Becker s01e12 – Love! Lies! Bleeding!

Either I made the comment you knew “Becker” was troubled when not even a solid sitcom director like Andy Ackerman could make an episode work or I meant to make that comment. This episode has Ackerman back and, this time, he’s able to compensate for some of writer Michael Markowitz’s stumbles. Not the misogynist stuff with Alex Désert but there are only so many miracles one can work. So, this episode’s the Valentine’s Day episode and Ted Danson hates Valentine’s Day. He has a rant about its suspect history, which doesn’t seem—based on a Wikipedia glance—to be accurate. If Danson’s going to rant about something, he’s got to be right. Otherwise he’s just a blowhard. The point is he’s right, not he’s a blowhard. Or at least when it works.

But it doesn’t work with Désert or Terry Farrell this episode. Danson implies Désert’s girlfriend is ugly and Désert freaks out, the unspoken joke (for a while) Désert’s blind so what does he care. He cares because he’s a misogynist and so’s Danson. Joy. When Danson later comforts a female patient, it takes a moment before he’s obviously sincere. For a second, you’re expecting him to dig in and humiliate her because… it’s a laugh somehow? At least in Markowitz’s mind.

The episode is Danson running into different kinds of Valentine’s Day goings on, but not specific to the holiday, just romance in general. There’s the girlfriend who stabs the cheating boyfriend, there’s the teenager who wants a vasectomy so he can have unsafe sex, there’s the female patient, who’s allergic to roses. Curmudgeon Danson just can’t get away from signs of love, not even at the office where Shawnee Smith has a whole relationship in one day over the phone (minus the consummating, which might be for the best but also maybe not) and Hattie Winston gets to… talk about her offscreen plans and shake her head at Smith and Danson. Not a great episode for Winston. Or Smith. But Smith at least gets material.

The episode’s got some successful moments, including the return of Saverio Guerra, whose every moment is fantastic. He’s back to torment Farrell and probably a little worse of a guy than Danson and Désert, but not much.

The show’s bottom is higher than before, which is good.

Becker s01e10 – P.C. World

There are some weird optics to P.C. World. You’ve got Ted Danson, who just six years earlier burned out due to a really bad public blackface incident and is coming back with this “Becker” show, reformed. Now, Danson’s gone on to be one of the least problematic Hollywood liberals and a damn fine actor, but in 1999… Danson getting to aha an East Coast liberal type (Robert Joy) on the radio? It was optics.

See, Joy was at Danson’s breakfast place and heard Danson yelling about how he hates rap music, making fun of Alex Désert’s blindness and possibly through in a Black jab (related to the rap music?), and saying “you people” to the Asian American guy (Phil Nee) who has just hit Danson’s bar. Now, we all know it’s okay because Danson’s not racist, he’s just an exceptional asshole. It would probably would better if writer Michael Markowitz’s rants were better or Jeff Melman’s direction was better. Markowitz also appears as the radio show host interviewing Danson and Joy. He’s more fun as an actor.

Then there’s this whole subplot about Hattie Winston being okay with Shawnee Smith selling cosmetics from the doctor’s office because Smith’s got the skin care secrets now. I’d think there’d be some kind of ethical violation, patients rights or something, especially since Smith’s doing it in one of those direct selling pyramid schemes. The subplot gives Smith one of her biggest focuses in the series so far, but it’s not a good subplot. It’s not a good focus. She’s fine, but she’s just being silly—as she becomes the make-up “dealer”—not funny or even good. It’s a waste of a subplot. Versus the waste of a main plot.

“Becker” had shown some major improvements the previous couple of episodes, but this episode learned none of their positive lessons. The misanthropy vs. bigotry thing ends up being a cop out, which is weird since the best scene in the episode is when Black man Earl Billings stops going to doctor Danson because of Danson’s bravado.

It’s like someone said, hey, maybe let’s take this seriously. And then someone else said, no, let’s have Danson stick it to the performative liberal.

Zing.

Becker s01e09 – Choose Me

It hadn’t occurred to me some of “Becker”’s problem so far might have been direction. I rarely think about sitcom (the three-camera style) direction. They’re just going through the same kinds of shots over and over. But then again, maybe some of the directors are infinitely better with the format and the actors. Case in point, Choose Me is immediately divine, both in direction (Andy Ackerman) and writing (Marsha Myers). It’s funny from the start, without going in too hard on any of the characters (or even supporting cast). The show’s immediately got a better sense of itself. I wonder if Myers and Ackerman team up again; fingers crossed.

This episode’s about Terry Farrell getting hockey tickets and deciding to torture Becker (Ted Danson) and Jake (Alex Désert) over who gets to go with her. She’s finally got personality, gumption, a sense of humor. It’s a really nice, really immediate turn for the positive.

So that’s the A plot, then Danson’s got a B plot involving a disease he can’t crack no matter what he tries (including turning his hookup with fellow doc Colleen Quinn—who’s really good for someone almost no credits—into a cram session), while Farrell and Désert are contending with the return of Bob (Saverio Guerra). Guerra’s phenomenal. His absurdity brings the show a very nice sense of balance. When Danson mocks someone, it’s usually just a regular guy. Guerra’s a caricature of a caricature of a jackass. So when he’s a target, it’s just works better.

Yes, it does suggest some of the key to “Becker” is finding the right person to mob and bully, but… it’s a sitcom and Guerra’s an intentional creep (though not too much of a creeper).

Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith are mostly just occasional support for Danson, but Winston’s got an amazing flight attendant bit. She’s always about to laugh too, but pulls it in. I wonder if Winston did it in the first take or if she lost it. It’s a great scene. She’s awesome. And Smith has a really good scene at the end.

Myers and Ackerman make all the difference.

Becker s01e08 – Physician, Heal Thyself

It’s distressing how little writer Ian Gurvitz handles Alex Désert’s Jake character. Last credited episode he didn’t do anything with except make blind jokes. This time Désert gets more to do, but barely—we see his apartment, partially, for the first time—and it’s not funny. And I think there’s an opening blind joke because when I saw Gurvitz’s name I made a groan and had it almost immediately validated by something in the script.

But then something happens—the show starts getting really, really funny. Becker (Ted Danson) has a hurt back and he doesn’t want to go to the doctor, because of course he doesn’t. It gives the show a chance to literally knock Danson over and laugh at him. And it’s really good at laughing at him. Even more, Danson’s really good at being laughed at. He’s really good playing the obnoxious stooge. He keeps throwing his back out and needing help from the rest of the cast—I suppose, technically, they’re on their way to being “friends” but… Weird thing, he doesn’t call Shawnee Smith, which is too bad. When he throws out his back the worst, he tries Désert (for his one shot subplot), Hattie Winston (who’s got a strange, problematic subplot about her workplace flirting with fellow married John Cothran, which ends up giving Smith funny moments but not Winston), and, finally, Terry Farrell. Farrell, who drags Becker to an acupuncturist for the big punchline scene.

The show’s definitely improving. So is Farrell. She’s still having trouble with her comic delivery, but her timing is a lot better. She’s a lot more likable, which also might be because she’s not stuck behind the literal counter this episode.

And who knew Danson would be so good a sitcom slapstick. He’s fantastic this episode.

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