Admit it, we all have one.
That TV show we go back to time and time again, the one we can recite to the punctation mark.
It’s what I always end up returning to when I’m sad, when I’m drunk, when I’m bored or when I need a guaranteed laugh.
You’d think, then, that I’d be excited when rumours started appearing on the internet about a Frasier reboot. Instead, my stomach turned.
It was like receiving a text from an ex. Oh God, I thought. I haven’t heard from you in years. How’ve you been?
When a programme you’ve loved for ages comes to an end, you feel a tiny version of grief. If I sound dramatic, I’ll remind you that when Cheers ended, 40% of the American population tuned in to watch.
People want to say goodbye to characters they’ve invested so much time in. It’s a sad feeling, but life goes on. It’s unhealthy to dwell on the past – going over the same photographs, rereading the same love letters.
As Rilke said, ‘Just keep going. No feeling is final.’ OK, I’ll admit, that sounded dramatic.
Like many fans of the original series, I was scared that a rebooted Frasier in the current climate would fail to live up to expectations. But my trepidation around the new series was more than just wanting to preserve the legacy of a TV character. When it comes to Frasier, it’s personal.
You see, Frasier, and his comically-similar brother Niles, and I shared an affinity for ostentation that masked social incompetence.
As Frasier says to Niles, ‘you were 15 before you realised there was a correlation between getting beaten up every day and going to school wearing a panama hat.’
Or, as Niles says in another episode, ‘The only things we Crane boys are skilled at catching are sarcastic nuances and the occasional virus.’
It’s so important to see yourself represented onscreen.
Frasier was a comforting figure for a certain nerdy, socially-awkward teenager who tried to make friends by quoting literature and who thought it would be a good idea to come to school wearing red suspenders. (Reader, I wore the suspenders.)
In the years since the show was first broadcast, Frasier has become the gold standard for the successful sitcom spin-off.
There have been other examples of shows that struck gold twice, but for the most part, sitcom spin-offs quickly fade into the rubbish heap of television history, sometimes surviving for a season or two, often dying not with a bang but a whisper after only a few episodes.
Anyone fancy an episode of Joey? Anyone?
But the Frasier of 2023 is different to the Frasier of the nineties. For one thing, Frasier’s left Seattle and has moved back to Boston, where we first met him in Cheers.
Most jarring is the absence of the original cast. Though Peri Gilpin (Roz) is set to make an appearance in an upcoming episode, Frasier’s new supporting characters are completely new faces.
The new series, therefore, rests entirely on its star.
But it must be said that, for as much as I love the main character, the reasons I keep going back to Frasier is to enjoy his relationship with snobbish brother Niles, the slow-burning romance between Niles and Daphne, the comic opposition between Frasier and his cranky father, Martin.
Frasier was never just about Frasier.
But the biggest difference between the old and new Frasier is its words. The new series is mainly made up of new writers, a worrying fact for a show whose success rested on the brilliance of its writing.
There are some good jokes and we can certainly still recognise the character we loved 20 years ago, but some lines feel as if they have been written by AI – as if ChatGPT had been fed all of Frasier’s old scripts and regurgitated a half-baked impression of the lovable psychiatrist.
Take for instance Frasier’s line, ‘What is it about the city of Boston that leads me to forgo the more sophisticated temptation of the fermented grape?’ He’s talking about wine as if it were a vulgar word.
The original Frasier did what so few television sitcoms seem to do now: It had fun with language.
Jokes were more than the punchline; the character’s dialogue bounced off each other, charged by its own wit.
Take a favourite line of mine: ‘My brother is too kind. He was already eminent, while my eminence was merely… imminent.’
While dramas like Succession have great fun playing with the English language, too many recent sitcoms have be written with the presumption that the audience is stupid.
Or, if you treat them as anything other than stupid, they might stop watching.
That was the great thing about Frasier: it made you feel smarter for having watched it.
Even when the titular character resorted to sarcasm, the lowest form of wit in life and in telly, he did so with a flair I could only dream of conjuring in an argument: ‘I’ve got news for you: Copernicus called and you are not the centre of the universe!’
Compare this to watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory, a show about actual geniuses, which has all the subtlety as a smack in the face, only it’s somehow less enjoyable.
Watching the original Frasier felt more akin to going to the theatre than watching a 20 minute sitcom. If that sounds like I’m demeaning theatre, watch the surgically-crafted farce and Wildean wit that grace the best episodes.
And if it sounds like I’m dismissing the sitcom format by trying to elevate it something it’s not, make no mistake: Frasier had popular appeal.
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The original series won 37 primetime Emmy Awards, a record that was only beaten in 2016 by Game of Thrones.
Something can be both high-minded and popular, as Frasier himself pointed out to one of the critics of his radio show: ‘She told me that my show was bourgeois. I then argued that anything that has mass appeal could be called bourgeois.
‘She then said that my argument was bourgeois…which I happened to find jejune.’
Frasier brilliantly combined inspirations from theatre, TV and literature to create something both accessible and somehow high-brow.
Most of all, the original series wasn’t afraid of being overtly pompous. (Frasier: ‘Niles, do you think I’m elitist?’ Niles: ‘Of course I do, you needn’t worry about that.’)
Sadly, the same can’t be said for the new Frasier. There are still hints of the old show in there, and some new elements are extremely enjoyable (such as the sight of Nicholas Lyndhurst in a tweed suit).
The new series is fine, but it shouldn’t expect automatic allegiance from viewers just because of a past fondness for its central character.
I hope people enjoy the new Frasier. But for me, I’m not particularly excited by it.
Be it letters from exes or brightly-coloured suspenders, some things we once loved are better left in the past.
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