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Reviewed by Will Harris
nce you’ve spent 11 years playing the same character, it’s a Herculean task to convince people that you can be anyone else, which might be why Ted Danson’s first post-“Cheers” series, “Ink,” struggled along for a mere 22 episodes before getting the axe. Not one to give up the fight, however, Danson decided to give it another shot the following year. And this time, it took.
John Becker (Danson) is a Harvard-educated physician, and though he’s well-respected for his medical expertise, he’s probably better known for being one of the grouchiest guys you’ll ever have the displeasure of meeting. He’s always grousing about this or that, never without a complaint about something. Everything has to go his way, and if it doesn’t, you can bet you’ll hear about it. He’s also not always the most politically incorrect individual, as evidenced when he yells at his neighbor for cranking sitar music too loud, calling him both “Foreign Guy” and “Qaddafi.” Becker’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t accept change very well, nor does he quietly suffer through anything that might change his daily rituals. Basically, his life involves going to his office and eating at his favorite restaurant, and heaven help anyone who stands in his way. (As you might suspect from this description, “Becker” really only takes place in two locations.)
Becker’s office is kept under control by his office manager/head nurse, Margaret (Hattie Winston), and kept in just as much of a state of confusion by the decidedly ditzy Linda (Shawnee Smith). There are a few recurring patients, including a regular hypochondriac who comes into the office so often that, whenever she arrives, Becker and his assistant confer about what disease-themed TV movies were on the night before, then bet on which of them has directly inspired her current complaint. As the episodes progress, we quickly discover that for all his bluster, Becker does indeed have a heart, even going so far as to pay for the medical treatment for a young boy suffering from HIV. His heart sometimes is overpowered by his mouth, however, such as when he actually goes to a patient’s house to yell at him for refusing to keep his diabetes in check.
The other major set location is the aforementioned restaurant, a diner run by Reggie Kostas (Terry Farrell), who inherited it from her late father. Also on hand is Jake Malinak (Alex Desert), a blind guy who runs a newsstand in the diner and is always ready with a snappy quip. There’s one other addition later in the season: Bob, a former high school classmate of Reggie’s who speaks in third person and pops into the restaurant on a daily basis solely to remind her how much of a loser she is compared to him. Reggie is an unabashed hottie, but it may surprise you that the producers of “Becker” restrain themselves during this first season and don’t go out of their way to try and create a romantic relationship between her and the show’s title characters. It’s established that he’s aware that she’s attractive, but they’re not shoved together, which is to be applauded.
There was also a studied attempt at avoiding the too-easy guest appearances by Danson’s former “Cheers” co-stars. (Those wouldn’t occur ‘til Season Four.) Indeed, there isn’t a notable guest star at all until the show passes the halfway mark of the season, but when they do, it’s in a consecutive trifecta: Dick Van Dyke appears as Becker’s father, a guy who seems to be adored by everyone but his son; Steven Wright as a patient who claims to be able to talk to God; and Alice Krige as Becker’s ex-wife, who’s written a book featuring a character who’s a very thinly veiled version of Becker himself. Missing from the DVD, however, is a crossover appearance by Bill Cosby, Ray Romano and Kevin James (which had been part of a CBS ratings stunt), making one wonder who wouldn’t sign off on allowing its inclusion.
John Becker might not have topped Sam Malone as Danson’s most memorable TV character, but there are still plenty of laughs to be had in Season One of “Becker,” making it obvious why the show lasted as long as it did.
Special Features: None. Thanks for nothing, Paramount. Again.