Dave Hackel

Frasier (1993) s02e02 – The Unkindest Cut of All

First yay, Lily Tomlin as caller cameo. Second yay, writer Dave Hackel (a seasoned sitcom vet who only will end up writing this one episode) knows how to give Peri Gilpin some great material. Very different from last season—she’s not desperate here, she’s just enthusiastically sexually active.

Third yay… the episode’s all about adorable dogs, whether it’s Jack Russell Terrier Eddie or all the Jack Russell Terrier puppies he unintentionally fathers… it’s wall-to-wall adorable dogs.

The accidental fathering, leading to Kelsey Grammer trying to get rid of a box of puppies, including hawking them on air, is just the setup for the main plot. Eddie runs away after Frasier (Grammer) takes him down to get the boys cut off; dad Martin (John Mahoney) follows Grammer down, they get in a fight, Eddie runs off.

What’s really nice about Hackel’s script is how much he sets up the eventual heart-to-heart between Grammer and Mahoney; from the first scene, he’s laying out Eddie muffins (what you call a Chekhov gun in “Frasier”). Just little things. Even Mahoney being exasperated with Grammer, just in Mahoney’s banter with Jane Leeves are Grammer’s sock ironing requirements.

There’s also time for a couple really nice David Hyde Pierce scenes, one with Leeves, another with Mahoney and Grammer while they look for Eddie. Hyde Pierce’s second scene involves him just doing voice work for the majority of his time there and he’s absolutely fantastic. Voice work, physical work, Hyde Pierce never walks away with “Frasier” and the show never spotlights him to the extent it’d ignore another actor but it can’t help being a showcase for him. He’s so good.

And Hackel does an excellent job with the heart-to-heart. Mahoney doesn’t go in for the psychiatry stuff, which causes some major resistance to Grammer wanting to make observations but once they get talking, things get worked out and quite nicely. There’s even a cute resolve with Eddie.

Before the subsequent funny end credits scene.

It’s a very good episode; Rick Beren’s direction is strong; I wish Hackel would’ve written another.

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.

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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