Frasier season 1 episodes 1 and 2 review | back in Boston with a new lease of life

Frasier (2023) season 1 episodes 1 and 2
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Frasier returns, but can he can buck the trend of reboots and ‘legacyquels’ which largely fail to recapture the magic of their own past? Our review of Frasier episodes 1 and 2…

The return of Frasier wasn’t inevitable, yet it makes sense given the wave of 1990s nostalgia that is now overtaking the 80s retrospectives which inspired Stranger Things. Frasier remains perhaps the greatest American sitcom to emerge from that decade. It’s still endlessly repeated and, as with many ‘classic’ series, has found a new lease of life in the age of GIFs and memes.

Kelsey Grammer’s waspish yet charming psychiatrist has always been immensely durable. Frasier was the rare example of a spin-off series that, certainly in terms of quality, eclipsed its forebear. It was to the 90s as Cheers was to the 80s, taking the tormented Doctor Crane from the titular bar in Boston, surrounded by blue collar types where he stood out, to the middle-class environs of Seattle and a broader world of culture and American class into which he naturally slotted.

Though developed by the same writer and director teams, including legendary comedic helmsman James Burrows who returns to direct the first two episodes of this reboot, Cheers and Frasier were not just geographically poles apart but distinct in terms of style. Frasier made the titular shrink central to a witty class farce, forced to live with his ex-cop father Martin (the brilliant John Mahoney), while suffering the snobbery of his effete brother Niles (the, again, brilliant David Hyde Pierce), who perennially looks down on Frasier’s pop jock psychiatry on Seattle radio airwaves.

The reason Frasier worked in the 90s and early 2000s was because it was self-effacing enough to laugh at Frasier, Niles and their socially aspirational world of dilettantes, wine snobs and art dealers. And, heavily through Marty and his live-in carer, the kooky Mancunian ‘psychic’ Daphne (the, yes, brilliant Jane Leeves), always ensuring Frasier was brought down to earth as they pricked his pomposity. Even at the height of elitist buffoonery, Frasier (and ultimately Niles) was always loveable; a charming bear of a man, catnip for the intellectual lady, who genuinely loved his family.

The comedy was rooted in Frasier’s frustration at never quite escaping the working class roots his father espoused, and how he was better off for it. He’d escaped a rather toxic marriage to fellow psychiatrist Lilith (who, as played by Bebe Neuwirth, would often pop up, as she had in Cheers). Frasier spends the run of the series working to connect with his and Lilith’s son, Frederick; as the boy grows up, Frasier increasingly expects his son to equal his success. It always would have made sense that should Frasier return to screens later in life, his son Freddie would be the key relationship in his life to explore.

Over the years, I’ve often thought Frasier would work as a reboot with this concept. Without tooting my own horn, I predicted the essential structure, as evidenced by several tweets I made in 2021, just at the point the revival was first mooted. Here’s the evidence and here are the tweets (see the thread below):

See, I honestly long believed a perfect sequel series to this was older, retired Frasier living with grown up, psychiatrist Frederick, having become the haughty society version of Martin. Maybe he podcasts these days instead of radio. Call it Crane. It writes itself.

Set it back in Boston. Make Lilith a regular & have she & Frasier an on-off viperish couple. Let Niles, Daphne & their hilarious children pop in a few times a season for guest appearances. But mainly have Freddie be a tragic, put upon, ‘trapped’ comedy character.

 I think Freddie having traits of Martin—in spite of what both of his parents and his uncle have been like all his life—would only add to the comedy.

As you can see, I didn’t get everything right. The adult Frederick ended up in a public service role, much like his grandfather. Frasier isn’t a podcaster, but we do learn he was a chat show host in Chicago in the opener, ‘The Good Father’, and has achieved a level of national fame beyond that of his radio programme.

He’s back in Boston living with Freddie (Jack Cutmore-Scott), however, or rather Freddie is living with him by the end of the second episode, ‘Moving In’. Freddie does fit the mould of the ‘trapped’ comedic character as Frasier himself earlier was, he having become the father figure the son initially rejects. Lilith is set to reappear (if not regularly). Niles and Daphne might not be in the show (both Hyde Pierce and Leeves having reputedly rejected the chance to appear) but in their son David (Anders Keith), a regular character here, the traits of both are immediately acute.

I don’t profess some great comedic knowledge or awareness in having predicted much of this. It always felt the perfectly logical set of circumstances to reboot Frasier. New showrunners Joe Cristalli and Chris Harris elect to place Frasier in the role of the grandee, largely surrounded by youth. Freddie is a decent fireman who become a surrogate ‘husband’ of sorts to sassy single mother Eve (Jess Salgueiro), and ‘father’ to her baby son John, whose true father was a friend who died in the line of duty.

Frasier (2023)

This gives ‘The Good Father’ title an effective double meaning. It ostensibly concerns Frasier, or works as a play on the original series pilot episode title ‘The Good Son’, but really the title’s about Freddie, with the audience wrong-footed into believing Frasier has a grandchild he doesn’t know about. The reality is, in truth, more interesting: Frasier will still get to play the grandfatherly figure (as we see in ‘Moving In’ as Eve realises Frasier’s voice puts the baby to sleep), yet the door remains open for Freddie possibly to be gay, which would add a natural and logical element of representation to a series, should they choose such a route, that has always contained a sizeable queerness in its DNA.

This reboot of Frasier is, in many respects, a continuation. It retains the exact same style as the original series. Same opening titles. Same closing silent comedy skit in the credits as Grammer belts out ‘Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs’ (he starts these days with the cheeky refrain, “y’all know how this goes…”). Same silent movie-styled title cards between scenes.

Even Frasier’s apartment strongly resembles his iconic Seattle pad; he might not have a Boston skyline, but he has space for the piano, a separate walk-in kitchen, and a penchant for Rorschach-style artwork. Even the character dynamics remain similar. Freddie steps in for Marty, if in reversed fashion. Eve fills the void of Ros, Frasier’s friend and radio producer in Seattle (also set to reappear with Peri Gilpin reprising the role), as the strong-willed, streetwise female presence.

Niles is replaced by Alan Cornwall, an old Harvard professor pal of decades standing who he returns in ‘Moving In’ to work with, sharing an office. He provides that sarcastic, even caustic, elitist presence, even if he in ‘The Good Father’ plays into an old-fashioned American caricature of the eccentric British drunk. He feels a bit like he could have strayed out of those Friends episodes in the late-90s where they all visited London (baby!).

Despite being played by British comedy legend Nicholas Lyndhurst (a good friend of Grammer’s after appearing on stage together), he’s no match for Niles. Currently the weak link, we hope, given Lyndhurst’s comic talents, that he’ll grow into the role. The writing for his character just isn’t there yet, despite there being some undeniably good chemistry between Lyndhurst and Grammer.

This brings us to Grammer himself, because the sun rises or sets on our leading man here. While there’s a solid case for the original series being as good as it was thanks to Mahoney and Hyde Pierce, Grammer is a brilliant comic performer who’s able to balance fast wit, physical farce and enormous warmth all at once. The great news is that nothing has changed in the 20 years since we last saw him. Frasier is older and a bit more gravelly of voice, but Grammer looks great for his advancing years and slips back into the role without missing a step. When the audience cheer loudly as he walks out in the first scene, you feel it. He’s immediately back.

It almost falls down, admittedly.

The opening half of ‘The Good Father’ offers some wonky script work to say the least, with Grammer and Lyndhurst gamely working through loaded, leaden jokes and exposition to establish Frasier’s new surroundings, but the episode beds in once the series begins to coalesce around the central concept – Frasier living next to Freddie, starting his life over in Boston, and reconnecting with a son who, as was the case with Marty, he has little culturally in common with. The series understands that it’s replaying the same core idea from the original run. That’s why it works: it knows what it is.

The understandable counterpoint could be to suggest Frasier is immediately dated. It does feel like a throwback, even by the standards of American studio comedy. Not all the jokes or set ups land, but many do. Frasier having to invent a legend regarding Freddie’s ‘father’ to his fireman work colleagues is funny. Many of the characters come together and work well. It also holds great promise in the various comic staging grounds it establishes – Frasier and Freddie’s cohabitation, Frasier at work at Harvard, and so on.

Ultimately, while we didn’t need Dr. Frasier Crane back, on the basis of this solid pair of episodes, I definitely hear the blues a callin’.

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