The Frasier Revival Review

For many, a good show is like a comfort blanket and cherished family member. This, to me, is Frasier, in my mind, one of the best sitcoms of all time. I suppose no one can be surprised these days when a popular show is revived; nostalgia sells better than it ever has, and in the absence of new ideas, one guaranteed way to get eyeballs on your channel or streaming service is to bring back something that was once a ratings goliath. Frasier, though, has had a troubled reboot life – despite Kelsey Grammar’s enthusiasm for the project dating back several years, the fact that David Hyde Pierce, the fantastic and often scene-stealing Niles, turned down a return to the show, and John Mahoney’s sad passing in 2018 (around the time the first talk about a reboot/revival was circulating), also robbed us of his snarky everyman character, left I think many Frasier fans feeling concerned about the revival.

My reaction to the revival announcement.

For Frasier is a precious thing, particularly in US sitcoms – a sitcom that went off the air largely still critically lauded and esteemed. It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I dived into the revival. Any massive Frasier fan is very protective of the property and it’s well-written, clever wit, so all of us were crossing our fingers and hoping for the best; that this revival wouldn’t ruin the Frasier legacy, and it was in fact a lovely bookend to the character, and not just a disastrous Grammar-led ego trip.

Live shot of Frasier fans just before the new episode.

It’s obvious that James Burrows (the legendary Cheers director, brought back to, in Grammar’s words, ‘take care of the character’), and Grammar felt this uneasiness from the audience, as almost from the opening moment, it tries to make the viewer comfortable, from the nostalgic opening titles, to the familiar setting of Boston. There’s almost immediately a great deal of exposition, including references to Martin’s funeral, his breakup with Charlotte, last seen in the final season, among other things. It’s a bit clunky, and the dialogue shows it, with Grammar particularly wooden.

Almost(!) as wooden as this.

However, it moves on quickly, introducing us to David (Niles’s son, and a relatively flagrant attempt at replacing Niles himself) and Alan (British comedy legend Nicholas Lyndhurst), a professor at Harvard. Neither particularly shines in the early moments, and David in particular feels like an artefact from a different sitcom, his closest companion seemingly being Sheldon Cooper of the execrable Big Bang Theory. It’s a character both conceived and written poorly, beneath the previous intellectual level of Frasier, and he doesn’t improve over either of the opening episodes.

Once this has been established, though, the show picks up a little pace, introducing son Freddy, who has undergone a huge transformation between the original series and the revival, and is now playing an everyman firefighter, a nice echo to the uncomplicated policeman that was his grandfather. He and Frasier’s strained relationship is established, and we have a pretty good idea what the central conflict of this strand of the series is going to be. After this, two more characters, Eve and Olivia, are introduced, as well as a workplace and new watering hole for Frasier. Setting all this up takes up the first half of the first episode, and makes things seem a little forced and contrived at times. I was beginning to worry quite heavily at this point, as the humour seemed somewhat more reminiscent of Everybody Loves Raymond or *shudder* The King Of Queens than something on the original series’ level.

In retrospect, though, I shouldn’t have worried, as Frasier was always at it’s strongest in two forms – the ensemble coming together, and the emotional punch that follows comedic moments. Just as the revival threatens to fall off into the same comedic revival pit that befell Arrested Development, among others, it finally finds it’s feet. As someone who lost a beloved grandparent, and who loved the Martin Crane character and this show, the bedroom scene where Freddy and Frasier finally have it out was perfectly pitched, written, and packed one hell of an emotional punch – both Grammar and Jack Cutmore-Scott (a well-played Freddy) are at their raw, honest peak here, and it turns the whole episode from a mediocre establishing one to a great one for establishing the characters.

This whole scene changed my entire mindset, as by the end of episode one, particularly the tribute to Mahoney in the closing credits, I was starting to smile and began to honestly, unashamedly weep – and realised that this show could, maybe, in fact, live up to the level of it’s predecessor after all. It carries the momentum similarly into the second episode – each character feels stronger (the dreadful David aside, although his screen time is at least limited in this one), the humour gets a little sharper and wittier, and there’s some wonderful callbacks, and once again, some incredibly well written, emotional scenes that really establish the central conflicts of the show.

To be honest, it’s not for everyone – if you weren’t a Frasier fan, there’s nothing for you here that breaks any ground or does anything new – it’s unashamed, comfortable, fanservice. It’s hard not to see the very obvious echoes of Frasier and Martin being reversed in Freddy and Frasier, and some very similar devices are employed (episode 2 feels very much like The Good Son at points, as well as other classic scenes such as his attempt to hold a three-minute conversation with Marty), but it’s done well, and it’s done warmly, with a real respect for the character of Frasier and its history and surroundings.

For me, it grows both on the viewer and in stature throughout watching, with Lyndhurst in particular seeming to settle into his role as the episode progresses. I have high hopes for Olivia as a character also, with her combination of snark and fastidiousness that always made Frasier characters shine, whereas Eve shows the potential to be a quirky, snarky modern woman in the Roz Doyle mould. It’s not going to revolutionise the character, or sitcoms in general, but with war waging outside, the news depressing, things being expensive, and the weather on the turn, sometimes it’s nice to put on something comfortable, wrap up warm, and just smile.

The first two episodes of a sitcom are notoriously difficult, as a premise and characters must be established, and they can be short on laughs and long on exposition – and indeed, the first half of the first episode proves that. Frasier‘s revival has navigated this well, though, and by the end of my time back with him, I found myself in a position I never expected – anxious for more.

You might just be right after all, Marty.

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