Andy Ackerman

Frasier (1993) s02e10 – Burying a Grudge

David Lloyd wrote a John Mahoney-centric episode last season so he seems the right fit for this episode, which is about Mahoney having to bury the hatchet with his ex-partner and best friend, Lincoln Kilpatrick, as both men have long retired and experiencing health issues. David Lloyd is father of fellow “Frasier” writer Christopher Lloyd (no relation to the other Christopher Lloyd) and the episodes both have Kelsey Grammer very much in the son role… I wonder whose idea it was to have Lloyd père do the father and son episodes.

Anyway.

The episode opens with a long radio bit—and Peri Gilpin’s sole appearance—and the final punchline is only for folks who know celebrity callers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who play a bickering couple, were a night club act, a Hollywood screenwriting duo, and Broadway lyricists. It’s a deep cut, especially when the show aired in 1994 and you couldn’t just Google.

The Mahoney plot line starts off with David Hyde Pierce asking for some emotional support; Maris is going in for some plastic surgery and would Grammer and Mahoney come along. When Grammer gets there, he discovers Mahoney’s old pal Kilpatrick, leading to he and Hyde Pierce figuring out how they can interfere; it’s pretty epical from there.

And quite good.

Mahoney’s great. It helps there’s a punchline to the conflict more than a reveal, even though it takes the combine nagging of Grammer, Hyde Pierce, and Jane Leeves to get it out of Mahoney.

Leeves has a great scene, Hyde Pierce has a great scene or two—lots of just letting Hyde Pierce do a bit but it’s such a good bit it’s a win—and Grammer’s very good at being sincere in his concerns while still annoyingly neurotic.

Nice direction from Andy Ackerman, who gives the episode a relaxed pace but never a slow one. It works quite well with the script.

Frasier (1993) s01e05 – Here’s Looking at You

It’s a very good episode overall—script courtesy Brad Hall, with able direction from Andy Ackerman—and an even better one for Jane Leeves. She’s gotten to do a lot of comedy to this point, but when it comes time for the heart part of the episode, it’s all her.

This episode also feels like the show’s moved past the establishing rhythms. You could watch it in any order in syndication and not worry about where it fits in air order. It’s basically subplot free, with David Hyde Pierce’s storyline about having to entertain his wife’s aunt, Kathleen Noone, while Maris has (predictably) come down with an ailment getting raveled into the main plot. The opening call, main plot, Peri Gilpin’s single significant anecdote, main plot.

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) has gotten worried dad John Mahoney is too lazy. He gets concerned because of a similar situation from the opening caller (a very enthusiastic Jeff Daniels) and Gilpin telling him how her mom is the attorney general of Wisconsin doesn’t help him feel better. Gilpin’s mom being so prestigious throws Grammer for a temporary spin and him shaming Gilpin for talking to her mom about sex a few episodes ago has an echo. Not sure if it’s a nice echo exactly, but it gives Gilpin some nice passive character development at least.

Grammer’s solution for Mahoney is a telescope, which quickly turns into Mahoney communicating with a similarly aged, similarly telescope peeping woman in the apartment building across from them. Only it turns out Mahoney isn’t so wild about taking the next steps with the woman, for reasons Grammer can’t figure out and ones Leeves intuits. Mahoney gets a great scene talking to Grammer about said reasons, then Leeves gets that even better one talking to Mahoney about what she’s figured out. Excellent stuff.

There’s also the scene where Hyde Pierce brings Noone over to the apartment to meet Mahoney, which does not go well. In fact, it goes hilariously poorly. Hall’s script has that just right combination of layered jokes, immediate laughs, and heartfelt third act.

The episode does have Frasier talking on the phone to son Frederick for the first time—complete with a good Lilith joke—and establishes Frasier does indeed fly out to visit and isn’t a bad dad. Makes you wonder if episode five was enough time to get some notes back on the series after it started airing.

Regardless, it’s a good detail and gives Grammer a different bit of gristle. Because, again, strong script from Hall.

It’s another winner episode and a very nice first-in-series flex for Leeves.

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) 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) s01e13 – Becker the Elder

Whenever an episode of “Becker” starts, I hold my breath until the writing credit comes up. This one’s from series creator Dave Hackel, who likes doing the Ted Danson is a master doctor and basically right bastard; the episode opens with him ranting about little people. And even though it’s 1998 or whatever, they know it’s wrong because Alex Désert comments on it. Little bit later Danson’s making fun of how his Hispanic patient talks. So when “Becker” is being icky just to be icky, it’s in Hackel’s line. Andy Ackerman does do a solid directing job, however, because it’s Andy Ackerman.

The episode’s about Becker’s dad, Dick Van Dyke, coming through town. Van Dyke ran out on the family when Danson was eleven and Danson’s never forgiven him. Van Dyke’s never really asked for forgiveness either—until this very special episode, which isn’t even trying to be funny unless you count Hackel punching down (no blind or Black jokes about Désert so apparently someone said there were limits)—but since Hackel writes Becker like a complete Dick, who cares if Van Dyke had a reason to run out or whatever. It’s a waste of Van Dyke as a guest star and rather concerning the show creator hasn’t figured out when the show works.

There’s actually some decent stuff with Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith, with Smith making Winston laugh, which is at least something pleasant. Because despite Van Dyke being a lovable career salesman, the show positions him as a deceptive dick (no pun) and then walks it back, then forward, then back, then shrugs it off and goes out on a character building moment for Danson.

Of course, Danson is an asshole so who cares. It’s okay he’s an asshole, however, because he treats a guy living on the street—apparently for free—but whatever. Sitcom is an abbreviation for a situation comedy. This episode is a very light, very thin situational drama. I watched the show because I wanted to laugh.

Nope, not this time.

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