Frasier: how to pull off a sequel
Fans of the 1990s sitcom have nothing to fear from this reboot.
Unsurprisingly, many fans of 1990s television comedy Frasier greeted the prospect of its revival with trepidation when it was announced back in February 2021. Sequels, spin-offs and reboots are notoriously perilous affairs, invariably ending up inferior to the original. And some shows don’t know when to stop. Conversely, the best comedies resist tarnishing their legacy by knowing when to call it a day: Fawlty Towers and The Young Ones, for instance, only recorded 12 episodes each.
More disconcerting still was the news that most of the characters from Frasier weren’t going to return. No neurotic Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce declined the offer), no Daphne (Jane Leeves), no Roz (Peri Gilpin) and certainly no John Mahoney as Martin Crane or his dog, Eddie, both of whom are no longer with us. The most bizarre new addition to the cast, for British fans at least, seemed to be Nicholas Lyndhurst, best known as the gormless plonker, Rodney, in Only Fools and Horses. What could go wrong? Everything, it seemed.
‘To exhume a beloved old show is to flirt with danger. Can the revival ever match the original?’, asked the Telegraph this week, a question all Craniacs have been asking themselves ever since the reboot was announced.
Yet the nay-sayers – and I instinctively was one – missed or had forgotten one essential point: Frasier itself was a sequel of sorts. It was a spin-off of the hugely successful 1980s comedy, Cheers, which is still repeated every weekday morning on Channel 4. And the original Frasier refused to regularly feature Cheers’s best-loved characters, barring Frasier’s ex-wife, Lilith. Indeed, when Sam or Woody did make guest appearances, it was a decidedly awkward and even forlorn affair, both for the character Frasier himself, and for the audience. We were reminded how Frasier Crane had moved on. We were also reminded that, in many respects, Frasier was superior to the show that had spawned it. Our beloved Cheers now appeared a rather superficial and matey affair compared with its successor.
Frasier was capable not only of superior slapstick, but it was also decidedly more cerebral, more profound, its characters more developed. Its central theme was the clash of cultures between the sophisticated brothers and their blue-collar, widowed father. But the Crane brothers were also paradoxical figures. They may have been intellectuals and aesthetes, but both lacked self-awareness – hence their insensitive snobbishness and undignified social climbing. And both were needy, immature types. Frasier was forever a failure in affairs of the heart, and grew ever more haunted by the prospect of a future alone. So many of Frasier’s ideal women transpired to be variations of his dear departed mother. It was a tragedy of sorts.
The new incarnation of Frasier, which begins tonight on Paramount+, may defy the pessimists. In his review in The Times last week, Ben Dowell, confessing that he was ‘worried that this might be the worst TV comeback since ITV’s revival of Crossroads’, concluded that ‘it works supremely well, and in episode two it really gets into its stride. I liked it a lot.’
‘Kelsey Grammer’s return as Dr Frasier Crane is a treat’, announced The Sunday Times at the weekend. ‘Plenty to cheer as TV’s funniest fusspot returns’, added a five-star review in the Telegraph on Tuesday, noting how the ‘years have put a crook in Kelsey Grammer’s lower back so he now moves with a scurrying waddle reminiscent of his cranky old dad.’
Dowell reports that there are nods to Cheers throughout the new Frasier. Indeed, with this series having Frasier returning to Boston from Seattle, where he now cohabits with his own son, there seems to be a certain circularity afoot (Roz will also return later this series). And who doesn’t love a cyclical saga, in which matters come full circle?
When it comes to sequels, the new Frasier suggests that sometimes more is actually more.
I identify as, therefore I am
In his latest book, The New Leviathans: Thoughts After Liberalism, philosopher John Gray argues that ‘woke’ is not a manifestation of ‘cultural Marxism’, as many on the right characterise it to be. Rather, it is a pathology of liberalism, or what Gray calls ‘hyper-liberalism’, which has elevated respect and reverence for the individual into a kind of religion.
Indeed, we are all exhorted to the act of ‘self-creation’, and any attempt to gainsay this right is treated as a kind of heresy. As Gray puts it, any challenge against self-expression in ‘every aspect of life’ must be ‘monitored and controlled… Language must be purified of traces of thoughtcrime. The mind must cease to be a private realm and come under scrutiny for its hidden biases and errors.’ He concludes: ‘The logic of limitless freedom… is unlimited despotism.’
There is something in this. Self-worship exists in tandem with the idea that the self is capable and free to create itself exactly as it pleases. And this thinking goes back to Jean-Paul Sartre, whose mid-20th-century work may no longer be voguish, but whose ruminations have filtered by osmosis into the rest of our culture over the decades.
For humans, said Sartre, existence precedes essence. Thus we have the potential to create ourselves. ‘Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards’, he wrote in 1946, ‘then he will be what he makes of himself’. Indeed, it is actually our duty to be true to ourselves, he argued, lest we lapse in unreflective self-deception into personas assigned to us by society. Not to reflect on oneself is to live in ‘bad faith’.
Sartre’s message, as it came to be popularly understood, is that we were free to be anybody we want to be. And we can detect that ideology and idealism today in the notion that one can be any category of person by simply ‘identifying’ as one, and that one’s choice of pronoun magically transforms one’s essence – both one’s inner and outer being. We can also recognise the seeds of radical trans ideology in Sartre’s emphasis on ‘authenticity’.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy of authenticity is now pervasive. His faith in untrammelled self-autonomy, to the point of self-deification, has ultimately led to a culture of narcissism and belligerent self-regard.
Talking of existence, existentialism and being, one of the best one-liners in the original Frasier is the protagonist’s boast that at his school existential club, he was voted ‘the student most likely to be’.
Not to be outdone, when Daphne once asked Niles if he was feeling a bit lonely, he replied: ‘Only sometimes when I’m by myself. Or other times when I’m with other people.’ How very Sartre.
Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.
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