Between “Cheers” and “Frasier,” Kelsey Grammer spent more than two decades playing the erudite if pompous character, with the latter representing one of the rare spinoff series that matches the original, during happier times for network TV. He’s back in a show that engineers such an obvious trick one needn’t be a psychologist to recognize it, or conclude Frasier should have been left happily retired.
With only Grammer returning, the writers had to find some way to replicate the dynamics of “Frasier” without its splendid supporting cast. They achieve that by essentially creating younger stand-ins for those characters, in much the same way Woody Harrelson filled the shoes of Coach (Nicholas Colasanto) on “Cheers.”
The heart of that set-up finds Frasier Crane heading back to Boston to visit his son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), a down-to-earth firefighter, mirroring the role – and related tensions in the relationship – occupied by Frasier’s dad Martin (RIP, John Mahoney). Frasier’s joined by his persnickety (as in very-Niles-like) nephew David (Anders Keith), a Harvard student and demonstration of the apple not falling far from the tree.
Having hosted a TV show in the wake of giving up his radio-advice gig, Frasier finds himself in unexpected demand by Harvard’s psychology department, where he’s reunited with an old college chum, Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst), a university professor who desperately doesn’t want to teach; and courted by department head Olivia (Toks Olagundoye), who spends most of her time when she isn’t kissing up to Frasier swapping insults with Alan.
“Frasier” excelled in farcical comedy – with misunderstandings and misplaced crushes and doors slamming and opening with carefully choreographed precision – and there’s some effort to replicate that here. The sitcom format remains reassuringly the same, shot with a live audience, at a time when the shift has been toward single-camera fare, and Grammer (who doubles as an executive producer) reunites with legendary comedy director James Burrows on the first few episodes.
Still, if “Cheers” and “Frasier” evoke memories of NBC in its “Must-See TV” heyday, this 19-years-later revival (streaming on Paramount+, the studio that produced the show) has the musty air of grasping for a recognizable title with a star who finally got around to saying “yes.” At the very least, the show seems more suited to corporate sibling CBS than the streaming service, where it vaguely resembles Martin’s comfortable old chair awkwardly positioned in Frasier’s posh apartment.
Grammer remains as game for silliness as ever, but everything else about this “Frasier” ultimately feels more tired than inspired. It’s a reminder that what was isn’t always well-suited for what is, a sitcom that seems to have entered the building for no other reason than because everybody knows its name.
“Frasier” premieres October 12 on Paramount+.