Television

Becker (1998) s01e21 – Lucky Day

Earl Pomerantz did not write any “Becker” episodes previous to this one, which surprised me. His name seemed familiar—he worked on sitcoms for forty years, so no doubt I’ve seen it before—and the way he wrote “Becker” felt, sadly, familiar too.

He does the “Becker whines” approach. So the episode is Ted Danson bitching non-stop about how everything good happening to him in the day is actually going to rubber-band back and be terrible in the end.

Far more interesting—and better written—is Hattie Winston being angry with her husband and Shawnee Smith sticking her nose in. Winston’s fantastic. Smith’s okay. She’s just there to be a foil for Winston, so it’s all supportive. It’d be nice if there was a better balance but also… it’s nice to see Winston to get the spotlight long enough to excel.

The subplot’s also got a great punchline, which stands out even more when the resolution to Danson’s arc is so blah. It even fits the old pattern of Danson checking in with Terry Farrell, like it’s a contractual obligation for Farrell to get screen time but no story (she’s cleaning the diner to avoid the health inspectors, which requires a lot of set decoration but nothing else) before going off and finishing the episode on its own.

Coming right after the previous episode’s home run, Lucky Day is a decided disappointment. Even if there’s the seemingly unintentionally meta moment when Farrell jokes about the world revolving around Danson and Danson can’t find any fault in her logic, even if he can’t explain it. Because it’s his show. Almost neat.

Or would be if the finish weren’t so ugh.

There’s a subplot with a whiney patient, William Hill, who’s not good but it’s also just Danson being mean, which isn’t good either. But Hill comes back for the finish and it’s like… no, don’t bring back the weakest link of the episode.

Hill’s even worse than attractive Post Office employee Kaye Kittrell hitting on Danson as he berates her….

But, hey, Winston’s great.

Becker (1998) s01e20 – Drive, They Said

There’s a disconnect during the opening titles; it says, “Written by David Isaacs and Ken Levine” (or however they do it), but it’s not a particularly good scene. Jonathan Nichols is a patient who stiffs Becker (Ted Danson) on his bills so Danson is mean to him. Beating up on the patient… kind of weird.

Also… Nichols is not so good.

Once that scene’s over, however, it’s the best episode of “Becker” ever. Because it’s Isaacs, Levine, and Andy Ackerman (directing). It’s a sitcom dream team and the episode does not disappoint.

Nichols is a ticket scalper and ends up paying Danson in Mets tickets. Danson’s thrilled and so’s the entire supporting cast because they all have somewhere to go and it’d be easier for Danson to drive them there.

Hattie Winston has to get home to her husband’s surprise party and doesn’t want to take the cake on the train. Shawnee Smith doesn’t want to have to take the train to Queens to meet some guy she maybe once saw on the subway. Alex Désert is visiting his grandmother. And Terry Farrell agrees to go to the game with Danson.

So they all pile into the car—and show why the show’s at its best when the supporting cast all comes together and isn’t segregated between location and when it makes ruthless fun of Danson. There’s some phenomenal one liners this episode, especially the ones at Danson’s expense.

And getting to spend some of the episode in his beyond ramshackle death mobile of car is another delight. Finally someone’s got an idea for an episode outside the two and a half regular locations.

The setup alone ought to be enough for the episode, but then they all end up in the emergency room together and it just keeps getting funnier. Great acting from the cast. I’d forgotten what it was like for Farrell to get material; Shawnee Smith gets some great stuff too. It’s so well-written, so well-executed.

I just hope it’s a sign of what’s to come. I’d given up hope for the show getting as good as this episode.

Becker (1998) s01e19 – Truth and Consequences

Marsha Myers wrote this episode and Myers has been one of the only reliable writers this season. So high hopes for it. And strange disappointment because Truth and Consequences does succeed but it doesn’t have much to do with Myers’s script. It succeeds because it’s got Richard Schiff in a sitcom guest spot. He’s Ted Danson’s accountant cousin who ends up crashing with Becker (Danson) and visiting with the regular cast. It’s great, but because it’s Schiff. Schiff doing sitcom comedy like he does here would be insufferable weekly, but for a guest spot? It’s glorious.

Not to mention the other guest with the most to do is Marvin Kaplan. He’s an old man patient of Danson’s who wants to get busy with the ladies. He’s got a younger woman; she’s sixty-five. There’s a great moment where Danson—mind you, the episode’s from 1999—tells Kaplan a woman’s pleasure is important too now. Kaplan says, “The rules have changed.” Danson replies, “The rules haven’t changed; they’re just enforcing them now.” So that moment does stand out in Myers’s script. It’s not a spectacular moment for the show itself—Danson’s character on the show avoids female characters for romance presumably because it’s too inconvenient to respect them—but it’s a good moment in the script and episode. Kaplan—who is a very familiar TV character actor guest starrer—is right in the scene and Danson’s good enough in the moment.

There’s also a great one-liner from Danson (and Myers) later about how alcohol kills pain and cigarettes relieve stress. So some good moments, but the episode’s all about Schiff’s guest spot. He’s very funny and very good.

Linda (Shawnee Smith) and Margaret (Hattie Winston) get a subplot involving a buff stud medical waste inspector (Matt Battaglia). It doesn’t go for long—it’s like the episode flips between its regular guest cast, Smith and Winston in the first half, then Terry Farrell and Alex Désert in the second—but it’s a good showcase for Smith.

The episode probably just needed a better director. There are lots of solid pieces for the regular cast and then Schiff flawless with whatever he’s got. It’s a very good sitcom but not a great showcase for “Becker,” the show itself. Better direction would’ve made the difference.

Becker (1998) s01e18 – Saving Harvey Cohen

The episode plays like writer Eric Cohen really likes “Becker.” Everyone in the cast gets something to do; even if it’s a little subplot, it’s a complete one. The main plot has Becker (Ted Danson) reluctantly caring for a sick stray cat, including some really obvious stuff when he takes it to the vet and gives the vet the same complaints about tests a patient has given him but it’s fine because it’s cute. Danson reluctantly caring for a sick alley cat equals cute.

It’s a fairly gentle main plot, mostly played through in dialogue—the cat’s only in two scenes and doesn’t do much, presumably because finding a cat who’d consent to being lifted around awkwardly isn’t a cat who’s going to then do tricks—so the episode gives literally everyone else a subplot.

Alex Désert has been having sex dreams about Terry Farrell, which Danson initially uses to embarrass Désert—which is still the easy ableist joke since Désert’s blind, but at least Danson’s not directly mocking Désert for his lack of seeing (a series trope)—but then turns into Farrell and Désert teaming up to torment hilarious scumbag Saverio Guerra.

At the doctor’s office, Shawnee Smith has decided to violate HIPAA and celebrate the patients’ birthdays whether they want to or not. It gets a few scenes and some solid smiles if not laughs, though it’s still a network sitcom so of course they cut deep on single scene guest star Valerie Curtin for being a woman in her late forties.

Hattie Winston’s story line involves her trying to find a vacation for curmudgeon Danson, which is definitely the least of the plot lines but it’s something at least.

Other significant single scene guest star? Lance Guest. It’s like old home week for early eighties movie supporting actors who didn’t make it, though Curtin is in a different class than Guest. Guest’s fine, but Curtin’s an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

It’s a very, very busy episode but an entertaining one—Andy Ackerman’s direction helps, not to mention the lack of abject cynicism.

Becker (1998) s01e17 – Partial Law

Even though I know I don’t remember this episode—the first in the series directed by Ken Levine, whose blog convinced me to give “Becker” another shot back in the day and was seemingly correct since I watched the whole show even though it’s a slog to get to through the opening fumbles—it feels like I remember this episode.

Not the specifics, which have Ted Danson getting burgled and needing to replace his home computer only his insurance company shortchanges him. The scene with the insurance agent, played by Ashley Gardner, is great.

So Danson ends up going to Bob (Saverio Guerra) who knows a guy who should be able to find Danson a new computer for cheap. It’s the “fell of the truck” episode of “Becker,” which seems like a New York City-set sitcom standard, when the White protagonist buys a hot item and learns their lesson at some point.

What lesson does Danson learn? He’s invited Guerra into his life and Guerra’s not leaving.

The episode’s memorable moment comes at the end, when Guerra opens up about his sadness to Danson. I swear I remember that scene. Not much leading up to it, but definitely that scene.

There’s some good direction from Levine—even though no one except Danson and Guerra have anything to do in the episode as far as the script goes, Levine keeps people busy in the background so you don’t forget Alex Désert and Terry Farrell exist—and Michael Markowitz’s script lacks some his previous meanness.

While Désert still gets to be the butt of blind jokes, they’re from Guerra instead of pal Danson. So there’s progress. Of some kind.

The strangest part of the episode is when Guerra shows up at Danson’s with the computer in two giant boxes and says it’ll take a couple hours to set up. Computers really did take time to set up in the eighties and nineties and not because you were restoring a backup….

It’s a pretty good episode. It’s not great, but it does utilize Guerra well. It understands why the show needs him; being a show about a jackass is fine but Danson can’t be the only (or biggest) one.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e08 – Romeo V. Juliet: Dawn of Justness

It’s another big win good episode of “Legends.” It’s the farewell episode for Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford, which has all sorts of feelings but also Routh not being able to tell best bro Nick Zano the truth. Routh and Ford tell everyone else they’re leaving—in this great line for the bathroom scene—but when it comes time for Routh to inform Zano, he chokes, leading to a recurring subplot as everyone else tries to get Routh to tell and Routh keeps avoiding it.

The last mission is going to involve William Shakespeare (Rowan Schlosberg) and a single set for said mission. The episode’s pinching pennies to get a nice cast—Ramona Young comes back for a visit, which ends up having the girls through Ford a bachelorette party on the ship while the boys have one for Routh in Shakespeare’s favorite tavern.

One tavern fight later, Romeo and Juliet gets a new title—Romeo v Juliet: Dawn of Justness with Shakespeare writing comic books now. Nice dig at the corporate overlord, but then also a really nice montage sequence for the finale. See, in order to save the future of literature, the team has to put on a production of the play to convince Shakespeare to keep going.

Matt Ryan plays Romeo, Tala Ashe pays Juliet and they get a lot of mileage out of their performances. Ryan is the show’s most reliable performer, always able to play a scene for the right effect, but he’s never really gotten to do a lot of fun acting though. He’s gotten to do gravitas, but never this kind of playful before. And Ashe’s the show’s strongest actor, who’s able to do the most with whatever material she gets, lots or little. So the two of them doing a playfully randy Romeo and Juliet is a delight.

It’s another strong episode—the bachelorette and bachelor parties both have some great moments (the girls get drunk and go wild, the boys get drunk and bro mope), then the big save the future finale goes nicely.

It’s a fine send-off for Routh, who’s been around since day one and really made the role something different, good, and nice.

Swell, actually. Routh made the role swell.

All Rise (2019) s01e18 – The Tale of Three Arraignments

I think I know “All Rise” continuity better than the writers because when they introduce previously unmentioned Third Musketeer Ryan Michelle Bathe (she went to law school with Simone Missick and Wilson Bethel), they bend the backstory about Missick and Bethel knowing each other as kids. Or they don’t completely break it—Missick and Bethel meeting up after undergrad at the same law school could work, though him then (apparently) dating Bathe, who—physical description-wise—is identical to Missick… It has a certain feel to it.

Bathe’s back in town to start a new law firm and she wants both Missick and Bethel to join her. It was their childish law school dream. And both Missick and Bethel are in enough of a state to consider it. Marg Helgenberger’s punishing Missick for not forgiving her White feminist—like, gently punishing, being an obvious jerk but not a Machiavellian villain—and Reggie Lee’s doing something similar to Bethel. Will the Dynamic Duo join forces and become the Terrific Trio?

Only the show never pushes it too hard. “All Rise” is a mostly happy place where Jessica Camacho—who’s got an obnoxious romance subplot with J. Alex Brinson this episode, just exasperating, also has a hashtag Girl Power story arc involving Bathe and now steadily recurring prosecutor Suzanne Cryer. Camancho’s client, Raven Bowens, is being pimped by Greg Tarzan Davis and Camacho wants to do something about it, involving Cryer, but then Davis hires Bathe and Camacho gets her involved. Then Bathe gets Missick involved, who then gets Helgenberger involved and basically it’s a very positive change thanks to women working together moment.

And Bowens is great.

It’s not a great plot and isn’t particularly compelling outside Bowens’s performance and it takes them a while to spotlight her, instead giving it to Camacho in the run-up, but the acting’s solid from the regulars, excellent from Bowens, and there’s a sincerity to it. It’s making the system work for victims.

There’s some more with Missick’s husband, Todd Williams, and the creepy campaign adviser guy, Nicholas Christopher, who apparently Missick’s supposed to have chemistry with but doesn’t because Christopher always seems like a creep. Williams’s got a nothing part; he doesn’t try to showboat it, he just plays it and goes on his way. Christopher tries to showboat and invades the scenes. It’s really weird and unfortunate, as pretty much everything involving Missick and romance is a drag.

She’s much better hanging out with Bathe and Bethel in her off time.

It’s not one of the better episodes, not one of the worse—Bathe’s a fine supporting player to recur… but doesn’t the show have to start worrying about renewal at this point. Oh, episode eighteen… we’re definitely in the renewal pageantry portion of the season—all right, let’s see what they’ve got.

All Rise (2019) s01e17 – I Love You, You’re Perfect, I Think

Despite a forced start with Jessica Camacho and roomie and BFF Lindsay Mendez going hiking in some canyon before work and not finding a body, with some particularly forced angst from Camacho regarding boyfriend J. Alex Brinson declaring his love for her, the episode works out to be one of “All Rise”’s best.

Gregory Nelson’s script does a bit of a greatest hits tour through the show, making sure to give Simone Missick and Wilson Bethel banter and bickering banter to showcase the range of their characters’ relationship.

Nelson also takes the show seemingly new places—and revisiting some unfamiliar ones—the episode doesn’t just have a scene in the judges’ lounge, it also goes to the public defender office for the first time either ever or in a long while; the district attorney office is more familiar but rarely showcased as much as here. The show also figures out what to do with Audrey Corsa, now she and Brinson don’t seem to have a flirtation going. She’s a good sidekick for Bethel, who teaches her to be idealistic above all else in this episode.

Bethel’s got an innocent man to free, so lots of good White guy turmoil, while Missick’s got to deal with telling boss Marg Helgenberger what’s what as far as Helgenberger’s informal vetting.

The Missick and Helgenberger stuff turns out to be good, which is a surprise.

Then there’s a subplot with Peter MacNicol having to admit he’s capable of mistakes as an old White man, even means he has to respect young Latina women (in this case Mendez).

Paul McCrane (who does a fine job directing) is around a bit to spice things up.

Of course, the main plot is a soldier has PTSD so is he responsible for this assault, with Camacho as the defense attorney and Gavin Stenhouse as the accused. Stenhouse is pretty good. He’s able to make it work. Much better than when Camacho and Mendez have a really forced conversation about how much they support the troops.

Lots of big swings for the show—the PTSD of a soldier, Marg Helgenberger’s accountability arc, and the MacNichol having to admit his bias… and it does work out pretty darn well for the show. The episode successfully showcases the show at its best.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e07 – Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac

Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac is an exemplar of “Legends of Tomorrow.” Writers Keto Shimizu and James Eagan provide a great script—just the right amount of subplots, just the right pace—and the cast is outstanding.

The episode opens on a red herring to get things moving. In the Wild West, Adam Tsekhman is cleaning up after a Legends outing from two seasons ago and is attacked by an unknown figure. In the present, Caity Lotz and Jes Macallan get the alert and go to save him, which gets them out of the way so the episode can get moving on the main plot, which involves Brandon Routh planning a date night to propose to girlfriend Courtney Ford. On their way to the Wild West, Lotz assigns Tala Ashe the job of helping Dominic Purcell get over someone trolling his romance novels online. That subplot, which only lasts half the episode, is phenomenal. Ashe is spectacular this season and this episode’s no exception. Plus it lets Purcell play straight humor, which is great too.

Routh’s date night goes wrong because it turns out Tsekhman ran into a resurrected Neal McDonough, whose attack has present day consequences for Tsekhman, who’s helping Routh with the date night. Phasing in and out of reality consequences. But then McDonough shows up at the date night because he’s looking for daughter Ford, who’s become a hero this season and last, only McDonough thinks she’s a demoness or something. So she’s got to pretend she’s bad and has enslaved the Legends (well, Loitz and Macallan) so he doesn’t realize she’s gone good.

So the episode then turns into this hilarious riff on Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Matt Ryan having to pretend to be Ford’s boyfriend (she’s hiding good guy Routh from McDonough). Only Routh is babysitting Ford’s charge, Madeline Hirvonen (Ford’s a fairy godmother), and thanks to him making her watch Mr. Rogers knock-off “Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac” and Hirvonen latches onto the “Love is Love” message and gets Routh ginned up to declare his love for Ford in front of McDonough.

It’s really funny, really well-acted, really well-written. And then the last act has about five metric tons of heart in it, right after a warlock battle.

Like I said, it’s an exemplar of the series. Great guest spot from McDonough, but also a fantastic showcase for Ford. So good.

And somehow I forgot about Ryan’s whole “going to Antarctica” subplot, which is hilarious. No one can pack forty-three minutes like “Legends.”

And there are puppets. How did I forget the puppets.

Becker (1998) s01e16 – Limits & Boundaries

Limits & Boundaries refers to Ted Danson’s uninformed parenting philosophies. The episode opens with him yelling at a woman in the diner (Victoria Kelleher), who is sitting reading a book while her baby cries. Now, she’s not doing anything to get the baby to be quiet, which either is a nineties parenting in public practice I’ve forgotten or never witnessed. Or writer Dave Hackel just wanted to give Danson the opportunity to yell at a woman. The episode’s full of optics, including Danson being incredulous at having mixed race children; quite the flex given his infamous relationship with Whoopi Goldberg but also given it doesn’t seem in character for Danson. Meanwhile, the passive misogyny’s steady and culminates in a very deep cut at Terry Farrell for some reason.

Once Danson gets to the office, the main plot takes over—Danson’s going to have to babysit. The show’s only recurring patient, Robert Bailey Jr., is a kid living with HIV in the late nineties. His mom, Davenia McFadden, needs someone to watch him and sister Kyla Pratt and Danson’s the only choice. Danson, despite hating kids, agrees. Laughter ensues.

Sort of.

Some not great laughs with Danson trying to get everyone else at the office to watch the kids after he agreed to do it.

But then it turns out the kids are going to have to sleepover and all of a sudden the episode gets really, really funny. Because instead of being props for laughs, Bailey and Pratt (especially Pratt) get to run the laughs themselves, giving Danson a look into actual parenting.

The episode manages to be extremely funny and occasionally well-acted (Pratt, Bailey, Hattie Winston) without being very good. It also has the asterisk honor of a guest spot from Sy Richardson as a slow talking patient. Richardson’s not funny, the writing’s a combination of bad and mean, so it’s hard not to feel bad for Richardson, even though he’s not good in the part. Would a better performance make the part better? No, but it might make it funny.

When I saw Hackel’s name on the writing credit I got immediately apprehensive… he relies way too heavily on being mean instead of creative for Danson.

But the sleepover stuff is gold.

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