The Original ‘Frasier’ Pilot Offers Clues As To What Went Wrong With The Reboot

The critics are right, the new Frasier feels inorganic, inauthentic, charmless, and without heart or edge. But I can’t really blame anyone for trying to make this work. In a world where everything gets recycled, of course Frasier Crane, the most successfully repurposed character of all time, deserved a shot at pulling off an impossible TV comedy trifecta following Cheers and the original Frasier. But on a solo mission, this thing was snake-bit from the start, something that’s made crystal clear when you watch or think back to the original’s pilot from 1993 and it’s near perfection.

Honestly, when it became clear that David Hyde Pierce wouldn’t return, that might have been the moment to abandon hope. Frasier isn’t iconic because of Frasier Crane alone. Grammer’s neurotic radio shrink is like the original show’s 5th best character (he’s ahead of Bulldog and Eddie the Jack Russell Terrier). But the interplay between all of them was the secret sauce from the start.

The death of the great John Mahoney created a gap that could never be filled on this show, and without him playing Martin, without David Hyde Pierce’s Niles, without Jane Leaves’ Daphne, and Peri Gilpin’s Roz, the new Frasier became a blank page. And after watching its first two episodes, it still feels that way.

The new characters – Frasier’s previously semi-abandoned son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), his roommate Eve (Jess Salgueiro), Niles’ son David (Anders Keith), and Frasier’s freshly introduced old friend (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and new co-worker (Toks Olagundoye) – are front and center, of course, but the blame for them not standing out early and often isn’t really theirs. Talented though they may be, they’re all playing characters that feel stock when compared to the originals, who from the start, possessed a slow burn allure that made you want to see how these relationships would develop.

While legendary TV director and Frasier alum James Burrows filmed the pilot (and other episodes), nearly none of the show’s credited writers (including its creators) worked on the original. The two decades of space make that detail unsurprising, but the tone of this show just feels very divorced from the original, even when they’re trying to hit us over the head with non-subtle nods. To be honest, even Grammer feels off the mark, as though he’s doing an impression of this character he played for about two decades, about two decades ago. (A detail that should also provide him some kind of shield. It’s been a long time!)

Listen, I know it’s unfair to directly compare the pilots for the original Frasier and this. Especially since the circumstances of each show and the space from when the audience last experienced Frasier Crane differs so much, but it’s inevitable and it’s extra damning.

In 1993, Frasier began with a wall of exposition as our hero lays out how his life fell apart in Boston and how he had made a choice to start anew. It’s concise, but more importantly, it’s inspiring and sets a tone where we’re rooting for this guy even though he can be a pretentious prick. It’s also grinningly funny when it turns out Frasier has been talking to thin air. In this new thing, our re-introduction is just as quick but hollow.

Spoiler, I guess, but Frasier quit his job, the relationship with Charlotte that he pursued at the end of the original series finale went 20 years before ending with little explanation (to us), and now he’s in Boston after Martin’s funeral to see some friends (no, not friends from Cheers) and Freddy before going off to Paris. There’s no real emotion behind any of this. It’s all matter-of-fact or surface. Not inspirational. And while a heartstring gets plucked by the fact that he wants to reconnect with his son, original Frasier fans will probably remember that Frasier was a bad dad who moved across the country when Freddy was a boy, and that the kid only appeared in 8 episodes across 11 seasons. (And hey, why did we need a Freddy re-cast? Trevor Einhorn is still acting.)

I’m not sure what this new Frasier misses most (besides its cast, writers, and Trevor Einhorn): it’s heart or its edge? Niles and Frasier’s sibling rivalry was delicious, but also complex. Evident in their first meeting and throughout the series, there was ample affection, but also a bouquet of petty jealousies and grievances. Martin’s live-in caregiver Daphne sort of just freaked Frasier out at the start with her psychic tendencies and absence of filter. Even Eddie the dog existed as a little tension monster, sitting on Frasier’s furniture and invading his home life. At work, Frasier’s no-bullshit producer Roz took great joy in taking the piss out of him. (It’s noteworthy how frequently the original focused on knocking Frasier down and how many times people — particularly other academics and students — fawn over him in this new show, which isn’t without takedowns, they’re just fewer and further between.)

The engine of the show, however, was Martin and Frasier’s relationship. The complexity of their situation was instantly obvious with their frayed bond and years of estrangement and uneasiness between them. And I mean instantly, through antagonism and frustration that’s both pregnant and expressed.

There is a scene in the original pilot that really differentiates these two shows. Frasier is sitting alone in his immaculately curated apartment playing piano before the doorbell chimes and he misses a key. He rises to answer the door and greet his father, whom he has begrudgingly agreed to let live with him. From that missed key to the varying looks of reluctance, sadness, ultimate resignation, and the mask of fake enthusiasm Frasier throws on once he opens the door, this is a comedy master class. A message delivered: creatively, meaningfully, and wordlessly about their very uncomfortable relationship and uneasy living situation.

With this show, Frasier is the interloper, but the edge is softened with humor that’s more broad and less intimate and pointed. Characters seem to say things, not because it makes sense for their characters, but because it fits a standard of what a sitcom should deliver. Emotional moments are outsized and quickly resolved, allowing things to move to the next set-up/punchline/EMPHATIC LAUGH TRACK even though those resolutions seem too quick or unearned.

As an example: Frasier comes off as unhinged when, after a heart-to-heart with his son, he overreacts and buys the building he lives in, flipping the power dynamic of the original with Frasier now able to force people to live with and around him on his terms rather than be put upon. Basically, it’s a horror comedy. And the second episode is no better, retracing familiar themes and moments from the original, but again, sped up. Always sped up. Frasier therapizes himself and Freddy and Frasier find common ground in their new apartment in record time. I’m not sure what emotional speed run will come next, but this show is living like it doesn’t expect to be around long. Like Daphne Moon, it might be a little bit psychic.

Getty Image

As an aside, we actually were psychic ourselves 5 years ago when we ran a list of suggested reboot ideas: the Frasier and Freddy reconciliation, moving back to Boston, Lilith popping up (at some point this season), Paris… it’s just a damn shame they didn’t go with the all-denim idea or post-apocalyptic Frasier. Trevor Einhorn would have looked badass with an eye patch! Scrambled eggs all over their face, I suppose.