Martin Crane: King of the Hipsters

Recently, Pennie got me into watching the entirety of Frasier on Netflix. Despite being an inveterate Cheers fan, I’d only ever seen one episode of the show before this year (the one where Woody comes back). I’d always liked the character of Frasier, but, he was never my favorite. The idea of watching an entire series built solely around him, knowing I’d never see my beloved Cheers gang again (at least not all together) was too much to bear, so, I stayed away.

Then, I ran out of shows to binge watch.

I’m glad I gave Frasier a chance. I’m just moving into the fifth season, and, while its’ no Cheers, I’m able to appreciate it on its’ own merits. After recently rewatching the other Cheers-verse series, Wings, and seeing how badly its’ aged (the sexism in the Alex story arc would probably get the show cancelled today, and the writers lynched), I’m happy to see that Frasier is just as funny and culturally relevant now as it was when it premiered. Terrible early-90s fashion aside, you could easily set most of the episodes in the present day and it wouldn’t feel dated. In some instances, its’ amazing how prescient the show was. It had its’ thumb firmly on the pulse of the growing coffee shop culture (Starbucks even gets a shout-out early in the series, before they'd taken over every mall and street corner in America), and Frasier and Niles themselves were harbingers of the sort of rareified masculinity that would become en vogue by the end of the decade. They’re the ur-metrosexuals, and, coupled with the omnipresence of Niles’ cell phone, you could almost think that the show was set in the 2010s.

Which got me thinking: Where would the characters be today? More specifically—would Martin be a hipster god?

If Frasier and Niles were the result of the creators being especially in-touch with extant trends, then Martin is a weird, crystal-ball look twenty years into the future. While affectation may have been the name of the game in the early 2000s, today it’s all about authenticity, and Martin’s got that in spades. He’s a retired cop with a bullet in his hip and lots of “real” stories to tell. He drinks microbrew beer at a seedy bar with a bald mustachioed guy named Duke, but he’s of a good enough disposition that he’ll gladly pull out a stool for you and regale you with the story of how he met his wife over the body of a murder victim. He's got the voice of a bruiser, but he owns a tiny dog named “Eddie” whom he dotes over. He digs old music—but not too old—and he’s just as comfortable on a super-macho camping trip in an old RV as he is lounging around a Seattle penthouse in a vintage 1970s armchair.

In other words, he’s the kind of guy every hipster would worship because he’s the kind of guy every hipster wants to be.

He’s even got the aesthetics down. His favorite outfits are plaid shirts with either cheap khakis or jeans, and when he wants to dress up, he just adds a jacket and tie. What was a visual gag in 1995—Martin in a patterned shirt, striped tie, and outdated sports coat—is now on the cover of GQ, or the wardrobe of the best-dressed attendee at an artisanal bread tasting festival. All he’s missing are a pair of glasses and some facial hair.

If the show were revived today, I can’t help but think that some of the humor would come from a bit of role reversal. After all, in their prime, Frasier and Niles were the cool ones. Their stuffiness may be the subject of ridicule, but that’s only because it’s an exaggerated stuffiness being put under a microscope.  Their “type” was as hip in certain social circles as the gang on Friends, just as much a part of the fabric of the 90s and early 2000s as the slackers in Reality Bites or the characters in any (good) Kevin Smith movie. In 2017, though… unless they’ve kept up with the times—which I can’t quite see—the brothers Crane might find themselves the relics of a bygone age, still sipping Bristol cream sherry in Armani suits and puzzling over why their dad has so many new, young friends. Any hipster worth his or her salt would be fighting to be the one to buy Martin his next Ballantine while he regales them with stories of his time in the field. He’d be the elder statesman of whatever new bar he called home (“I don’t really care for this EDM thing, but they got free peanuts!” I can hear him say), enjoying a second youth in his twilight years.

Meanwhile, it’s easy to see one or the other of the Crane Brothers sidling up to a bunch of bearded, bespectacled bloggers at Café Nervosa and attempting to sound “with it,” interjecting their own, outdated understanding of current trends and mores into conversation. I can picture Niles, especially, awkwardly peeling back a shirt sleeve or collar to display a “sailor tattoo” (probably stick on) in a desperate gambit to prove he’s still as cultured and relevant today as he was in ’94.

It’s been thirteen years since Frasier went off the air; as of this writing the cast is still alive, well, and active. Even John Mahoney, the eldest of the cast at 76, is still involved in theater and TV (and some recent photos show him sporting a nice, full beard…) It’d be fun to revisit the gang again in one of the reboots/revivals that dot the Netflix landscape, if only for a one-off, and behold the glory of Martin Crane, King of the Hipsters.

Preston Fassel