It Took 5 Episodes for the New ‘Frasier’ to Shake the Original, but It Became So Much More

The 1993 “Frasier” pilot and the first episode of the 2023 Paramount+ revival have a lot in common. With the respective titles “The Good Son” and “The Good Father,” both episodes follow Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane as he moves to a new city, makes a massive career change, and moves in with a family member with whom he has a chilly relationship. Television legend James Burrows even returned to direct the first episode of the reboot, providing another link to the show’s storied past.

Thr premise of Frasier Crane moving back to Boston to live with his son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), who rebelled against his Ivy League upbringing to become a fireman, might seem like a lazy attempt to rehash the original premise. You’ve seen White-Collar Son Lives with Blue-Collar Father; now get ready for Blue-Collar Son Lives with White-Collar Father!

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But to dismiss it so quickly would be to miss a rarity: the thoughtful TV revival. “Frasier” began with some obvious homages to its predecessor, but by the time this week’s Season 1 finale aired it evolved into something unique. Rather than exploit an old formula for recycled laughs, the show became an epilogue that can resolve the narrative holes the original series left behind. Of course, Grammer’s alchemical mix of pompousness and misguided good intentions perfected over 20 years of playing Frasier Crane remains the bedrock of the series. But the revival truly shines as an illustration of the way every triumphant new act in our lives is destined to be shaped by the previous ones — and how we can solve our problems with the very tendencies that created them.

The creative team is proud of where the revival ended up, but they know it took a while to get there. In a recent conversation with IndieWire, co-showrunner and self-diagnosed “Frasier” obsessive Joe Cristalli said he and writing partner Chris Harris knew that the series would be a slow burn.

“The first four episodes, we were very proud of them, but once you hit Episode 5 the show really clicks into place and you don’t need exposition anymore,” Cristalli said. “We’ve hopefully filled out our world and deepened our characters to the point where we don’t have to hold audience’s hands.”

The original run of “Frasier” was an ode to the beauty of starting a new life. Both its pilot and finale featured timeless monologues about how the only thing stopping us from escaping our ruts is finding the courage to try something else. Frasier’s decision to flee to Seattle was rewarded with closer familial relationships, new friendships, and countless romantic flings with local socialites.

For the individualistic 1990s America, it was a perfect cultural fit — and conveniently disregarded that Frasier abandoned all parental responsibilities to chase love and glamour. His son Freddy (played by Trevor Einhorn on the original series) visited occasionally, but Frasier otherwise seems content to let his ex-wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) handle parenting back in Boston.

L-R: Toks Olagundoye as Olivia, Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Alan in Frasier, episode 1, season 1 streaming on Paramount+, 2023.  Photo credit: Chris Haston/Paramount+  TM & © 2023 CBS Studios Inc. Frasier and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.
“Frasier”Courtesy of Chris Haston / Paramount+

The new “Frasier” finds the pretentious psychiatrist realizing that decades of hedonistic living came at the expense of a relationship with his son. Freddy wants little to do with him, but Frasier insists on living together with the hope of sparking a bond similar to the one he shared with his late father Martin (John Mahoney). Instead, they quickly develop a dynamic that’s uniquely their own.

Freddy gradually reveals himself to be an intellectual firepower who can go toe-to-toe with his scholarly father. Whether it’s dominating a trivia night after becoming too drunk to mask his intelligence or obsessing over his cousin David’s homework assignments, his brillianceshows itself when he has the comfort of either intoxication of anonymity. To Cristalli, it’s a natural reaction to the unimaginable pressure that comes with being the son of Drs. Frasier Crane and Lilith Sternin.

“Freddy has a really cool perspective,” he said. “There’s people online saying ‘How did he become a fireman with two therapist parents?’ He rejected it! He rejected it hard! This to me is the most obvious thing that Freddy would have done. He’s not gonna become a therapist; he’s gonna do what he wants to!”

It becomes clear that Frasier is doing more than trying to befriend his distant son. He’s making a last-ditch effort to live up to Martin’s example of fatherhood — an area where he’s fallen short.

“It’s funny how imprinted Frasier and Niles were from Martin, when they were nothing alike,” Cristalli said. “There’s episodes where they reference that Martin gave them their ethics, their morality, all of that really important stuff that fills you as a person and makes you who they are. The starting point of the whole series was Frasier realizing, ‘Oh, I don’t have that with Freddy. Freddy does not think of me as imparting that kind of stuff to him.’ And. maybe from Frasier’s point of view, he didn’t feel like Martin did that for him until they reconnected.”

Cristalli said that Frasier might even need Freddy at this point in his life more than Martin needed him in 1993.

“The stakes aren’t that high for what this is,” he said. “But they kind of are to Frasier, because his entire life was defined by Martin. And Freddy’s life, as of now, is not exactly defined by Frasier.”

Emotional stakes were often brushed aside for breezy farces in the season’s second half. Episodes like “Blind Date,” in which Frasier and Freddy vie for the affection of the same woman while trying to discern which one was technically on a date with her, feature the immaculate plot structures and emergency kitchen meetings that made many original “Frasier” episodes sparkle. By the season finale, the show found its proprietary blend of old and new humor.

The long runway was worth the wait, as the relationship between Frasier and Freddy has enough texture for a multitude of Season 2 stories. Cristalli looks forward to covering new narrative ground as the character ages.

“Kelsey is in better shape than I am, so it’s hard to buy him aging at all,” he said. “We went down paths like ‘Should he end up in a green chair with a cane?’ But that would never have worked,” he said. “But it’s fun to see that little tiny shift from Frasier to Freddy. As Frasier gets older, that will start to shift towards Freddy. It’s not there yet, but it will be a fun thing to play with.”

The season finale, “Reindeer Games,” offers a preview of what that might look like. When Frasier’s attempts to throw an elaborate Christmas party go awry, a visit from his old friend Roz (Peri Gilpin) provides him with a much-needed blast from the past. Then the episode wades into truly undiscovered territory when Frasier admits that he’s not ready to let Freddy take care of him because he feels like he never adequately took care of Freddy. It’s the kind of scene that suggests this IP revival could become something truly special if Paramount+ gives it time to grow.

“That episode feels like it sets a nice place to start Season 2 at,” Cristalli said of the finale. “They’re getting there! They’re not anywhere near it yet, they’ve got a ways to go, but they’re both gonna try.”

Season 1 of “Frasier” is now streaming on Paramount+.

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