The big laughs eventually arrive in Frasier reboot, but is it fun? That’s an entirely different matter

20-odd years after it wrapped up, seemingly for good, long-running sitcom Frasier is back onscreen. Is its return surprising? Probably. Is it funny? James Nokise finds out.

No one demanded it, and no one expected it was coming. In fact, with all the ’90s reunions and re-makes, this was one onscreen return many had not considered a possibility. Yet here we are; 2023 and a new season of Frasier—the highly strung and highly funny TV psychologist—has premiered. The doctor is back on air… and listening.

Is it funny? That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? It might be a fun curiosity to check in on a character that first appeared in the ’80s and was arguably second only to Seinfeld in terms of ’90s name recognition, but does this sitcom deliver the goods? The short answer is: “It gets there”.

For long-time fans wanting to know if this will eventually feel like the Frasier of old, or if it will join the growing list of botched revivals, be assured there are moments in the first series where everything does click. The quick dialogue, the high-brow references and low-brow undercuts, that ever-present comedic Kelsey Grammer baritone that might easily slip into Sideshow Bob if he had any less control over it. The big laughs eventually come, and they are earned with some very earnest hard work.

Is it fun? Now that’s an entirely different matter.

The cast certainly is having some, and the studio audiences go along for the ride too. As is to be expected, the younger actors (a relative term for a Frasier cast) are still finding their feet in the show, but those feet get firmer each episode.

TV veterans Toks Olagundoye (Castle, Veep) and Nicholas Lyndhurst (Only Fools and Horses, Goodnight Sweetheart) provide some comedy muscle as Harvard doctors Olivia Finch and Allan “Corny” Cornwall. Olagundoye’s Dr Finch is a tightly wound head of department obsessed with outshining her Yale alum sister, in a sibling dynamic sure to be familiar to fans of the original series. Lyndhurst’s Dr Cornwall, by contrast, seems like a love child of John Cleese and Dudley Moore—a classic semi-alcoholic British upper-class academic, as disinterested in his students as his own family.

Meanwhile, Jack Cutmore-Scott (Kingsman, Oppenheimer), newcomer Anders Keith, and Jess Salguerio (The Expanse, Jupiter’s Legacy) provide the “youthful” energy of the next generation as Frasier’s son Freddy (who technically was born during Cheers, in the ’80s), his nephew (by brother Niles and Daphne) David, and Freddy’s roommate (and solo mother) Eve. They take a couple of episodes to find their rhythms, but that’s only noticeable partly because Olagundove and Lyndhurst slip into their characters so naturally, and partly because the characters Freddy, David, and Eve are replacing, in terms of the home dynamic (Martin, Niles, and Daphne) were a massive part of an eleven-year series that was one of the top sitcoms of all time.

Even the much-beloved dog, Eddie, has been “replaced” (as a character) by Eve’s infant son, John.

Because it’s also worth remembering what’s being asked here. Is a new series, with a mainly new cast, able to live up to its predecessor at its peak, in the first few episodes? That’s a tall order for any show. Then again, so was the original series.

Frasier shouldn’t have worked as a spin-off of Cheers, and most Cheers fans didn’t even want it as a spinoff, much preferring to see stories following Ted Danson’s character, Sam, or Woody Harrelson’s character, Woody. Yet it endured to become one the biggest sitcoms of all time, nabbing a ton of awards along the way, and making Grammer a household name.

What’s more, it enjoyed one of television’s better final episodes, tying up loose threads and giving its main characters happy endings. In short, it finished in a very, very (short of death), final, turn off the lights, close the door, fly out of the city, way.

Frasier 2023 is sort of a spin-off, albeit one that’s still stuck with the original show’s namesake, but right now, more than anything, these episodes feel less like a revival and more like an epilogue.

Returning to Boston, where his character was first seen on screens, and transitioning from a man in his prime to that of “father intruding on his son’s life”—the role within the original series so brilliantly played by the late John Mahoney—there is a sense of coming full circle on the character.

Kelsey Grammer, though, is still incredibly watchable in his iconic role as ever. He’s going on forty years playing Dr Frasier Crane, making him either the Hugh Jackman of sitcoms, or everyone’s favourite Wolverine actor the Kelsey Grammer of action heroes.

“He has a new mission in life. He’s got some loose ends to tie up in Boston, but he also has a relationship to carve out with his son,” says Grammer in preview interviews. Connecting between generations seems to be key in this first series, from the strained relationship between father and son, to the sometimes surreal relationship between teacher and students.

It creaks a little at the beginning, a bit like Grammer’s 68-year-old frame walking across the set, slightly stiff-legged but with purpose and a definite gleam in the eye. Even in the establishing episodes, when scenes feel at their most contrived, he holds the whole thing together through what feels like sheer will and brilliant comedic timing.

As the show becomes more assured, self-awareness is more to the fore, and the sense of play grows between the cast and the live audience. There are some appalling puns, but they’re delivered with such a knowing smile that you half expect Grammer to turn to the audience and take a bow.

In a way that’s the spirit of this new series; no illusions about who its fan base is or how old they’ve become, no desperate attempts to try and be the cool new thing, just an old rockstar with some younger musicians going out for one last tour. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel—in fact, it so brazenly and joyfully crowbars itself into a sitcom setup by the end of episode one that you may find yourself smiling at the audacity of it.