The film and television industries have resigned themselves to becoming recycling factories. Reboots and revivals have become the norm among the brand-new content that premieres each year. Still, fans rightfully sneered when Paramount+ announced the revival of “Frasier,” a reboot of the Emmy-winning show, which ran on NBC for 11 seasons from 1993-2004. Kelsey Grammer had already portrayed the stuffy psychiatrist Frasier Crane for 20 years, first on the sitcom “Cheers” and then on the series named after his character. Returning to such an iconic role after two decades seemed like a massive misstep, especially since the original “Frasier” cast — particularly David Hyde Pierce as Niles — would not be reprising their roles. However, along with Grammer, original series producers Bob Daily, Jay Kogen and Christopher Lloyd, casting director Jeff Greenberg and director Jimmy Burrows are all involved in the new show. And it turns out that watching Frasier’s third chapter is a charming and delightful experience.
When fans last saw Fraiser, he jumped on a plane to follow his girlfriend Charlotte (Laura Linney) to Chicago. During his tenure in the Windy City, Frasier was able to catapult the success of his Seattle-based radio show into a “Dr. Phil”-like television show, “Dr. Crane.” But now the series and his relationship with Charlotte have ended. In the wake of the death of his beloved father, Martin (John Mahoney), Frasier leaves Chicago and returns to Boston to reconnect with his son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott). While literal distance has caused strain in the father/son relationship, Freddy’s decision to drop out of Harvard to become a firefighter has created great deal of tension between the pair. When the cashmere-loving shrink appears at Freddy’s apartment door unannounced, Frasier realizes that repairing things with his only child will take more than a short visit.
In addition to Freddy, who is as enthusiastic about his air hockey table as Frasier is about collecting first-edition books, the aloof psychiatrist is welcomed back to the East Coast by his nephew, David (Anders Keith), Niles and Daphne’s (Jane Leeves) son, a student at Harvard who shares a few of his dad’s eccentricities without the snobbery. Additionally, there’s Professor Alan Cornwall (Nicholas Lyndhurst), an old friend of Frasier’s from Oxford, whose enthusiasm is reserved for aged bottles of whiskey and his beloved cat. Alan is the British version of Frasier without any polite pretenses or sharp wardrobe, and the banter between the men is marvelous. Rounding out the cast is Olivia (Toks Olagundoye), the head of Harvard’s psychology department and Eve (Jess Salgueiro), a friend of Freddy’s who also happens to tend a bar at the local pub.
Cutmore-Scott is lovely as a hard-working fireman with bro-like tendencies who desperately wants his father’s approval. His dynamic with Eve has clearly been set up for a long-term will-they-won’t-they romantic entanglement in the vein of Sam and Diane on “Cheers,” which helped pioneer that trope. David, seemingly forgotten by his parents, desperately wants to find a real place in the lives of his cousin and uncle. Throwing himself into varied elements of physical comedy, David is as hopeless and awkward as he is endearing. Many of the laugh-out-loud moments in this revival stem from Lyndhurst’s Alan, whose eccentricities make for some heartwarming chuckles.
In addition to changing the series’ setting, a change of space also allows this new dynamic to thrive. Centering the workplace in academia allows Frasier to succeed (or fail) among like-minded individuals. Episode 5, “The Founder’s Society,” showcases Frasier, Olivia and Alan vying to join one of Harvard’s most exclusive secret societies. Though the trio agrees to attend the mixer to mingle, a competition among the friends involving a gauntlet, the use of the Latin language and other trickery ensues. Also, while Olivia remains in step with Frasier and Alan in terms of academic interest, she adds some flair to the trio. The age differences and her personal amusements, including an off-screen rivalry with her sister Monica and catching the eye of firefighters, allow a unique mix of wit that doesn’t just center older white men to be infused in the show.
Paramount+’s “Frasier” works because it remains loyal to the original program. Despite the cast changes, Frasier, now in his 60s, has the same qualities of the man viewers first met in his 30s and last saw in his 50s. Overly concerned with money and appearances, Frasier’s differences with Freddy parallel those he had with Mahoney’s Martin. From the theme song to the black and white title cards, and even the live audience, the elements that made “Frasier” a quintessential work remain unchanged here. This version of “Frasier” also retains its ability to remain socially and politically neutral, which is a nice reprieve for hyper-aware fans.
Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel of a legendary character, “Frasier” 2.0 leans toward everything that made the ’90s sitcom such a staple — not only of the era, but of the fabric of television as a whole. If fans are looking for something new, they won’t find it here, but there is something so charming about dusting off and polishing up a past relic that makes it as refreshing as you remembered it. And yes, Frasier wears jeans and Allbirds in the series because people can evolve, even if they don’t change completely.
The first two episodes of “Frasier” premiere Oct. 12 on Paramount+, with new episodes dropping weekly on Thursdays.