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''Frasier'': Show to watch

The new ”Cheers” spin-off starring Kelsey Grammer debuts this fall on NBC

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If the producers of Frasier were trying to avoid a standard, lighthearted sitcom premise for the new series built around Cheers‘ wry resident psychiatrist, they certainly succeeded. In what might be called an anti-spin-off, Kelsey Grammer’s Dr. Frasier Crane is now nowhere near that famous Boston bar — he’s across the country, in rain-damp Washington State, plying his trade as a radio talk-show host dispensing advice to the sleepless of Seattle. Depressed by his callers, weary and saddened over his recent divorce from Lilith, Frasier has a new problem. His dour, bitter father, played by John Mahoney (Moonstruck, Say Anything), needs a place to live. Frasier’s brother (The Powers That Be‘s marvelously mopey David Hyde Pierce) doesn’t want to take in the grumpy old coot, so he palms him off on the equally unwilling Frasier. Frasier and his dad grumble and complain about each other, watch the Seattle drizzle while sipping caffà latte, and settle into an uneasy home life together.

We ask you, does this sound like a thigh-slapper? This show (premiering Sept. 16) could have been the biggest sequel bummer since AfterMASH, but it looks like Frasier just might make its downbeat premise work for vivid laughs. Its excellent pilot episode recognizes that some of the best, truest humor comes from the pain of distraught families. And who knows more about distraught than Grammer, whose own marital woes and drug-bust skirmishes have made him a regular subject of tabloid journalism?

”I used to think, ‘Why do [the tabloids] bother me so much,’ and then I thought, ‘Hey you’re on a top 10 show, that’s why.”’ Acknowledging Cheers‘ ”magic,” Grammer says that his new series is ”like new magic. I think it’s going to be a great show. You have no idea how confident I am.” It helps, too, that Grammer has surrounded himself with a classy team: producers David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, who have worked on both Cheers and Wings.

Grammer is certain he can make his familiar character fresh and revelatory for the large audience that he hopes will stay tuned in after Seinfeld. ”[Frasier] naturally does change all the time,” says Grammer. ”He is discovering the relationship with his family again, [one] that has been denied him for years and that will, I’m sure, make him different.” Different, yet still hilariously morose, as blithely neurotic as any of his patients — that’s the Frasier we like.

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