are worrying signs he is going soft in his old age?
‘If there is anything I have ever wanted to be in life, more than anything else, it is to be a good father,’ he blubs to Freddy at one point. In another scene he urges a young mother not to ‘blink and miss the day that you held your child in your arms and rocked them to sleep’.
How one longs for Roz to tell him to stop being a ‘titmouse’ or ‘a big doily’ and pull himself together. But, most of all, how one longs for Niles.