Paramount // 1998 // 370 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 2nd, 2008
The TV doctor who's a chronic pain.
Before Hugh Laurie made it gauche to be a dickhead doctor, Ted Danson reinvented himself as the title character in this milquetoast sitcom.
Dr. John Becker (Danson) is cynical, abrasive jackass working at a clinic in the Bronx. What he lacks in bedside manner, he more than makes up for in medical skills. Each episode finds Becker dealing with a mélange of quirky patients, supported by his quirky clinic staff, the strong-willed supervisor (Hattie Winston) and the flighty airhead nurse's assistant (Shawnee Smith).
To blow off steam, Becker lounges at a nearby diner, run by the smart-ass duo of the attractive proprietor Reggie (Terry Farrell) and the blind newsstand owner Jake (Alex Désert), who take it upon themselves to listen to Becker's unending rants.
Season One: three discs, 22 episodes.
Becker is a slightly-better-than-mediocre sitcom. Episodes are a major mixed bag in the humor department -- as most "traditional" sitcoms tend to be -- punctuated occasionally by some solid jokes. The premise has some legs, though, and the settings of the doctor's office and the diner offers different opportunities for amusing scenarios. These scenarios bear comedic fruit of wildly uneven proportions.
Here's a handful of additional observations from my time spent with Dr. Becker:
* There's a Huge Disparity of Humor Between the Diner and the Clinic. The show is about evenly divided up between these two locales. The clinic leans more on Becker's interaction with his patients and staff for the humor and the diner sequences basically rests on the incessant ego-harpooning Reggie and Jake dish out to Becker. In addition, the limited melodrama that presents itself in the series is of the medical kind, so-and-so is suffering from a mysterious illness and Becker reveals that's he's not completely heartless as he attempts to save his patient's life.
As far as laughs, there a far more to be found on the diner end. Despite the weakness of the writing overall, the good jokes belong mainly to Farrell and Désert, who have some decent chemistry with Danson. Their supporting counterparts, Winston and Smith, frankly, portray uninteresting characters and the comedy suffers for it.
* Hey, That Guy's Blind!
Talk about driving a point home. At the start of virtually every episode of this season, there's a clumsy joke employed with the express purpose of making it known that Jake is blind. And these are some corny, obvious jokes, their point transparent: ensure than any viewer tuning in for the first time knows there's a blind character in the show. All this is needless anyway, because Désert's performance is so good, if you were to miss it you'd have to be...ah, never mind.
* Danson Lays It On Thick
I can appreciate the guy wanting to come to television with a non-Sam Malone persona, and the cranky-doctor-with-a-cloaked-heart-of-gold is good conceit, but Ted Danson infuses Becker with obnoxiousness of stratospheric proportions. At times the routine just seems contrived, especially when Becker enters the diner with one of his trademark screaming fits. Let's just tone it down a bit, huh?
* Radio Play?
I'm going to shamelessly borrow this observation from Judge Mac McEntire. On one of the Friday Filibuster podcasts, we were talking about this show and he mentioned how the series could work as a radio play. He's right. There are barely any sight gags. If you get the DVD, fire it up and close your eyes and try it for yourself!
There you go. That's about what I've got to say on this season. Again, "slightly-better-than-mediocre" would be my capsule review. Paramount, feel free to use that on the disc case of Season Two.
A no-frills release: full screen and 2.0 stereo, both of which do the trick with little fanfare.
I borderline chortled more than a few times.
The accused is sentenced to file paperwork at an HMO of their choice.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 370 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated