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Becker (1998) s01e22 – Regarding Reggie

I’ve been dreading the “Becker” season finale. I was initially enthusiastic about this rewatch but the first season’s been a slog. I’m not sure why exactly I was dreading this episode—other than the Regarding Reggie title being a little ominous—but it was the appropriate expectation.

If this episode, which is about Ted Danson daydreaming about how if he asks Reggie (Terry Farrell) to a fundraising benefit she’s going to fall madly in love with him and it’s going to ruin his life. Even though the entire show’s about how Farrell can’t stand Danson.

And there’s really nothing else to the episode. Just Danson and this date. There’s Hattie Winston telling him to ask Farrell, Shawnee Smith telling him to ask Farrell, building super Elya Baskin telling him to ask Farrell. The show’s got an experienced writers room. You’d think someone would’ve told writer Russ Woody the joke wasn’t getting funnier the more times he made it. It’s more appropriate as maybe the second episode than the season finale.

There’s also the optics to it. Sure, former supermodel Farrell is thirty-six or whatever, but she certainly doesn’t look like she wants or needs definitely fifty-something Danson serenading her from across the lunch counter. It comes across as this weird ego trip from the show and Danson.

Like the painful flashback to his childhood when he’s too spectrum-y for a girl in elementary school. And it’s like, yeah, Farrell would at most be a newborn while Danson was already creeping out the ladies. They’re perfect for each other.

Whatever the show was trying to do with the first season and its finale—like, you know, encourage the network to pick it up for a second season—it doesn’t. The episode doesn’t just not compare to the season’s best episodes, it doesn’t even compare to its most middling ones. Woody’s script is… well, it’s actually not wooden so much as rotten.

Way to not leverage your show’s cast in your show.

Blah.

All Rise (2019) s01e21 – Dancing at Los Angeles

Dancing at Los Angeles is an admirable effort from “All Rise,” cast and crew, but it’s not a particularly good forty minutes of television. There are a couple big parallels between the episode, a “Coronavirus shelter-at-home” special episode with the cast filming in their homes in character, and the episode content, Simone Missick trying to do a virtual trial. Apparently virtual hearings are a real thing, but not virtual trials (yet).

The defendant on the episode, Mo McRae, has to waive a bunch of rights—he can’t appeal due to procedure—and it’s almost like the show saying, “Hey, it’s the best we can do too and we do need a season finale.”

None of the open storylines get any closure, which is unfortunate (though “All Rise” is “almost renewed” according to the latest post I could find, so maybe). Worse, lots of attention paid to Wilson Bethel’s romance with Lindsey Gort, including some teledildonics, which would be a little much even if Gort weren’t obnoxious. Though she’s admittedly less obnoxious this episode when she’s not trying to ruin some law clerk’s life for smiling at Bethel or whatever.

The episode also puts Bethel in Missick’s “courtroom” for the first time and it’s kind of amazing to see him goof off. The actors all get along too well in the pseudo-Zoom—they don’t even bother making up a name for the video conferencing service, which is kind of nice—for them to be that authentic to their established characters but it’s fine. Everyone gets to be a little cute, to varying degrees of success.

Marg Helgenberger getting drunk and giving Missick shit is a high point, as are any scenes involving Paul McCrane and Peter MacNichol, who the show really ought to make a gay couple next season if it gets renewed.

J. Alex Brinson has the performative story arc of wanting to go down to the jail and work because of all the inmates in danger. Everyone is super concerned about all the inmates. It’s a major Sure, Jan.

Dorian Missick—Simone’s actual husband—guest stars as the DJ everyone’s watching during the pandemic. Wish he’d been a recurring thing all season, it’d fit a lot better. Also wish he was just paying Missick’s husband on the show (Todd Williams shows up to suck the charm out of the show eventually).

Maybe next season, if the show gets one. Missick and Bethel definitely ought to be on better shows but, you know, I’ll still watch “All Rise” for them.

All Rise (2019) s01e20 – Merrily We Ride Along

This episode’s credited writers, Gregory Nelson and Aaron Carter, have written episodes before but they mustn’t have stood out enough I was going to remember the writers. The writing only stands out this episode because there’s a great courtroom scene with Jessica Camacho cross-examining a witness, Rodney To, and catching him up. “All Rise” is a lawyer show without exceptionally good trial lawyering scenes, usually because it’s all about Simone Missick’s judge, but also because the writing’s never particularly smart.

It’s smart this time. It’s very cool. Albeit exactly what you used to get in every episode of “Perry Mason” or whatnot.

Camacho’s case aside—she’s defending a blackout drunk (an effective Jamie Anne Allman) who confessed to a murder she doesn’t remember committing—there’s not a lot of court stuff going on here. Missick’s worried about Camacho’s mental state, but more about her seemingly failing long-distance marriage—the husband doesn’t appear in anything but photos and they’re still a chemistry vacuum in those—and her mom, L. Scott Caldwell, feeling old. So Missick has scenes with Caldwell and dad Brent Jennings. It’s okay… nothing more. And doesn’t feel like a good use of time.

Meanwhile, Wilson Bethel starts the episode going on a police ride along with detective Romeo Brown; Brown wants to show Bethel just how the streets really work. Bethel’s all, “Blue Lives Matter!”, in the first scene with girlfriend Lindsey Gort and the first thing Brown shows him is how he gives comic books to drug dealers for their little brothers or something. But very, yeah, good cops, yeah! Only then Brown assaults some guy and wants Bethel to lie about it so the episode is Bethel trying to work out what he’s going to say in his official statement and seemingly deciding he’s going to quit the D.A.’s office by the end of the episode.

Kind of a bummer because Bethel’s office banter with J. Alex Brinson and Audrey Costa is fun, but also… maybe it’s what the show needs. Bethel’s stagnating. Everyone’s stagnating.

Good direction from Cheryl Dunye this episode, no surprise. Lindsay Mendez gets more of a plot than usual being worried about boyfriend Bret Harrison’s mom, Marg Helgenberger, not wanting them dating. You’d think Helgenberger would be more worried about court reporter Mendez living with defense attorney Camacho and Camacho telling Mendez details of her cases. You’d think it’d also be a problem for Brinson, who works in the D.A.’s office.

But c'est la vie.

There’s better material in the episode than there’s been lately and it certainly doesn’t approach the season lows but… unless they bring on a new show runner, wouldn’t it be better for the show to done in one (season) it and release Missick and Bethel to better projects. Even Camacho, who’s been the most uneven of the four top-billed, could do a lot better than her character arc this season, which has sucked and continues to be a little exploitative even now.

All Rise (2019) s01e19 – In the Fights

I wonder if occurred to the producers they should’ve saved up to license With A Little Help From My Friends for this episode, which is mostly about Jessica Camacho–who started the show getting out of a physically abusive marriage—defending a client accused of assaulting his girlfriend and having major PTSD. The episode starts with Camacho in Enough mode, beating the crap out of a kickboxing bag; she’s been doing for two hours every morning, starting at 5 a.m., and hiding the domestic abuse case from her boyfriend J. Alex Brinson and roommate bestie Lindsay Mendez. Until the episode starts, anyway. She’s going to trial and she’s got to let them know.

Turns out the case has been reassigned to prosecutor Wilson Bethel because the original attorney is out sick and Bethel’s trying to be a friend to Camacho while also trying to convince victim Reina Hardesty to testify. At the start of the episode, we only see Camacho’s client, Robert Adamson, who is super-obviously manipulating and grooming Camacho to the point it’s just a countdown to her kicking his ass when he tries something. But Adamson says he’s innocent and Camacho believes him; she tells everyone she believes him. And Hardesty, therefor, is lying. Hardesty figures in the second half of the episode; she’s great. Adamson’s a convincing creep, but not much else. Hardesty’s actually good.

Meanwhile, Simone Missick’s dealing with relationship drama with husband Todd Williams—her first scene in the episode is establishing the subplot with the flirtatious political fixer and Missick running for attorney general has been dropped like a hot potato, which is a bit of a surprise—and with lawyer Lindsey Gort using Missick’s courtroom to promote her new law firm with Third Musketeer (to Missick and Bethel) Ryan Michelle Bathe and to destroy something beautiful (Bethel’s protege Audrey Corsa). See, Gort and Bethel are dating and things aren’t going great. He’s intrusive, albeit incredibly buff (Bethel gets a big shirtless scene at the beginning of the episode).

And, based on Missick and Bethel’s single confab this episode… they haven’t already retconned out Bethel having a thing for Bathe.

Gort’s profoundly unlikable, to the point it’s rubbing off on Bethel. She’s not bad. She’s just a villain, even though she’s fighting for social justice. It’s very muddled and, unlike the show’s more earnest wide swings this episode, not endearing. Because Gort’s just cruel.

Corsa’s real good this episode. Bethel’s good.

It’s not a great episode for Camacho. Like… it’s real obvious what the show’s doing but it’s also extraordinarily exploitative.

It’s a so-so episode for Missick, who has got to get rid of wet noodle Williams. Though the episode also upstages Missick by giving court clerk Ruthie Ann Miles a martini lunch subplot.

All of its misfires seem imminently avoidable.

There is one fantastic line about how much an abusive partner’s apologies are worth though.

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.

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.

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