Frasier review: Grammer and Lyndhurst shine in pleasantly tame revival
The new episodes swerve difficult subjects – and that's probably for the best.
Any revival of a beloved television series brings with it feelings of anxiety, but the gamble seemed especially risky when it came to Frasier.
How would a new team of writers possibly follow up 2004's moving finale Goodnight, Seattle, particularly in a polarised modern era in which its star has become somewhat divisive?
Indeed, Kelsey Grammer's publicly stated support for former US President Donald Trump – at least, during his 2016-20 term in office – was a red flag for Frasier Crane's historically liberal fanbase. It felt as if these new episodes could very easily descend into the kinds of angry rants about "wokeness" that tiresomely dominate so much political discussion these days.
Fortunately, that's not the case. Rather than attempting to address how the world has radically changed, Frasier leaves that can of worms firmly on the highest shelf.
The show could be taking place in an alternate reality where discourse never became so toxic, presenting us with a largely toothless – but frequently charming – set-up that captures some of the magic of the original.
It's not the most ambitious approach, but it surely beats the worst case scenario.
This time, in the absence of the late John Mahoney, Frasier himself is the older father figure making an unannounced and unwelcome incursion into his son's life.
Dr Crane became estranged from Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott) after he dropped out of university to become a fire fighter, with a surprisingly poignant reconciliation taking place in the season premiere.
It's the start of a longer journey for the duo, although their odd couple shtick quickly becomes tired. To put it simply, Freddy is just not a very engaging character. Cutmore-Scott pales in comparison to an electric Grammer – which is perhaps to be expected – but he also delivers the fewest laughs of anyone in the regular cast.
To be fair, he doesn't have a lot to work with. Freddy is written to be the stereotypical "man's man", who likes nothing more than sports, beer and – in case of any doubt about his masculinity – very spicy chilli con carne. I really can't stress enough how spicy this chilli is, and how cool it is that Freddy can eat it. (Read: the character is dreadfully dull.)
Ultimately, Frasier has a more exciting rapport with pretty much everyone else in the show. Brits were surprised to see Nicholas Lyndhurst cast as Professor Alan Cornwall – one of Dr Crane's friends from college – marking the actor's first foray into US television after five decades in the business.
The casting reportedly came about after Grammer met the Only Fools and Horses legend on a West End production, with that off-screen friendship translating to solid scene chemistry.
Lyndhurst has some memorable moments as the jaded academic, who occasionally steps up to offer Frasier some sincere advice, but generally works best as the butt of the joke.
Toks Olagundoye gets some great jabs in as Harvard department head Olivia, whose disdain for her tenured professor rivals his own for their dwindling number of students. The show would probably have worked fine with just herself, Lyndhurst and Grammer sparring in the walls of the university and learning from its free-thinking students.
Alas, the story normally comes home, with Jess Salgueiro occasionally overcompensating as flatmate Eve in an attempt to prop up Freddy, the charisma vacuum.
Anders Keith is more watchable as David Crane – son of Niles and Daphne – if only for how uncanny his David Hyde Pierce impression is. It's enough to make his absence less noticeable, which is high praise indeed.
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Frasier retains the format of the original series, including the witty title cards that mark an episode's chapters and – more controversially – the laugh track. How I Met Your Father also decided to keep this element in homage to its preceding show (to the concern of star Hilary Duff) and it proved just as painful there as it does here.
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It remains excusable in the original Frasier due to how widespread it was at the time and because, bluntly, the writing was just funnier. There are some decent gags in the revival, but the hit rate is undeniably spottier, leading to plenty of moments when the (apparently real) crowd is losing their minds as you stare at your screen, stony-faced and numb (maybe that's just me).
Still, Frasier stands out as one of this year's most pleasant surprises – albeit, partly because the potential for failure was so huge.
The writers wisely avoid culture war topics in favour of a warm-hearted show that is unlikely to offend anyone, no matter your political persuasion. Crucially, Grammer is animated enough to make you forget about his voting history.
Frasier is available to stream on Paramount Plus from Friday 13th October 2023. New episodes weekly. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.
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