Saverio Guerra

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.

Becker (1998) s01e15 – Activate Your Choices

David Isaacs wrote this episode, which brings some immediate pluses. The jokes are funnier. Sometimes they’re a lot cheaper, but they’re always funny. And Saverio Guerra’s in the episode. Isaacs doesn’t give him much to do except be hilariously annoying, but it’s basically enough. If only they’d cast someone better to play Ted Danson’s ex-wife, the episode would probably have been in the black.

Instead, they got Alice Krige. Who’s got no chemistry with Danson. They can’t resist one another; while they were married, they had an open relationship… he just didn’t know about it being open. But Krige never stopped wanting Danson. Her intro is she’s written a self-help book and a lot of it is about being married to “The Angry Man” (Danson), once she’s in the episode it’s about Danson trying to resist her and not.

Krige’s got a crap character and doesn’t bring anything performance-wise to transcend it; the episode sets itself up to fail. Not making Krige at all sympathetic… it’s like the show can’t decide how misanthropic it really wants to be. Even with the problems, the Isaacs script is sturdy.

He introduces some actually interesting character details for Shawnee Smith, like her being able to speak fluent Mandarin. Otherwise, no one in the supporting cast gets anything to do. Arguably, Alex Desért and Terry Farrell get even less because the show’s brought in Guerra for the guaranteed laughs.

As I recall, the arrival of Isaacs is when “Becker” starts turning around, but I can’t trust my memory of its better days. I didn’t remember it being this middling so I’m not sure if the improvement is going to be substantial.

Maybe I’m just so nonplussed by the episode’s wastes—Guerra and then blowing a possibly good recurring ex-wife with Krige. Plus, Danson’s a really big dick to worried mom Jenny Gago during an appointment scene and, combined with Krige’s adulterous ex, it feels like the show’s saying something icky; unintentionally, maybe, but still saying it.

Becker (1998) s01e12 – Love! Lies! Bleeding!

Either I made the comment you knew “Becker” was troubled when not even a solid sitcom director like Andy Ackerman could make an episode work or I meant to make that comment. This episode has Ackerman back and, this time, he’s able to compensate for some of writer Michael Markowitz’s stumbles. Not the misogynist stuff with Alex Désert but there are only so many miracles one can work. So, this episode’s the Valentine’s Day episode and Ted Danson hates Valentine’s Day. He has a rant about its suspect history, which doesn’t seem—based on a Wikipedia glance—to be accurate. If Danson’s going to rant about something, he’s got to be right. Otherwise he’s just a blowhard. The point is he’s right, not he’s a blowhard. Or at least when it works.

But it doesn’t work with Désert or Terry Farrell this episode. Danson implies Désert’s girlfriend is ugly and Désert freaks out, the unspoken joke (for a while) Désert’s blind so what does he care. He cares because he’s a misogynist and so’s Danson. Joy. When Danson later comforts a female patient, it takes a moment before he’s obviously sincere. For a second, you’re expecting him to dig in and humiliate her because… it’s a laugh somehow? At least in Markowitz’s mind.

The episode is Danson running into different kinds of Valentine’s Day goings on, but not specific to the holiday, just romance in general. There’s the girlfriend who stabs the cheating boyfriend, there’s the teenager who wants a vasectomy so he can have unsafe sex, there’s the female patient, who’s allergic to roses. Curmudgeon Danson just can’t get away from signs of love, not even at the office where Shawnee Smith has a whole relationship in one day over the phone (minus the consummating, which might be for the best but also maybe not) and Hattie Winston gets to… talk about her offscreen plans and shake her head at Smith and Danson. Not a great episode for Winston. Or Smith. But Smith at least gets material.

The episode’s got some successful moments, including the return of Saverio Guerra, whose every moment is fantastic. He’s back to torment Farrell and probably a little worse of a guy than Danson and Désert, but not much.

The show’s bottom is higher than before, which is good.

Becker (1998) s01e11 – Scriptus Interruptus

I feel a little like one of those jokes about training an AI to write something because this episode of “Becker”—specifically how I write about it—is going to be very similar to the last time I wrote about an episode of “Becker” written by Ian Gurvitz.

I thought having Andy Ackerman directing would make a difference. Nope. It’s still a very Gurvitz episode. Ted Danson’s rants have that sensational edge to them. Sensational versus inspired. It’s also weird because last episode Danson supposedly learned he didn’t like it when people stopped wanting him as a doctor because of his mouth. This episode doesn’t acknowledge any change.

Also bad with Gurvitz is whatever he’s doing with Terry Farrell. Moving her around, giving her bad lines, it’s a real bummer because she was starting to get her comedy bravado down and instead she’s floundering again. But because of the script having jack for her.

The script’s also got jack for Hattie Winston, which seems weird because the show knows Winston’s awesome. The show—Gurvitz even I’m fairly sure—has showcased her. She gets jack here. Shawnee Smith ostensibly gets more—she’s in between apartments and has to live in the medical office—but she doesn’t actually get more. She’s just around a little more than usual. Not leading scenes around or having a subplot around, just physically around. To give Danson a yelling target.

The episode’s about Danson having to write a medical article and not being able to get any solitude to do so. Spoiler, he pulls it out of his ass, because “Becker” is arguably a more adept version of, you know, “House M.D.” He’s a brilliant jackass. Please laugh.

Alex Désert gets a subplot with Kenna J. Ramsey. Ramsey wants to move in together, Désert doesn’t. It’s a subplot set entirely in the diner, somewhere else for the camera to go when Danson and Farrell are taking a break from expository banter.

It’s not an endearing subplot.

Elya Baskin’s fun as Danson’s new super. It’s a silly, lazy bit but he’s still fun.

This show is so rocky. It’s way too inconsistent, quality-wise. Sure, people watched it once a week but it’s not like you’d care about tuning in after a couple stinkers.

Relatively, obviously, for a generally well-acted and competently produced sitcom. I just want it to get better. Or at least less inconsistent in its mediocre.

Becker (1998) s01e09 – Choose Me

It hadn’t occurred to me some of “Becker”’s problem so far might have been direction. I rarely think about sitcom (the three-camera style) direction. They’re just going through the same kinds of shots over and over. But then again, maybe some of the directors are infinitely better with the format and the actors. Case in point, Choose Me is immediately divine, both in direction (Andy Ackerman) and writing (Marsha Myers). It’s funny from the start, without going in too hard on any of the characters (or even supporting cast). The show’s immediately got a better sense of itself. I wonder if Myers and Ackerman team up again; fingers crossed.

This episode’s about Terry Farrell getting hockey tickets and deciding to torture Becker (Ted Danson) and Jake (Alex Désert) over who gets to go with her. She’s finally got personality, gumption, a sense of humor. It’s a really nice, really immediate turn for the positive.

So that’s the A plot, then Danson’s got a B plot involving a disease he can’t crack no matter what he tries (including turning his hookup with fellow doc Colleen Quinn—who’s really good for someone almost no credits—into a cram session), while Farrell and Désert are contending with the return of Bob (Saverio Guerra). Guerra’s phenomenal. His absurdity brings the show a very nice sense of balance. When Danson mocks someone, it’s usually just a regular guy. Guerra’s a caricature of a caricature of a jackass. So when he’s a target, it’s just works better.

Yes, it does suggest some of the key to “Becker” is finding the right person to mob and bully, but… it’s a sitcom and Guerra’s an intentional creep (though not too much of a creeper).

Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith are mostly just occasional support for Danson, but Winston’s got an amazing flight attendant bit. She’s always about to laugh too, but pulls it in. I wonder if Winston did it in the first take or if she lost it. It’s a great scene. She’s awesome. And Smith has a really good scene at the end.

Myers and Ackerman make all the difference.

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