There is a report—you may have heard it—that in the infinite recursion loop our pop culture has entered, a Frasier reboot is being contemplated by its star, Kelsey Grammer. The new incarnation would take place in a new city. In fact, it would have to be, since Frasier ended the series by leaving the Seattle he had become so associated with, accepting a job in San Francisco but flying to Chicago instead for love.*
This is an unnerving idea. Not simply because reboots are stale, but because Frasier Crane’s journey forward seems pretty predictable: This most finicky of protagonists seems surely to have ended up in San Francisco, loveless. The city, which makes escaping the facts of poverty and homelessness impossible no matter how much you pay, would likely have sent Frasier down a long and by now typical slide toward Fox News conservatism. (He would not have taken the Tenderloin in stride!) Plus, the new Frasier would have to be the grim story of how his son Frederick—a Millennial trapped in a society that no longer offers young generations much in the way of benefits, fair wages, or pensions—would have to move in with his Hannity-watching, Trump-supporting dad.
The original Frasier was at heart a comedy about intergenerational friction—and to be clear, I loved it, and still watch it almost every night because its pleasant, low-grade conflict helps me sleep. But neither the setup nor the tone would fit the present climate. What made Frasier work was that Martin (John Mahoney) was functionally the show’s moral center. He was the blue-collar cop whose hobbies and values his effete sons snobbily rejected; they were too busy trying to get tickets to the latest fashionable play, or hosting strategic parties that would propel them up the social ladder. If Frasier had a central tragedy, it was Martin’s. This was a man who lost his sons to that ’90s conservative bugaboo: limousine liberalism.
The tragedy of a new Frasier would take a rather different shape. For people of Frederick’s age and background, the largely untold American story is how right-wing media has transformed so many of their parents into punitive survivalists ready to sacrifice their erstwhile ideals—leaving their bewildered children holding the values their parents once instilled in them. (This comment in a reddit thread, as a corroborating example, triggered a chorus of recognition in the replies: “My parents turned on fox news after 9/11 to stay updated on everything. They have not turned it off for 17 years. My very progressive liberal parents that raised us on a healthy diet of service, forgiveness, and tolerance, suddenly think we need to put Christ back in schools, all poor people are welfare babies, and black people deserve their disadvantage because they’re lazy.”) Frederick was enough of a blank canvas in the original sitcom that a new Frasier could invent a personality for actor Trevor Einhorn—though it’s hard to imagine him as anything but faithful to his generation’s type: long-suffering and ironic.
So it seems that this is what Frasier would become in his old age: a white-collar Roseanne motivated by self-righteous white panic. (After all, Grammer, like Roseanne Barr, endorsed Trump.) The character would likely drift closer to his father as he grew older out of a mix of nostalgia and mourning, but he would also by now have started watching Fox News, perhaps in 2006 or 2007, around the time of the Surge. Miffed that San Francisco baristas now regard his regular coffee order as “basic” rather than refined, and repulsed by the presence of people sleeping on the streets, Frasier might start to think Fox News made a lot of sense. A once-great reader, he would start leaving the television on, blaring. He’d find Fox and Friends stimulating and sane and develop a liking for Sean Hannity, who he’d come to see an unfettered truth-teller against “the elite.” He’d start resenting immigrants and people of color for small perceived slights.
In the ’90s, Frasier was a fairly earnest show that incidentally satirized what conservatives believed liberals to be. The joke was of course that Frasier and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) were, in practically every way that mattered, conservative. But they didn’t really know it, so part of the fun was watching their ethical aspirations clash with their bottomless self-interest.
But would you really want to watch a version of this show where light and comfortable rivalries have since widened into a lacerating ideological distance? Whether Niles would have followed in Frasier’s footsteps is less clear to me; it seems less likely thanks partly to his health struggles and his wife Daphne’s (Jane Leeves) psychic interests. But whereas Frasier once confronted his own racial bias (and petty jealousy) in the “Dr. Mary” episodes, he’d now rest comfortably in the knowledge that he was quite right. Rather than object to the Dr. Laura–like radio host named Dr. Nora (Christine Baranski), he’d paternalistically defend her ultra-conservative views and maybe even join her at Sinclair. As for his ethical quandaries—remember Frasier’s struggles over whether to lie about Niles’ feelings for Daphne (which led to Martin’s defense of pragmatic lying)? Such self-conscious handwringing over a fib seems hardly likely.
Correction, July 27, 2018: This post originally misstated where Frasier Crane ended up after leaving Seattle. He landed in Chicago, not San Francisco.