In late July, Deadline announced that Kelsey Grammer, of “Frasier” fame, is mulling a potential reboot of the sitcom. I wasn’t sure which one of my millennial-age dude friends to text first.
“Frasier” originally ran for 11 seasons between 1993 and 2004. When it was at its peak, it reeked of a show for grown-ups, and not in a sexy way. “Frasier” was the stuffy uncle of “Friends,” or the neighbor of “Seinfeld” who’s prone to shushing. It was the television equivalent of brandy; some fancy, adult thing that kids were too young to try but not particularly interested in anyway.
Yet in recent years, I’ve noticed a curious uptick in “Frasier” talk among male peers, online and off.
Maybe it’s not that strange that men today, who were brandy-averse kids when “Frasier” aired, fawn over the Emmy-winning series chronicling the shenanigans of snooty radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane; the “Cheers” spinoff was one of the most acclaimed TV shows of its era. Many of these “Frasier”-loving men came to the show later in life, once they were old enough to look beyond its musty impression. However, that detail seems noteworthy, given the explosion of TV options bombarding subscribers.
“Frasier” is available on the goliath streaming platform Netflix, but who, today, would choose it over the incessant deluge of edgy, ~woke~, NSFW, “necessary” new options? The answer: So many bros.
“I’ve been thrilled to observe over the last few years just how popular the show is among millennials and on Weird Twitter,” explained longtime “Frasier” fan Lucien Young, a 29-year-old comedy writer based in London.
He’d replied to a request I’d made on Twitter, asking young male “Frasier” fans to show themselves and explain. “I’m not entirely sure why Frasier appeals to young people in the present day ― perhaps because he’s essentially a podcaster who lives with his parent and can’t get a girlfriend?”
Even before rumors of a potential “Frasier” reboot surfaced, an uncanny profusion of memes about the show populated timelines and feeds. “I think I’m going insane,” Digg’s Joey Cosco wrote in a 2017 piece aggregating his favorite “Frasier”-centric internet content. “Maybe I’ll never know,” he eventually concludes of Weird Twitter’s inexplicable bounty of love.
Nathan Steinmetz, a 29-year-old digital marketer and part-time film critic based in Dallas, posed a more refined theory on why “Frasier” fandom is up.
He started watching “Frasier” earlier than most ― when he was 6 years old and “a weird little dandy.” Young Steinmetz loved “tiny little suits” and Edgar Allan Poe, in stark contrast to his family’s “salt of the earth” tastes. In other words, the fictional tension between Frasier and his father really hit home.
“I think in general maybe millennial men kind of felt the same sort of thing,” Steinmetz told HuffPost. “Where they identified with these erudite fancy boys and they identified with the feeling of generational disconnect while also longing for a mending of that connection.”
The idea of generational disconnect is introduced in the very first episode of “Frasier,” when our protagonist’s promising life in Seattle is disrupted by his aging father Marty’s (John Mahoney) decision to move in with his son for health reasons.
“What do you think of what I’ve done with the place?” Frasier asks when Marty arrives. “Every item here was carefully selected. This lamp by Corbu, the chair by Eames, and this couch is an exact replica of the one Coco Chanel had in her Paris atelier.”
“Nothing matches!” Marty responds, plopping a La-Z-Boy recliner right in front of the TV, a crude middle finger pointed directly at his son’s bourgeois affectations.
“Martin ― the former cop and Korean War veteran ― embodies a certain working class ideal of manhood that Frasier and Niles are unable to live up to,” Young said. “One suspects that the brothers’ disdain for their father’s lifestyle is partly down to them being intimidated by his macho credentials.”
And therein lies another aspect of Frasier that several of the bros I spoke to appreciated: his unique brand of masculinity, which they felt was rarely represented in ’90s pop culture.
“I think that Frasier represented a somewhat uncommon trope in the ’90s,” said one 30-something “Frasier” fan who preferred to remain anonymous, “where Frasier himself is ‘allowed’ to simultaneously be sensitive and masculine without being a caricature of either.”
The Crane brothers, according to this theory, are like mirrors for the modern bros toting Moleskine notebooks in New Yorker totes, who see themselves as emotionally adroit intellectuals embodying an enlightened idea of gender. Frasier’s character foreshadowed a cultural shift ― in which male dominance in the 21st century isn’t determined by strength and aggression but by knowledge, taste and social status.
“Frasier is not conventionally masculine,” said Jordan Landsman, a 29-year-old comedy writer based in New York. “Savoring the finer things in life ... In the absence of traditional masculine feats, that has become what some men do to prove themselves, now that the conversation isn’t ‘who is the strongest.’”
“You don’t see much popular fiction in which people talk about culture extensively,” added Shuja Haider, editor of Popula and noted “Frasier” critic. “I don’t even know what music Jerry Seinfeld likes ... But Frasier and Niles talk about culture constantly. For me, even if I have no interest in opera or wine, the music I like and the food I like to eat or cook is a major part of my identity. So the fact that it’s a part of who they are and their relationship makes it relatable regardless of the specifics.”
The anonymous fan attributed this nuanced depiction of masculinity to the queer creatives involved in the production of “Frasier,” including David Lee, writer Joe Keenan and Niles actor David Hyde Pierce.
“While it wasn’t an overtly ‘gay show’ like ‘Will and Grace,’” he said, “the tradition of queer theater is very apparent.”
Frasier might have understood earlier than his peers that gender is a spectrum, but as a human being, he’s far from perfect. In many ways, Dr. Crane embodied white male mediocrity; as a lover, he’s neither especially attentive nor alluring. At work, he’s often careless and unprofessional. For such an educated man, Frasier doesn’t seem particularly engaged in social issues or current events.
According to fan PJ Kinzer, a 39-year-old Gen X insurance salesman based in Nashville, Tennessee, “He’s an egomaniac who makes everything about himself. He is an absentee father. He’s overwhelmed with mommy issues. He seems to have a great deal of contempt for women. And he seems to regard the less educated as second class.”
Yes, Frasier whines, slut-shames, mansplains and often frames himself as the victim of some cosmic misfortune. These unflattering personality traits also reflect the stereotypical shortcomings of millennial men: narcissism, pretentiousness, misogyny buried beneath an “enlightened” facade.
“There’s also the obvious similarity of Frasier and men (provably more so than women) loving the sound of their own voices and believing their opinions to be The Best™,” explained 27-year-old Lily Maroni, assistant manager of advertising communications at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and, although not a male fan, an avid “Frasier” watcher and prolific tweeter. “We’ve all been on dates where the dude doesn’t ask us a single question — but again, that could be said about jerks (of both genders) in any generation.”
“They’re not masculine men, but they still perpetuate the patriarchy,” Landsman put it. “They think they have a grasp of the human condition, but they often fail to do the right thing. Because they’re idiots, and they’re human. They know better, but they do it anyway.”
“I can’t imagine it was too much of an acting stretch for Grammer,” Kinzer added.
In recent years, “Frasier” fans have had to grapple with the star’s numerous unsavory qualities. Grammer, a longtime Republican and Trump supporter, was accused of the statutory rape of his daughter’s 15-year-old babysitter, though he was not indicted by a grand jury. His memoir, published in 1995, is rife with nauseating gems like, “Nice girls made me really nervous, claustrophobic. But broken women, women in pain, women looking to be fixed — ah, for these women the doctor was in.”
Obviously, we’re talking about Grammer here, and not his fictitious persona. But in 2018, audiences are wearier than ever. Earlier this year, we saw what happened when ABC revived “Roseanne.”
But maybe here’s where a “Frasier” reboot would shine: Unlike “Roseanne,” a show about a family living squarely in the working class, “Frasier” has a history of focusing on Frasier and nothing but Frasier. (OK, occasionally Niles, but he’s basically just Diet Frasier.)
This is the very reason some men love the show, which Nick Miriello, a 31-year-old senior international editor of Vice News, described as a “soothing lobotomy.”
“It offers soothing music, largely unthreatening tropes and elaborate farces that remind of Broadway,” said Miriello, a former HuffPost editor. “It helps that it’s well-written, literary — well, as literary as a sitcom can be — and entirely divorced from today’s grim realities. As if from another time that could only exist on a studio set.”
It’s true that “Frasier” transports viewers back to an era before Twitter and Trump, when things didn’t feel quite so hellish. When carnivores like Jordan Petersen weren’t giving intellectual dudes such a bad name. When men weren’t expected to be allies or social justice warriors and could talk-sing the lyrics “Hey baby I hear the blues a-callin” without repercussions.
It is, in essence, a time capsule from a rosier epoch, the ultimate marker of a rebootable series.
And if anyone is eager to reminisce about a man who name-dropped operas and obscure furniture designers while providing the gentlest blows to the limiting confines of traditional masculinity, it’s the bros who do so today. Frasier, it seems, was a millennial man before millennial men came to be.