At the end of the Frasier theme song, its star Kelsey Grammer always sang the words “Frasier has left the building!” And when the show finished in 2004, it felt as if Frasier, Niles, Daphne, Martin, Roz and the rest had indeed left the building.
In truth, the much-beloved program did not end in glory. Ever since Niles and Daphne had become a couple, ending its greatest running joke, there was a sense of past glories being retrodden. By the time Daphne’s siblings appeared with the strangest “British” accents ever known, it was hard to avoid the feeling that Frasier’s departure was past due.
It is therefore both surprising and alarming that rumors of its return on the Paramount+ screening platform have not only been confirmed, but the first major piece of casting apart from Grammer himself has been announced. The British actor Nicholas Lyndhurst, best known for his performance as the hapless Rodney Trotter in the BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses, has been cast as Frasier’s sparring partner Alan Cornwall. The publicity announcement describes Lyndhurst’s character as “Frasier’s old college buddy turned university professor. British, boozy and larger than life, Alan has an intellect on par with Frasier’s — if only he ever felt like using it.”
If one wanted to cast a British actor as a bon viveur academic, Lyndhurst — a fine comic performer, but one whose persona is not overburdened with joie de vivre — would not be at the top of most people’s wish lists. Roger Allam, Bill Nighy or Dominic West would all more than hold their own opposite Grammer. Yet Lyndhurst, who starred opposite the actor in a 2019 London revival of the musical Man of La Mancha and clearly made an impression, may be a pleasant surprise in the role. After all, he’s a distinguished comic performer of several decades’ standing, and not a face over-familiar to American audiences. Plus one imagines that he will do a more natural British accent than Daphne’s siblings.
Nonetheless, the very existence of the Frasier reboot remains something of a head-scratcher. None of the original cast save Grammer are involved; John Mahoney, who played the Crane brothers’ father Martin, died in 2018, and Hyde Pierce, who was always the show’s MVP, will not be back. Grammer recently commented that “David basically decided he wasn’t really interested in repeating the performance of Niles,” and although it remains possible that some of the original cast may return for cameos and guest appearances, it seems likely that the peerless comic dynamic will be dampened by their absences.
Whether or not a recent tabloid news story that the show is going to be a low-budget cash-in is accurate, it is hard to be excited by its reprisal. An “insider” was quoted as saying, “With the Paramount+ Frasier reboot, you’re getting the actor you know and love in his most famous role, but you’re not getting much else. There will be no lavish sets and none of the beloved faces fans held dear. Even the writers and producers are Z-list.”
Still, there’s one reason to hold out hope. When Frasier first appeared in 1993, it was a spin-off from the enormously popular Cheers, and although both shows shared creators in the writers Peter Casey and David Lee, it did not seem an obvious follow-up. Yet because of the brilliance of the writing, acting and general situation, it is now — heresy alert! — even more popular than Cheers. So although this new-look Frasier seems doomed to tread cautiously in the footsteps of the original, there is still the possibility that it might be, on its own terms, entertaining television. And even if it’s not, well, nothing can take away from the brilliance of the Frasier-Niles dynamic.
Still, to quote one of Frasier’s many deathless lines, “It may be an unwise man who doesn’t learn from his own mistakes, but it’s an absolute idiot that doesn’t learn from other people’s.” Perhaps the showrunners should have looked at the graveyard of other once-popular shows being done to death years after their prime, and run a mile. We shall see.