Becker s01e11 – Scriptus Interruptus

I feel a little like one of those jokes about training an AI to write something because this episode of “Becker”—specifically how I write about it—is going to be very similar to the last time I wrote about an episode of “Becker” written by Ian Gurvitz.

I thought having Andy Ackerman directing would make a difference. Nope. It’s still a very Gurvitz episode. Ted Danson’s rants have that sensational edge to them. Sensational versus inspired. It’s also weird because last episode Danson supposedly learned he didn’t like it when people stopped wanting him as a doctor because of his mouth. This episode doesn’t acknowledge any change.

Also bad with Gurvitz is whatever he’s doing with Terry Farrell. Moving her around, giving her bad lines, it’s a real bummer because she was starting to get her comedy bravado down and instead she’s floundering again. But because of the script having jack for her.

The script’s also got jack for Hattie Winston, which seems weird because the show knows Winston’s awesome. The show—Gurvitz even I’m fairly sure—has showcased her. She gets jack here. Shawnee Smith ostensibly gets more—she’s in between apartments and has to live in the medical office—but she doesn’t actually get more. She’s just around a little more than usual. Not leading scenes around or having a subplot around, just physically around. To give Danson a yelling target.

The episode’s about Danson having to write a medical article and not being able to get any solitude to do so. Spoiler, he pulls it out of his ass, because “Becker” is arguably a more adept version of, you know, “House M.D.” He’s a brilliant jackass. Please laugh.

Alex Désert gets a subplot with Kenna J. Ramsey. Ramsey wants to move in together, Désert doesn’t. It’s a subplot set entirely in the diner, somewhere else for the camera to go when Danson and Farrell are taking a break from expository banter.

It’s not an endearing subplot.

Elya Baskin’s fun as Danson’s new super. It’s a silly, lazy bit but he’s still fun.

This show is so rocky. It’s way too inconsistent, quality-wise. Sure, people watched it once a week but it’s not like you’d care about tuning in after a couple stinkers.

Relatively, obviously, for a generally well-acted and competently produced sitcom. I just want it to get better. Or at least less inconsistent in its mediocre.

Becker s01e07 – City Lights

Once again… I’m wondering how long it takes for “Becker” to start getting really good. I remember it being really good at some points. Like whole seasons.

This episode’s all about the streetlight outside Ted Danson’s apartment flickering and him trying to get it fixed. He’s not going to get the city to do anything because bureaucracy, am I right, and he can’t get his neighbors to help him because he’s been so terrible to them. Meanwhile, Shawnee Smith brings her dog to work; she and Hattie Winston get that very strange subplot. Though I guess it does give Winston more to do than sit around and react to Danson. She gets to walk around and react to Smith.

Second-billed Terry Farrell (and whatever billed Alex Désert) don’t show up five or so minutes in, long enough you forgot they were supposed to be in the show. Désert doesn’t get a subplot but Farrell gets a classical music concert one with Danson. It’s dropped in, not relating to Danson’s main plot.

If the subplots played the cast to their strengths, it might make sense. They don’t. Ostensibly Danson all riled up over city bureaucracy is a slam dunk but no. Russ Woody’s script lacks any of the charm Danson’s been finding in the character to this point.

Smith and Winston get different kind of comedy to do than usual but nothing like what they’re best at doing. Farrell’s just around, Désert’s less than around, the butt of jokes. It’s also unclear how the “Becker” timeline works because Désert seems unfamiliar with Danson’s relationship with Farrell’s (dead) father. The father owned the diner where Danson went so when Farrell takes it over, Danson keeps going. But apparently Désert wasn’t part of the diner… or Danson and the dead father were just terrible to him.

It could be either one, but where’s the show bible. Désert’s the worst-defined character; he needs all the consistency he can get.

It’s got to start getting better soon. Otherwise… I’m not sure I can make it.

Becker s01e06 – Man Plans, God Laughs

Writer Ian Gurvitz starts off with a bad joke at Alex Désert’s blind guy’s expense, which Désert doesn’t really essay very well either. Funny how the Becker (Ted Danson) rant was the most distinguishing thing in the first three episodes—at least recurring distinguishing thing—and now it’s tired and we’re only six episodes in. Who knew you actually needed content for rants.

Anyway, Gurvitz recovers somewhat with a rather touchy-feely episode about Danson palling up with patient John Slattery; they both like sports. Only Hattie Winston gets sick and she needs the day off, leaving Shawnee Smith to run things. Danson spends the day—or montage (at best, it’s mostly just good Smith moments)—worrying he’s not going to make it to a game with Slattery.

Meanwhile at the diner, Saverio Guerra plays a high school classmate of Terry Farrell’s who comes back to mock her for her station in life. See, she teased Guerra in high school and now he’s back to make her feel bad. It’s a weird subplot. Guerra’s funny. He’s a jerk, but he’s funny. Kind of bad when you have the diner, which has two regular cast members, and they needed to bring in a guest star to get some laughs. “Becker” has got such a weird split between the diner and the doctor’s office.

The end has some heartfelt stuff for Winston and Danson, which is fine. It’s a little saccharine but it gives them both different material than usual and they’re both great so… yay.

Becker s01e05 – My Dinner With Becker

It's Becker (Ted Danson) on a blind date. Danson lets himself get set up after some razzing from Terry Farrell, who's got a wonderful new boyfriend (Brian Cousins).

Cousins is a big sweetie, who treats Farrell and everyone else with respect and kindness. He does wear shorts–he's a UPS driver, apparently–and is just the kind of guy Becker would love to tease. So Becker teases him–Teresa O'Neill's teleplay has some great jokes–but then has to put up or shut up when it comes to his own dating life.

Enter Sandra Guibord, who he initially likes because she's hot, but then discovers she's into all sorts of basic things and he just can't. What makes the date scene interesting is Danson isn't mean to her, in fact he does his best not to be overly cruel. He understands himself well enough to know he shouldn't be there. That scene's juxtaposed against Farrell and Cousins out on a date and Farrell seeing the world through Becker-colored cynicism. How will Cousins react? Who cares.

Even though Farrell's good on the episode, she's straight-man to the joke good. She's get in some sarcastic response to Danson good. She's not lead her own comic subplot good.

Similarly Alex Désert's timing is a little off; though Danson being cruel to him is kind of hard to time well.

Shawnee Smith has a great C or D plot. "Becker"'s got an odd structure with the days starting in the diner, then going to the office, then getting into Becker's out-of-work life, sometimes with return trips to the diner (because there's supposed to be building chemistry between Farrell and Danson, which sure ain't happening yet). But there's nothing more for Smith or Hattie Winston once Danson abandons work. Similarly Désert's cut off when there's no one in the diner.

The show feels a little cramped by limited locations. Though when they branch out it's problematic–the restaurant set for Danson's date is distractingly bad.

O'Neill's script is maybe the all-around best so far on the show. Not the most laughs, but she at least seems to get how to make Becker function believably with

Becker s01e04 – Tell Me Lies

This episode doesn't have the belly laughs the other ones so far have featured, but it does finally give Terry Farrell something to do. Something to do she can do well, which is constantly lie to Ted Danson and Alex Désert about what's bothering her. It's actually rather impressive they got twenty-five or whatever minutes out of that A plot, especially when the B plot is Hattie Winston setting up a barter sequence to get more medical supplies.

This episode might be the first where they specify the action takes place in the Bronx. Maybe the opening credits give it away, but they're so stylized and the scenery so "New York" generic, it wasn't clear.

There are some good belly laughs, actually, but they're not for Danson and his rants or Farrell and her bullshitting. Désert, Winston, and Shawnee Smith all get some rather good one-liners. Smith's timing is getting a lot better; it was fine before, but she's really getting into the groove. Same with Désert–his scenes are always packed, either by Danson, Farrell, or Danson and Farrell; he's claiming room for himself.

Winston's been great since the pilot, however; she and Danson are the only two rocks in the show.

There's also some good old fashioned nineties sitcom passive misogyny in the episode, which one assumes hit the CBS target demographic of old White people.

Prolific TV actor (and director) Noam Pitlik has a small role as a patient Danson plays chess with. It's very cute and probably the reason there's the C plot, give Pitlik something to do.

Becker s01e03 – Sex in the Inner City

Do you want to hear Ted Danson whine about people talking about sex too much? If so, this episode of “Becker” will test your resolve.

The premise is simple; Danson hasn’t had sex in a long time and he’s confronted multiple times throughout the day with seductive situations. I’m actually surprised Standards and Practices let them get away with the jerking off joke and Danson perving on his patients, but whatever. The late nineties hit everyone, even CBS.

In this episode we find out Terry Farrell likes having public sex, Alex Désert can’t be sure doing it so much didn’t turn him blind, Shawnee Smith wears skimpy clothes, and Hattie Winston really is an entirely desexualized strong sassy Black woman trope.

There’s also James Lorinz’s asinine character, who supposedly never comes back. He’s the annoying guy at the diner. Who presumably knew someone at the network because he’s dreadfully unfunny.

They even try to make his unfunny part of the show. It’s very bad.

The weird thing about the episode is how it can get laughs from the non-A plot. There are plenty of solid jokes, just none of the ones involving Danson being horny.

I went into the episode expecting a lot because it’s the first David Isaacs. But no. And the thing with “Foreign Guy” the unseen brown guy neighbor who plays loud maybe Lebanese music is getting really old and it’s only the third episode. This episode tries to get sympathy for Danson being such a jerk he can’t get laid, it’s bad at it, and it goes even further in making him unlikable.

I know this show gets better.

I know it.

Becker s01e02 – Take These Pills and Shove ‘Em

So if “Becker” is going to get on more solid ground, post-pilot, it sure isn’t happening with this second episode. It exacerbates the problems from the previous episode, without offering much in the way of improvements. Sure, Terry Farrell is a little better, but Ted Danson doesn’t get a good doctor arc. After however many years of being an asshole to his patients, he finally runs into two patients who react poorly to him being an asshole. The episode is him obsessing over one of the patients—an untreated diabetic—while dealing with a hypochondriac (a muted and strong Lin Share). Subplots have blind Black guy Alex Desert going to a sculpture class to meet women and office assistant Shawnee Smith being too honest with patients about the scare factor of their tests.

The Alex Desert stuff gives him a chance to act, even if it’s all incredibly problematic—he’s a smooth, soulful Black guy in his seductions—but he’s still just a plot prop. Differently utilized, but still a prop.

Smith’s thing is a decent showcase—much better than anything Hattie Winston gets this episode, unfortunately—and it’s definitely better than Danson’s A plot, but it’s still not particularly good. There are a handful laugh out loud moments, but mostly sporadic. They just haven’t figured out how mean to make Danson and have it work. The pilot humanized him while this episode is more than comfortable having him be a caricature. There is a funny running joke with an airhorn though.

Danson’s opening rant is fine, but far from memorable this time, especially since it segues into him making fun of Desert’s blindness.

Oh, the nineties.

The show being on shaky ground two episodes in isn’t concerning—I distinctly remember it getting much better—but it’s weird to have such a lackluster second episode. Or maybe it’s not. I can’t remember… were nineties second episodes better than pilots or worse than pilots.

Becker s01e01 – Pilot

I have a history with “Becker.” When it first came on, I was aware of it because it was the new Ted Danson show post-“Cheers,” Terry Farrell had jumped ship from “DS9,” and Alex Desert from “The Flash” was on it.

I watched a lot of TV in the 1990s.

But I didn’t watch “Becker.” In the mid-aughts, after Ken Levine started blogging and talking about “Becker” being this under discovered gem—something I would listen to Ken Levine on, because we’d been marathoning “Frasier” DVDs (I also watched a lot of TV in the 2000s)—I decided I’d try to give it a shot. And I didn’t make it through the pilot.

I don’t think I made it through the first scene. Now it’s funny because now I love the first half of the first scene. A few years after that first fail, I was still reading Ken Levine and he was still talking about “Becker” so I gave it another shot and made it through the rough stuff into the good stuff.

The show started in 1998 and the pilot has a very late nineties, we’ve figured out how to make sitcoms feel. It’s assured. The show knows you can make Ted Danson’s Becker only so much of a dick. He can’t be racist but xenophobic is okay. He has to respect strong women in his life to make generalized gender cracks. And the funny thing, going back to “Becker” a second time now, is how it’s Ted Danson. Old Man Ted Danson doesn’t incorporate any of the Sam Malone, but he does use some Becker. Just with a lot of pot.

The pilot introduces Danson as the loud-mouthed meanie doctor with a heart of gold. Spoiler: he uses his personal savings to get a young Black patient into an HIV treatment program because it’s 1998 and it was on CBS and old people have always watched CBS so there’s something false saccharine about it but Danson and the other actors are still able to get some material from it. And “Becker” is an actors’ show, at least once you get out of the diner and away from Terry Farrell—who’s really not funny and really trying—and Alex Desert—who gets to be the butt of Becker’s mean jokes because you know, gosh darn it, Black, blind guy Desert is actually Danson’s best friend. “Becker” isn’t aging particularly well. It’s not aging poorly, but it’s got some major strikes from the era.

Like the transphobic joke. It wasn’t funny then. Danson’s got a number of rants in the first half of the episode before it gets serious and he starts showing vulnerability; the joke about talk shows seems like it’s going to be good, ends up crap. Most of the other rants in the first half are gold. Laugh out loud gold.

Back to the actors’ show thing. Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith as Danson’s assistants are great. Even if they’re both problematic character types. Winston is the sassy Black woman who runs the successful White man’s life, Smith’s the ditzy grunge girl. But they all have great timing. The rhythm of their back and forth. It’s fantastic. And the time they both get to just act. Desert and Farrell just get reaction shots—until the end of the episode when Farrell gets the close and still can’t deliver the line with any humor but it’s a pilot so hopefully it’ll get better. Smith and Winston get some time. And they maximize it.

Occasional cringes over dated material aside, “Becker” has a good pilot. Though some of being positive about it is knowing it does indeed improve. Even Farrell.

Not sure how it’d play from scratch.

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