5 times Frasier powerfully paved the way for LGBT+ characters on TV
Frasier, the hit 1990s US comedy known for its sharp wit and as a dry send-up of the upper classes, is back with an exciting new revival.
CBS Studios announced that a Frasier revival is in the works, to be streamed on Paramount+ in the US. A date for the planned reboot has not yet been confirmed by the production company.
Kelsey Grammer, who played the eponymous snooty radio advice-show host, will reprise the role nearly two decades since the spin-off to legendary comedy Cheers ended its 11-season run.
When Frasier first premiered in 1993, many queer characters were treated by showrunners as a source of fear or problem-of-the-week, if they were portrayed at all.
But by the end of the decade, how LGBT+ characters were depicted seismically shifted to more nuanced characters.
Frasier, above all, found its strength in showing how homophobia and ignorance can be a source of humour, rather than queer people themselves.
In advance of the reboot, we took a look at five of some of Frasier‘s best LGBT+ moments that helped pave the way for the powerful portrayals of queer lives we have today.
1. ‘The Matchmaker’
“It never occurred to me that you might be gay,” says Frasier. “It never occurred to me that you might be straight,” Tom Duran responds.
The 1994 episode was the series’ first shot at a storyline centring queer experiences. Not surprising, considering that it was written and directed by gay men – novelist Joe Keenan and director David Lee respectively.
In classic Frasier, the entire plot hinges on Frasier and the station’s new manager, Duran, misunderstanding one another, assuming each of them are a sexuality they are not.
Rather than reacting with abject terror or hostility, characters barely batt an eyelid to Duran being gay. It might not sound revolutionary now, but treating homosexuality as no big deal was, well, a huge deal at the time.
Moreover, the humour of the episode doesn’t come from Duran being gay, nor does it come from Frasier being assumed gay – it’s from Frasier’s own endearing obliviousness to what’s going on.
The episode went onto score a GLAAD Media Award.
2. All the gay actors that scored roles in Frasier – and who we want to see back in the revival
While not all were open at the time, the show tallied up an incredible array of queer actors. Such as Dan Butler (Bulldog) and Edward Hibbert (Gil Chesterton) as recurring players and David Hyde Pierce (Niles) as a series regular.
David Ogden Stiers and Brian Bedford also starred in one-off episodes.
3. ‘The Impossible Dream’
Of course, Frasier was in no way perfect and, at times, did treat being gay as an obstacle.
A weird trend in 90s sitcoms was the ‘gay dream’ plot – in this case, Frasier faces an internal crisis as he has a homo-erotic dream about a male co-worker.
But always bucking expectations, the episode doesn’t see Frasier wrestle with fear about maybe being gay – he’s instead ready to honestly consider the possibility.
In a sly commentary on fan and critic reaction to Frasier’s wine-sipping, Opera-attending character, he even admits that he certainly “seems” gay. He’s every “cliche in the book”, he acknowledges.
It ends with his father Martin accepting Frasier for who is he is and the dreams not being anything at all. Nevertheless, it was a well-written portrayal of how it’s perfectly fine to question your sexuality later on in life, as many LGBT+ people do.
4. ‘The Ski Lodge’
The season five episode premiered during a mixed bag for LGBT+ representation at the time. Ellen was out, Will & Grace was in.
Indeed, there were certainly highs and lows in 1998, with Frasier setting the tone with “The Ski Lodge”, where a claustrophobic cabin becomes the setting of a confusing crisscrossing, door-slamming five-way love triangle… or would it be a love pentagon?
Anyway, gay ski instructor Guy (James Patrick Stuart) is among the group pining over one another – he’s got it in for Niles. Again, there’s never any judgement about Guy finding Niles attractive and he’s met with welcomed ambivalence from the main cast.
5. ‘The Doctor is Out’
In 2003, Frasier unknowingly ends up dating Patrick Stewart‘s Alistair. It was the show’s final episode to engage with queer themes and after years of flirting with cliches, Frasier flirts with a gay person.
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Frasier suspects Roz’s new partner, Barry, is gay because he conforms to gay cliches and, in an unsettling effort to out him, unknowingly goes to a queer bar. He then ends up being “outed” himself by a caller who spotted Frasier there.
Enter Alistair, a debonair and charming opera director. The pair hit it off as Alistair was himself outed as gay in the past and invites him to a party – a flirtatious friendship blossoms as Frasier absolutely admires Alistair, but Frasier hasn’t quite, well, come out as straight to him yet.
At the party, the pair kiss and attendees congratulate their perceived relationship. Yet, Frasier doesn’t care that people think he’s gay, especially as he gets to be in close proximity to his icon.
Of course, Frasier realises that he read Barry as gay based on outdated, homophobic cliches and comes clean to Alistair, acknowledging his own hypocrisy.
He assumed Barry was gay for the same reasons people often assume he is, yet neither are gay as neither find the same gender attractive – realising that there is more to being queer than simply “seeming” it.
Will the reboot break new ground for LGBT+ representation in the same way the original series did? We can only hope so.