Frasier on Paramount+ review: welcome back! It’s like this weapons-grade narcissist has never been away

It’s like he’s never been away. Kelsey Grammer is back as psychiatrist, epicure and weapons-grade narcissist Dr Frasier Crane in the returning sitcom, 19 years after the last series finished, and a staggering 39 years since he first appeared as a supporting character in the ingeniously simple Boston barroom comedy Cheers.

Sure, Grammer’s hair is thinner and greyer, but his beetling brows, bulldog grimace and immaculate comic timing are unchanged. The quantity and quality of the verbal and physical gags, performed in front of a live studio audience, remains reassuringly high. But after 19 years, the ‘sit’ in the sitcom has required some adjustment.

Jack Cutmore-Scott as Freddy Crane and Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane (Pamela Littky/Paramount+)
Jack Cutmore-Scott as Freddy Crane and Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane (Pamela Littky/Paramount+)

David Hyde Pierce has not returned as Frasier’s brother and foil Niles, and nor has Jane Leeves as no-nonsense northerner Daphne. John Mahoney, so brilliant as the Crane boys’ curmudgeonly, ex-cop father Martin, died in 2018. The new show, written by John Harris and Joe Cristalli, implies that in the past 20 years Frasier’s radio career has bloomed into a vulgarly popular TV show, which has made him rich, famous and embarrassed. But now he is returning to Boston from Seattle: Martin’s funeral and the end of a love affair have prompted him to quit TV and to go travelling.

And so now he’s off to Europe, pausing only to check in with Niles’ super-fussy boy, David, who’s studying at Harvard; and his own semi-estranged son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), who dropped out of the family alma mater to become a fireman, much to his father’s consternation. Visiting Freddy in “the sort of place someone might wrestle a cartoon rat for a crust of bread”, Frasier finds him living in a complicated setup with a young woman played by Jess Salgueiro, to say more of which would be something of a spoiler for the first episode.

A chance to heal his relationship with Freddy, plus the flattering prospect of a Harvard teaching post alongside his old college chum Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst), conspire to keep Frasier in the town where everybody knows his name. It won’t be easy. When the TV psychiatrist insists that his job is just as important as a fireman’s, Freddy replies: “Let’s find someone with low self-esteem who’s also on fire and see who they run to first.” Frasier, whose ego is no smaller, nor any less fragile than it ever was, is also dismayed to find that Harvard, in the person of department head Olivia (Toks Olagundoye), may want him for his fame, and not for his brain.

Toks Olagundoye as Olivia, Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Alan in Frasier (Chris Haston/Paramount+)
Toks Olagundoye as Olivia, Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Alan in Frasier (Chris Haston/Paramount+)

The dynamics that kept this show so fresh in its original 11-year run are therefore successfully recast. The lowbrow tastes of his father that so offended Frasier have been triumphantly reborn in his son, who delights in neon beer signs, air hockey tables and a form of cheap spirit so debased it has to be marketed as “Scootch” for legal reasons. Niles’s social awkwardness is amplified in David (Anders Keith), who early on makes a gaffe while boasting of his eidetic (perfect) memory. “Forget it,” says Frasier. “I can’t!” says David.

Where Frasier and Niles were actively competitive and vain, the shrink is here paired with Alan, a man even more selfish and detached from everyday normality. Lyndhurst is one of sitcom’s great straight men and is terrifically deadpan as Alan, sleeping through his lectures and forgetting the existence of his own children, let alone his students. At one point he fondly shows Frasier a picture of the two of them at Cambridge. “That’s not me,” scowls Frasier. “That’s not even you!” (Alan also preserves this American sitcom’s slightly tone-deaf take on Britishness, in that he possesses a cat called Margaret Scratcher.)

It’s not breaking any new ground, but this reboot stays true to what made Frasier popular and funny, and manages to age the character and his concerns without jumping the shark. On this side of the Atlantic, only Alan Partridge is even slightly comparable. To have played Frasier so well and so consistently in different scenarios for 40 years is a remarkable feat for Grammer, and he has the Emmy awards to prove it. For the new series he even brings fresh life and clearer enunciation to his rendition of the theme song: it’s “tossed salads” not “tall Sallys”, dontchaknow?

Frasier airs on Paramount+ from October 13