The upcoming revival of Frasier is not a reboot. A reboot implies an entirely fresh start to the story under consideration. New actors are cast in the key roles. Continuity with preceding content is scrapped. One may even change location or time period. Don’t make us tap the poster for Casino Royale yet again. We’ve been through this before. Whatever the Independent, Empire and Entertainment Weekly may have said last week, Frasier Redux is … not … a … reboot. Got that? Let us continue.
As surrounding publicity makes clear, the new version – due on Paramount+ in October – takes place within the timeline of the original series (and thus of Cheers, from which Frasier was grafted). The title character has moved from Seattle back to Boston to nob with old pals and squabble with his son Frederick. Sadly, Daphne and Niles will not appear, but their own son is there to confirm we are not in some parallel universe. And Nicholas Lyndhurst turns up as tweedy Prof Alan Cornwall, an old friend of the eponymous psychiatrist.
This should not have been news. The English actor’s presence in the series had been trailed at the start of the year. But it seems the bulletin had failed to register with the mass of commentators. When the first image landed last week, British media, social and otherwise, could hardly have seemed more taken aback had it been the risen queen sitting beside Kelsey Grammer.
“This is like seeing Jennifer Aniston pop up in the Brittas Empire,” the comic Nish Kumar commented. That may require some glossing. The Brittas Empire was a British comedy series, set in a leisure centre, that ran tolerably from 1991 until 1997. You know who Jennifer Aniston is. The point is that, for all the toing and froing of actors across the Atlantic, there was, for many of his compatriots, something too inherently English about Lyndhurst for them to accept him as the star of a big American series. Hugh Laurie in House was one thing. Idris Elba in The Wire was another thing. Nobody much blinks when Phoebe Waller-Bridge finesses her success into American projects. They all emerged in an international age.
Though a few years younger than Laurie, Lyndhurst, originally a child actor, is tied to a traditional, shaky-set school of British telly that reaches back to the three-day week. He was in a BBC version of The Prince and the Pauper from 1976. He was brilliant as one of Wendy Craig’s awkward sons in Butterflies. And, most memorably, he was Rodney Trotter, amiable bumbling brother to David Jason’s Del Boy, in the still often-repeated Only Fools and Horses. You get some sense of why such bewilderment set in from a glance at that early CV. The Trotters were, in part, defined by not being properly connected to all things American. As the Thatcher boom lumbered on, Del Boy conspicuously failed to emulate his heroes on (and in) Wall Street.
No doubt some of the surprise at this week’s image stemmed from the news that somehow or other the former Rodney Trotter had reached his early 60s. But it was more the sense that some invisible forcefield once existed between British television and the glossier, noisier world of American entertainment. If the US TV industry enjoyed series such as Steptoe and Son or Man About the House they would remake them as Sanford and Son and Three’s Company. Nobody was betting on Harry H Corbett (filthy in Steptoe) or Robin O’Sullivan (saucy in Man About the House) making it to the United States. Ronnie Barker, the most talented British comic actor of his time – and father to Lyndhurst in Going Straight – never got a whiff of attention in that country. That US felt a lot farther away, and its culture appeared a great deal more foreign.
It seems that Grammer caught up with Lyndhurst’s gifts when they were playing together in a warhorse of a musical on the English stage. “Nicholas and I met doing Man of La Mancha about three years ago at the Coliseum and fell in love basically,” he said. “He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with.” The offer to work on the new Frasier came just a few years after Lyndhurst’s son died, at the age of 19, from leukaemia. Amid all last week’s surprise at this apparently unlikely late act to his career, there was a genuine swell of gratitude that this charming performer was getting what he had deserved (though maybe didn’t want) many years earlier. If you wished to get carried away, you could also see it as honorary recognition of Barker, Corbett, Jason…
But don’t call it a reboot. I can think of one former radio psychiatrist who would greatly care about such pedantic distinctions.