The Morning Call (Sunday)

Classic, contempora­ry ‘Frasier’ really quite good

- By Robert Lloyd Paramount+

I would not have bet on “Frasier” to win the Great Revival Sweepstake­s, but here we are, 19 years after its run on NBC ended, picking up the story, on Paramount+. (In a “get you hooked” stratagem, the first two episodes will air Oct. 17 on CBS.)

Not that the original wasn’t a great show, but I don’t suppose even its fans spent much time wondering what had become of radio psychologi­st Dr. Frasier Crane. (Now, Niles and Daphne, that’s another story.) Then again, “Frasier” wasn’t necessaril­y the comedy you would have expected to be spun off from “Cheers,” although I can’t think of a likelier candidate. And this new series, which brings in “Cheers” co-creator James Burrows to direct its first two episodes, is really quite good.

Is it as good as classic “Frasier”? Well, it’s hardly fair to compare a 10-episode series, freshly conceived and cast (star Kelsey Grammer excepted) with a show that wrote itself into cultural memory through 264 episodes over 11 years.

That is a sort of living thing, and this is a sitcom. With five episodes out for review, the better comparison might be to the first five episodes of the original series, and (without doing that research) I am guessing they stack up well. Naturally, the series picks up once the exposition is out of the way, and characters can just start behaving, or misbehavin­g as the case may be.

Time is unavoidabl­y a factor, and not just in the life of its main character, who, between the end of “Frasier” Mach 1 and the beginning of Mach 2, has become a national celebrity as the host of a pop psychology television show called “Dr. Crane.” We are in a new world visually as well: The widescreen aspect ratio gives multicamer­a comedy a different feel, with characters spread out across the stage — as before, “Frasier” is filmed before a live studio audience — splitting the difference between classic and contempora­ry.

Grammer, for his part, looks remarkably unchanged from the character as remembered. (We have, to be sure, seen the actor in the interim, in a number of short-lived comedies and dramas.) He does have the advantage of playing someone who was something of an old man even when Frasier still had hair — more hair, anyway — and is still very much the Dr. Crane you hold in your head: This is not one of those revivals whose very existence will force you to consider your own passing life and impending mortality.

And Grammer is so completely Frasier — a deceptivel­y unsentimen­tal character in a basically sentimenta­l show — that the new edition, for all its innovation­s, wraps itself comfortabl­y around him.

As we begin the new series, created by Chris Harris and Joe Cristalli, Frasier, who has retired from television, is stopping by Boston on his way to Paris, where he means to research a book, in order to visit Frederick (Jack Cutmore-Scott), his son with Lilith, and deliver a guest lecture at Harvard to the class of old Oxford classmate Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst). Traveling with him is his literally bumbling nephew David (Anders Keith), the son of Niles and Daphne, who’s starting at Harvard. Frederick, now Freddy, has a prickly relationsh­ip with his father, that springs from what he perceives as Frasier’s longstandi­ng disapprova­l of his having dropped out of Harvard to become a firefighte­r.

Soon we meet Freddy’s roommate, Eve (Jess Salgueiro), a server and aspiring actor, whose relation to Freddie is under embargo — because the first episode, as does every third episode of every sitcom ever, runs on lies. Completing the main ensemble is Olivia (Toks Olagundoye), the head of the Harvard psychology department who wants to turn Frasier’s guest-shot into a permanent position, hoping his celebrity will turn “the Harvard psych department into the Harvard of psych department­s,” and more to the point, advance her own position. This offer is made as easily as a free sample at Trader Joe’s.

In order to ease the transition for the old audience — will there be a new audience, one wonders? — the current series reproduces graphic and musical elements from the original; the “chapter titles” introducin­g individual scenes are back, along with the fades in and fades out. Significan­tly, and pretty obviously, its characters have been arranged to mirror the original show.

In place of Frasier’s regular-guy ex-policeman father

(the late John Mahoney), whose death immediatel­y precedes the pilot, we get his regular-guy firefighte­r son; Alan takes the place of Niles as a snobbish peer (though the drinking and laziness are all his own); Olivia is the Roz, taking care of business; Eve its lively Daphne.

It’s true that it can make this “Frasier” seem a bit of a knockoff, but it does ripen as the characters establish themselves.

(The first premiere struck me as funnier watching it again after having seen five episodes.)

Reaching back to “Cheers,” there’s a bar, where Eve works and Freddy’s legitimate­ly amusing firehouse friends — Jimmy Dunn, Kevin Daniels and Renee Pezzotta as Moose, Tiny and Smokey, respective­ly — gather, sort of filling in for Norm,

Cliff and Woody. Here, Frasier indulges in an uncharacte­ristic beer: “Sitting here with a cold brew in my hand, I feel amalgamate­d with the hoi polloi,” he says. (“You are the classic everyman,” comments Alan, dryly — though everything that comes out of Lyndhurst’s mouth is dry.)

Yet, as to the Place Where Everybody Knew His Name, he will muse ruefully, “I’m not sure I was ever my best self (in Boston); I might have spent too much time in a certain bar” — a reference only the audience would understand. One wonders if he’ll find his way back to that set, though, of course, it would be expensive to build and might be a Starbucks now.

In any case, it’s a show ripe for guest shots, and Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith and Peri Gilpin as Roz are scheduled to appear. It’ll be good to see them again.

How to watch:

 ?? PARAMOUNT+ ?? Kelsey Grammer, from left, Jess Salgueiro and Jack Cutmore-Scott star in the revival series “Frasier.”
PARAMOUNT+ Kelsey Grammer, from left, Jess Salgueiro and Jack Cutmore-Scott star in the revival series “Frasier.”

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