Squawk Box: The Frasier... Reboot? Return?/The Crown

Frasier is back.

When I heard about it, I was somewhat skeptical of the idea. After all, Frasier had been on the already for umpteen seasons. In terms of sitcoms, it belongs somewhere in the pantheon of all the all-time greats. Kelsey Grammar has been playing the character for even longer- first showing up in the 3rd season of Cheers (1984-1985) when I would have been about 1. I'm now 40 and apparently, he just can't quit this character.

It's not as if he's dropped off the face of the earth since Frasier ended either. He picked up a Golden Globe for his role in Boss (which I've admittedly never seen, but previews made him look rather excellent as a villain) and his IMDB shows he has been busy enough, but now... Frasier has apparently re-entered the building with ten new episodes of a reboot? Return? Revival? On Paramount Plus.

But, I loved the original run of the show, so I knew that I was, at the very least, going to check out the new Frasier to see what he's been up to after all this time and, more importantly, to see if that old charm and magic was still present.

As the new chapter opens, Frasier is back in Boston. Dad, Martin has died recently, his relationship with Charlotte (last seen in the waning days of the last run of Frasier, played by Laura Linney, whom he got on a plane to Chicago for) lasted for twenty years before ending and he finds himself wanting to have a better relationship with his son, Frederick, who is now a Boston firefighter. Wanting to commit to a better relationship with his son, Frasier takes a professorship at Harvard and moves into Freddy's apartment building, ready to start on his 'third act.'

Right out of the gate, I don't hate this premise. It actually works pretty well- because Freddy (Jack Culmore-Scott) instantly becomes one of the most intriguing characters in the show. If you watched the original run of Frasier, Freddy was a 'chip off the old block'-- a kid with an inhaler, who wasn't good at catch, definitely into science and knowledge and books, all the things you would expect Frasier's kid to be into. How he got from there to being a Harvard dropout and a Boston Firefighter is a fascinating story that I hope they dig into a bit more.

Freddy's got the requisite crew of firefighter buddies: Moose (Jimmy Dunn), Smokey (Renee Pezzotta) and Tiny (Kevin Daniels)- but he's also friends with Eve (Jess Salgueiro), a local bartender, aspiring actress, and single mother and girlfriend to one of Freddy's fellow firefighters who died in the line of duty- while the baby does provide an interesting tease to Freddy and Frasier's initial reunion in the first episode- it turns out to be something of a red herring, though the romantic tension between the two is another plot point I think they're hoping to explore, despite Eve comfortably assuming the role as 'the voice of reason' for multiple characters.

Academia is a really good choice for Frasier and while I get the sense they're establishing themselves a bit before they move onto other plotlines, the opportunities for slapstick, farce, and vicious satire are plentiful in an academic setting. Professor Olivia Finch (Toks Olagundoye) as the chair of Harvard's Psychology Department and driving force behind Frasier's appointment bounces nicely off of fellow Professor Alan Cornwall (Nicholas Lyndhurst) who mercilessly flaunts the fact that he has tenure at every opportunity. And, tagging along for the ride, you also have David Crane (Anders Keith), Frasier's nephew who is attending Harvard.

Look, there's potential and promise here. Yes, they're not reinventing the wheel. Instead of Frasier taking care of his Dad to repair and renew their relationship (as was seen in the original run of the show), we see Frasier stepping in to help Freddie to repair and renew their relationship. There's also the expected appearance of Bebe Neuwirth as first wife Lillith-- the crackling chemistry between her and Grammar still works even after all these years and we get to see Roz (Peri Gilpin) again in the 10th episode of the season. A lot of the first season though, is fueled by nostalgia. Nostalgia for these characters and the feel of a 90s sitcom and if they can explore some of the potential and promise and do enough with it to move beyond that nostalgia trip, I can't really believe that I'm saying this, but this... could... work. 

But, streaming is also a fickle business these days, so if you want one last helping of tossed salad and scrambled eggs and this really is the final bow for this character after four decades of being on some kind of screen for everyone, this wasn't a bad way to go out either. My Grade: *** out of ****

The Crown came to an end with a two-part season six and I will say this: the back half was considerably better than the front half. And I think that's partially because the show didn't really know what to do about Northern Ireland. I mean, they can't ignore Mountbatten's assassination and they don't, but it gives short shrift to probably one of the most significant events in the UK's internal history of the 20th Century and that's the Good Friday Peace Accords. Going back to look at the episode summaries for Season 5, you do see that in between all the Charles and Diana of it all, Labour wins the 1997 election. Hong Kong gets handed back. You see the Windsor Castle Fire in 1992, but you don't really see any mention of Northern Ireland.

Now, the show can't do everything, I get that. But as a result-- it leaves the viewer with the impression that the first part of the final season is 'The Diana, Princess of Wales Show', and upon reflection, I don't think that's entirely fair. I think my personal reaction is largely because I've seen The Queen and the first part of the season is essentially more or less... The Queen. This is fine for people who haven't seen The Queen and yes, it focuses a bit more on Diana than the movie does-- showing her state of mind, where she was, how she wanted just to get away from it all and get home. 

I think the harshness of the Firm is on full display here-- they all know she's getting non-stop harassment from the Paparazzi and I feel like they could have done more, perhaps- though it also seems that Diana wanted her independence, which is understandable. But it underlines the 'all or nothing' aspect of the family that can be quite cruel and unbending sometimes. Elizabeth Debicki is excellent as Diana, but Khalid Abdalla matches her performance with a quietly frustrated, chafing performance of his own as Dodi Fayed, who desperately wants to be free of his father's Mohamed Al-Fayed's (Salim Daw) influence. They're both captives of lives they can't be free of, which I think is what draws them together in the first place-- even though the show makes it clear that they weren't engaged (she turns him down in the show-- no idea if that's based on real life or not) and she wasn't pregnant. 

Where the show almost loses me is when Diana starts popping up post-death as a ghost. In general, I have no problem with ghosts/visions being used in a dramatic sense on television one of my favorite moments on television involves a ghost. It's just that it's very jarring and while Ghost Diana and Charles make sense and Ghost Dodi and his father make sense, the symmetry was perfect there and should have stopped, but The Queen gets a Ghost Diana of her own and it just... fell a bit flat, to me. 

The back half of the show gets a bit better as we see William (Ed McVey) come to the forefront in the aftermath of his mother's death and as he moves into the public eye and bit more and graduates from Eton-- taking a gap year before landing at the University of St. Andrews where he meets Kate Middleton (Meg Bellamy) and eventually after a few false starts, gets to actually go on a few dates, meet her parents (including her mom, Carole, played by the excellent Eve Best) and they move in together to wrap up University as their relationship deepens.

The Queen (because, hey, remember her?) gets to confront her seemingly impending mortality as she deals with the passing of Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) and her mother, (Marcia Warren) in short order. She gives serious consideration to abdicating- while new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Bertie Carvel) presents some proposals for consolidation and modernization to the Queen which she ultimately rejects, but also gets mired in military action in Yugoslavia at first and then Iraq second, which dents his seemingly invincible image in the eyes of the public. (The Crown should get a lot of credit for it's Prime Ministerial casting-- Bertie Carvel has the voice and mannerisms down pat even if he doesn't quite look like Tony Blair the way Michael Sheen does.)

The show closes with the Queen approaching her 80th Birthday and beginning the long process of planning her funeral. Charles asks for permission to marry Camilla and the Queen is reluctant to give it, but after consulting with William and Harry as well as bishops of the Church of England does grant permission, and speculation grows that she will announce her abdication at his wedding reception, but ultimately does not do so. As she contemplates abdication, she finds herself debating with your younger selves (Olivia Colman and Claire Foy) but once the decision is made, it's made and after a vision (there are those damn visions again) of her coffin and a glimpse of her younger pre-Queen self, she walks through the West Door at St. George's Chapel at Windsor and disappears into white light.

I think The Crown, in the end, finished perfectly. I have no complaints. I want to congratulate Imelda Staunton for being so good in this role that I couldn't possibly think of her as Professor Umbridge anymore. I think it starts to ask some interesting questions about the idea of the Monarchy and its place in a modern world and it would have been nice to have one more season or two to actually explore those a bit, but I also understand why they chose to end it when they do. There was really no better time to do so.

The episode where The Queen considers the modernization proposals is actually really interesting as while the titles of things like 'Head of the Queen's Swans' seem silly there's a lot of historical continuity and knowledge that is passed down for generations that isn't just a line item in a budget at the end of the day-- though I do think you could have a conversation about those positions and how they're funded. The changes to the state opening of Parliament that were proposed I actually thought the Queen was on firmer ground with- there is symbolism to the Monarch not being allowed in the House of Commons. There are historical reasons for the Black Rod being denied three times. Those things are important and again, aren't just line items on a budget- though I do agree with Charles' contention that perhaps you could just arrive in a car as a pose to the state carriage. I think in the show and in real life there is a middle, modernizing ground to be found-- whether the institution does that or not, remains to be seen. My Grade: **** out of ****


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