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Kevin Daniels as Tiny, Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane, Jimmy Dunn as Moose and Jack Cutmore-Scott as Freddy Crane in Frasier, episode 2, season 1, streaming on Paramount+.Chris Haston/Paramount+


Developed by Chris Harris and Joe Cristalli

Starring Kelsey Grammer, Jack Cutmore-Scott and Anders Keith

Premieres Oct. 12 on Paramount+ with back-to-back episodes

Critic’s Pick

If you’ve been yearning for a nostalgic TV comedy that feels both familiar and fresh, Frasier Crane is listening. Bringing the iconic Cheers character back for a third round with the Frasier reboot on Paramount+ starting Oct. 12, Kelsey Grammer recaptures much of that nineties sitcom magic.

Given the competition for eyeballs in today’s streaming landscape, repurposing bringing back familiar fare is a no-brainer: Proven intellectual property comes with a built-in fan base, and Frasier is no exception. Over its 263-episode run from 1993 to 2004, the sitcom won 37 of its 108 Emmy nominations, surpassing The Mary Tyler Moore Show for the most wins for a scripted series. (Frasier held that record for 14 years, until Game of Thrones beat it in 2016.)

The gamble with returning to a series that has, arguably, run its course, is whether the new version can surpass the nostalgia factor and deliver something fresh and entertaining while still embracing the spirit of the original. It’s a tall order for any show, but in particular for Frasier, which began as a spinoff of Cheers, one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time. Mounting a revival almost exactly 30 years from the day it first premiered is a risk.

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But one worth taking, it turns out.

Enough about this third act feels familiar yet different to set it up for success. The reboot picks up at the airport, where Crane has arrived back in Boston after his father’s funeral. (It’s an homage to John Mahoney, who portrayed Martin Crane and died in 2018.) Crane has quit the TV gig he scored in the original finale, is newly single and is bringing his nephew David (Anders Keith) back to his classes at Harvard.

Through a series of events in the first episode, Frasier reunites with his oldest friend, Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst), reconnects with his son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), meets Freddy’s friend Eve (Jess Salgueiro), and agrees to stay and teach at Harvard with a little persuasion from Olivia (Toks Olagundoye), the department head.

The jokes and character introductions are sometimes too set-up or on-the-nose in the pilot, but those kinks quickly iron out and the show is surprisingly quick to find its footing. Over the first five episodes, Frasier grapples with his image in spite of his famous past, learns to connect with his son after years of strained communication, and hangs out at a Beantown bar that, unfortunately, is not Cheers.

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Rather than creating each episode in a bubble, the writers layer recurring jokes into the scripts.Chris Haston/Paramount+

This is still the highfalutin character viewers know and love, only now he’s surrounded by a different – albeit similar – crew. Freddy is the Martin stand-in, an everyman with charm who isn’t afraid to call Frasier out for some of his more unrelatable qualities. Alan is an older, male version of Roz (Peri Gilpin), whose vice is drinking rather than dating. Even David, perhaps the most cartoonish of the bunch at the outset, is a fair mix of his parents, Daphne (Jane Leeves) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce), and has the potential to grow on audiences once writers learn how to best utilize his quirks. (Leeves and Pierce declined to reprise their roles.)

The result is a balanced mix of workplace and home comedy, with plenty of nods to the original that don’t feel forced. The first episode, for example, is titled “The Good Son,” just as the 1993 Frasier pilot was. Legendary director James Burrows, who helped set the tone on the original series (along with Cheers, Will & Grace and a plethora of others), returns to direct the first two episodes. And then there are the staples, such as the title cards setting up the scenes or the metaphoric theme song, Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs, sung once again by Grammer at the end of each episode over a brief character montage.

Yet for all of the small nods and passing jokes, the smartest thing Frasier does is stay in the present. Rather than creating each episode in a bubble, the writers layer recurring jokes into the scripts. Some of the best scenes are the ones between Crane and his son (Cutmore-Scott is a series standout), as this modern-day Odd Couple find their footing. Still, the entire cast holds their own against the acting vet, so that by the time the script veers into new scenes without the psychiatrist, it feels seamless.

Frasier also takes its time before introducing returning players, which further helps to set it apart. Both Gilpin and Bebe Neuwirth will return as former colleague Roz and ex-wife Lilith, respectively, but not until the series’ second half. Without such distractions, the new characters are allowed more time to settle in and find their own beats.

By the third episode, it’s clear this show has additional layers to explore and more dynamics to investigate. As Frasier questions his life’s meaning and come to terms with his past, he is willing to grow and embrace change. It’s not dissimilar to Grammer and his career: This is him accepting a new riff on the role he was meant to play. The result is a show that feels modern yet familiar, and is more full of belly laughs than you’d anticipate.

In this TV age of unoriginal revivals and single-camera comedies that try to break the mould just to be different, Frasier is a light and refreshing change. It proves there’s still space for multicamera comedies that are filmed in front of a live studio audience, but more importantly it’s a fun and lighthearted escape that will have fans new and old welcoming Frasier Crane back to the building.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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