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Frasier Co-Creator on Season 1 Finale and Why Some Viewers 'Refuse to Enjoy the Show'

Joe Cristalli talks Peri Gilpin's return, the negative reviews, and what could happen in a second season.
  • Peri Gilpin and Kelsey Grammer, reunited (Photo: Paramount+). Inset: Frasier co-creator Joe Cristalli (Photo: OC Photography)
    Peri Gilpin and Kelsey Grammer, reunited (Photo: Paramount+). Inset: Frasier co-creator Joe Cristalli (Photo: OC Photography)

    Frasier re-entered the building to a mixed reception in October. The revival of the Emmy-award winning series that ran for 11 seasons on NBC found Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) returning to Boston to try to repair the fractured relationship with his son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), now a firefighter, while embarking on a new career as a Harvard professor. In the series pilot, Frasier buys the building Freddy and his friend Eve (Jess Salgueiro) are living in.

    Co-creator, co-executive producer, and co-showrunner Joe Cristalli is a self-described “superfan.” For years he ran a Frasier for Hire Twitter feed. “My biggest fear is killing the thing in the world that I love most,” he says of bringing the iconic character back after a nearly 20-year hiatus. “It keeps me up at night.”

    The first season finale, currently streaming on Paramount+, centers around Frasier hosting a Christmas party while grappling with celebrating his first holiday season without his father Martin ( John Mahoney, who passed away in 2018). “I think we always knew the season was going to end with something about Martin,” Cristalli says. “The whole show is built on the memory of Martin and what Martin meant to Frasier.”

    Below Cristalli talks to Primetimer about the reception the series has received, bringing back a few familiar faces, and what could happen in a second season.

    There’s a lot of farce in the season finale but also a lot of sadness.

    The idea that there’s such a finality to Martin’s death and, not that we go into it too much, but Frasier knows that there’s a finality whenever he dies. He doesn’t have like 40 years to make a relationship happen with his son. He knows he’s squandered a lot of time but he also knows that if he and Martin could repair the relationship that they had, which was rocky and icy to start, that he and Freddy should be able to too. So hopefully if we get a Season 2, we've set up pretty good groundwork for where they are. They’ve made a couple steps forward in where we started them from. We got them a little bit closer. They’re not quite seeing eye to eye but they are both clearly in it now and trying to figure this thing out.

    One of the more humorous things about the episode is the return of Martin’s dancing Santa singing “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Is that the original prop?

    I don’t think it’s an original. I want to say the company that made them went out of business. The props department figured it out. You also can’t have a Frasier Christmas without the dancing Santa and at least seeing a glimpse of that Rudolph wreath.

    Peri Gilpin also returns in the episode as Frasier’s former producer Roz. Why was this the right time to bring her back?

    We knew we were going to get Peri from the beginning but we knew we wanted to use her the right way. We didn’t want to do some sort of one-off in the middle of the season where she comes and she goes. We wanted it to have some sort of emotional heft behind it. The idea that she could come in and sort of be this reassuring hand but also call him on his BS as only she can. When we knew it was a Christmas episode and just this idea that Frasier has a big old hole in his heart, she seemed like the perfect person and such a nice gesture for Freddy to make [her visit] happen.

    It also leaves room, maybe she can come back now. By design, we didn’t give too much of her backstory so we can kind of leave that open as to where we can go with her. What is she doing now in her life?

    We had to cut out like three minutes of applause from the audience when she was at Frasier’s door. We didn’t say she was there. We had the big black curtain up so you couldn’t see her until the door opened. Same with Bebe. I think it was a genuine surprise.

    When Bebe Neuwirth returned as Frasier’s ex-wife and Freddy’s mom Lilith, we saw a Lilith who has softened a bit, at least as Freddy’s mom.

    She has been in Freddy's life the whole time. She has never not been in his life. All those years Frasier was in Seattle, they lived together in Boston. They both still clearly live in Boston. She was obviously a helicopter parent for a long time. But then she did ease up because she has a good relationship with her son.

    Frasier has everything to prove. Lilith has nothing to prove. Freddy probably sees her all the time. She’s everything that Frasier now wishes he could have with Freddy.

    The show received some criticism that Freddy is so different from the young child we saw on Frasier.

    I’ve read all those comments. To us he’s still that same guy. He’s still the closeted nerd. All of that is still inside of him, he’s just putting out something different to the world. He still had all of those same things he had as a kid, but like most kids, you reject what your parents want and you do what you want.

    People change. If he did grow up to be a therapist, where is the fun in that? Jack is so good in that performance he walks that line so nicely. He is super smart and he can be erudite and he can be sophisticated, but he just doesn’t want to do that sometimes. You can’t hide completely from who you are but you can distance yourself from it. The thing that John Mahoney did so well is saying something with a sh*t-eating grin and you should hate him but you just can't because he's so charming and Jack is finding that. He plays smarmy in such a charming way.

    The show has a lot of callbacks to the original series. The finale has Frasier listing off all his disastrous dinner parties, many of which were episodes of Frasier.

    [Co-showrunner] Chris [Harris] reins me in. There’s no bigger superfan than I am. I’ll pitch a joke and Chris will say, “I know that’s a reference to something. Is there a way to tell the joke that if you don’t get the reference you can still enjoy that joke?” Honestly, I don’t know if we did too many of them or we didn’t do not enough or if people want more or want less. I’m such a sucker for a wink that gets you a second laugh at an already pretty good joke.

    It seems as if Freddy and Eve could be entering into a will-they/won’t-they relationship. But, of course, they are both still grieving the loss of Eve’s boyfriend, who was Freddy’s best friend. How much talk has there been about getting those two together?

    We’ve definitely talked about it. It’s very tricky ground since what happened to both of them is so immediate. There could be a very fruitful will-they/won’t-they. But my guess is they can’t act on it for a little bit. It’s so raw still and it doesn’t seem like it would be in either of their best interests to do something like that. They have such great chemistry and the two of them together on screen is so fun. If we are lucky enough to have that many seasons and runs at it, I do think something will happen. I just don’t think it will happen anytime soon.

    Have you started thinking about what will happen if the show gets a second season? Or, more optimistically, when the show gets picked up for a second season?

    I’m a writer. I can’t be optimistic. I assume the worst at all times. I do hope there’s a Season 2. We have ideas but really we set some solid groundwork in Season 1 with Frasier and Freddy, and it’s just kind of evolving that relationship. Frasier and Martin took a long time. That’s sort of the speed of a multicam. You can’t take those big steps. Every teeny tiny microstep is like three episodes. Chris and I are excited about seeing the pairings of people that we didn’t get to see in Season 1. I would love to see a Freddy and Frasier’s fellow professor Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst) scene or a David (Anders Keith as Niles and Daphne’s son) and Psychology Department Chair Olivia (Toks Olagundoye) scene.

    Amber Stevens West guest-starred in the season’s penultimate episode as a potential love interest for Freddy. She also co-starred in Greek with Kelsey’s daughter Spencer. Has there been any talk about having Spencer on the show?

    It hasn't been talked about. She was on set a couple times hanging out. I would love to have her on the show. That would be fun.

    Let’s talk about the negative reviews the show has received.

    One of our writers is married to someone who has been in PR forever and she said, “Your reviews are going to be scathing. It doesn’t matter what the show is, you are going to get destroyed.” When the reviews started coming in, the fact that we had anything positive, she said, “Wow, you guys did something right.”

    I will say though, I’ve read many of the reviews — even the ones that are fully scathing and have a lot of negative things to say, they are still saying positive things. Nobody is saying Kelsey is not still good. Everyone across the board is saying Kelsey still has it, the writing is garbage but Kelsey still has it. People are going out of their way to just refuse to enjoy the show.

    But I do think from the other side of it, the fan reaction seems to have been pretty positive. As someone who is a superfan, if I wasn’t a part of the show I would be fiercely skeptical. But if you just sort of take that off, yes that was arguably the perfect sitcom. Nothing will ever top it or beat it. Let’s look at this as just something else. It’s still called Frasier but it’s just another iteration of the character. If you look at it like that, if you don’t look at it for what it isn’t, I feel like you can enjoy it more.

    I still watch Frasier every night. I can watch those episodes 100 times. I’ve seen all the episodes of the new version 20 times and am still enjoying it and laughing. To me that’s all I need it to be, I just need it to be a really delightful escape from the real world. You love those characters. I feel like the second half of the season is just stronger. We had to get so many exposition points out. Now there’s just a bunch of fun stuff. It’s classic Frasier. You get the ball all the way up the hill and you get out of the way.

    This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

    Frasier Season 1 is streaming on Paramount+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Amy Amatangelo is a writer and editor. In addition to Primetimer, her work can be found in Paste Magazine, Emmy Magazine and the LA Times. She also is the Treasurer of the Television Critics Association. 

    TOPICS: Frasier, Paramount+, Bebe Neuwirth, Chris Harris, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Joe Cristalli, Kelsey Grammer, Peri Gilpin