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Sunday, 7 March 2021

OPINION: Reviving Frasier is a risk and we hope lightning can strike twice.

Reviving a beloved sitcom might feel like a safe bet for TV commissioners, since the show already has an audience who will likely return to find out what their favourite characters are doing now, but it’s a much riskier move when it comes to delivering quality TV. In recent years, sitcom revivals like Arrested Development and Fuller House on Netflix have been met with generally mixed-negative reactions, failing to recreate the magic of their original incarnations.

This year, Paramount+ is entering the increasingly crowded world of US streaming platforms, and its planned shows include an official revival of Frasier. It has so far been confirmed that Kelsey Grammar will return as Dr. Frasier Crane and will also executive produce, with Chris Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Joe Cristalli (Life In Pieces) writing and executive producing.

At this stage, it’s impossible to gauge whether this Frasier revival is a good or bad idea because there’s still a lot we don’t know. The original run ended seventeen years ago with Frasier leaving Seattle and seemingly choosing love over his career, getting a flight to Chicago in the hope of reuniting with Charlotte, played by Laura Linney. Does this mean the revival will be set in Chicago? Or will Frasier have returned to Seattle, or perhaps even moved somewhere else, in the meantime? The finale deliberately left things on an ambiguous note, and some critics at the time wondered whether this was allowing for the possibility of more Frasier in the future. Presumably, we will soon learn if things worked out with Charlotte and if Dr. Crane, now in his 60s, is still single and looking for love. How much do you bet he is?

A potential cause for concern is that Kelsey Grammer is currently the only returning cast member attached to the show. Despite its name, Frasier was never just about Frasier. It was always an ensemble sitcom with a loveable cast of characters, from Frasier's retired cop father Martin (John Mahoney) and pernickety brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) to kooky Daphne (Jane Leeves) and straight-talking Roz (Peri Gilpin). These characters that we got to know over eleven seasons feel so integral to the show that trying to make Frasier with just Frasier almost seems like trying to make Friends with just one of the titular friends… which, in case you’ve forgotten, did happen and what we got was the infamous Joey.

Of course, it’s possible that other former cast members will become attached as the show is further developed, but the options are somewhat limited. John Mahoney passed away in 2018, Jane Leeves told Entertainment Weekly that she wouldn’t leave her current show The Resident if a Frasier revival happened (although she seemed to believe that any revival would be a long way off), and there’s no word yet on whether David Hyde Pierce will be involved. On a more positive note, Peri Gilpin spoke about the idea of a revival on Frasier fan podcast I’m Listening in summer 2020, saying “there are actual phone calls… there’s actual talk.” Addressing the fact that a revival had been rumoured for years, Peri also said that “the only hurdle is the script… making sure it’s as good as they always were.” This suggests, promisingly, that the decision to bring back the show isn’t one that has been taken lightly.

Facing the prospect of Frasier without Martin, Niles or Daphne, it’s certainly worth remembering that the character of Frasier originated in Cheers and that the idea of moving him away from Boston to star in his own spin-off sitcom, surrounded by an entirely new cast of characters, wasn’t a sure-fire hit back in the early 90s. Long-term Cheers fans were likely worried how Frasier would function without his pals like Sam and Woody, but the strength of Frasier’s writing quickly put those doubts to rest. Could it be done again?

Familial relationships were always the beating heart of Frasier, so fans are speculating that the revival could involve Frasier moving in with his son Freddy, or vice versa, continuing the father-son dynamic in the absence of John Mahoney. After all, Trevor Einhorn, who played Freddy throughout Frasier, is still acting now, with roles in Mad Men and The Magicians under his belt. If the writers do choose to go down the father-son route, it would serve them well to remember that the culture clash of Frasier vs. Martin was usually more to do with class than with age. Freddy would now be just over 30 years old, so an over-reliance on Frasier railing against the modern world could risk alienating fans in their 20s and 30s who grew up watching the original show.

One aspect of Frasier’s character that lends itself to revivals is that, rather like Alan Partridge in the UK, his career has the potential to go in all sorts of different directions. When Frasier returns, he could still be at the helm of a call-in radio show, or (like seemingly most media personalities in 2021) he could be hosting a podcast. Perhaps his star has ascended since we last saw him and he’s now got his own TV show and/or a book deal. Or maybe the pendulum has swung completely the other way and he has returned to being a more traditional psychiatrist and is seeing patients.

Aside from the quality of the new ‘sit' around Frasier, a big test will be whether the writers of the revival can deliver the ‘com’ and recreate the distinctively witty tone of the original. Frasier was always an unapologetically smart sitcom, and some of its best episodes were intricate farces – many of which were written by Joe Keenan, including The Ski Lodge, The Matchmaker and The Two Mrs Cranes. In a brief appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Must Watch this week, Keenan said that assembling the revival would be a “very delicate and risky operation” and that he has had no involvement with it so far.

 As Paramount+ sets the wheels in motion for its Frasier revival, it’s probably best for fans to remain cautiously optimistic until we have more information, and to keep an open mind until we actually get to see it. The character’s long-ago leap from Cheers to Frasier proved to be successful beyond anyone’s expectations, so only time will tell whether a move into the 2020s is just as wise.

The Fraiser revival doesn't have an air date at the time of publishing this piece.

Contributed by Sophie Davies.

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