Terry Farrell

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.

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) 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) s01e14 – Larry Spoke

This episode of “Becker” has Steven Wright guest starring, so even though it’s not the best writing for Steven Wright, it’s still at least great whenever Wright is on screen.

Wright’s a new patient of Ted Danson’s who hears God. God’s name is Larry and Larry tells Steven Wright to repaint his apartment all the time. Not the funniest situation, but Wright makes it great. It’s actually sort of strange to see some middling plot device so perfectly executed as Wright doesn’t seem very CBS sitcom at all. He’s in jarring contrast to the rest of the show, even when the rest of the show is totally serviceable.

In addition to Wright, Danson’s dealing with a slowly dying patient, Nathan Davis, and the patient’s impatient yuppie daughter, Mary-Joan Negro. It’s not a funny subplot, but a depressing one and it’s borderline unpleasant. Especially juxtaposed against the absurdity of Wright on this show.

The episode also has Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith stopping in at Terry Farrell’s diner for the first time. Almost more interesting—they all just talk about how obnoxious it is to deal with Danson—it also implies something about Winston and Smith’s life outside the workplace. They walk to the train together, at least on this day, which is kind of nice. Especially since Winston and Smith are in the middle of this C plot about Smith keeping a nice jacket her dry cleaner gave to her by accident.

Though the end of the episode is a little too much; all of a sudden wants to comment on Danson’s apparent atheism versus everyone else’s religiosity. Sure, Wright’s plot brings in the discussion of God… but it’s not like it’s a great concept or anything. It’s great because it’s Steven Wright doing a sitcom guest spot playing Steven Wright. His comebacks are consistently hilarious throughout the episode. The holier than thou finale really misses Wright, who doesn’t get to participate. He’s already had his big finale. The rest is regular cast wrap-up.

Still, there are a lot of solid laughs throughout. Thanks to Wright, yes, but also some with Winston and Smith.

Maybe if Danson were more enthusiastic about the hard drama stuff with Negro, but he’s still sitcom star here.

Uneven or not, it’s nice to have the laughs.

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.

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) s01e10 – P.C. World

There are some weird optics to P.C. World. You’ve got Ted Danson, who just six years earlier burned out due to a really bad public blackface incident and is coming back with this “Becker” show, reformed. Now, Danson’s gone on to be one of the least problematic Hollywood liberals and a damn fine actor, but in 1999… Danson getting to aha an East Coast liberal type (Robert Joy) on the radio? It was optics.

See, Joy was at Danson’s breakfast place and heard Danson yelling about how he hates rap music, making fun of Alex Désert’s blindness and possibly through in a Black jab (related to the rap music?), and saying “you people” to the Asian American guy (Phil Nee) who has just hit Danson’s bar. Now, we all know it’s okay because Danson’s not racist, he’s just an exceptional asshole. It would probably would better if writer Michael Markowitz’s rants were better or Jeff Melman’s direction was better. Markowitz also appears as the radio show host interviewing Danson and Joy. He’s more fun as an actor.

Then there’s this whole subplot about Hattie Winston being okay with Shawnee Smith selling cosmetics from the doctor’s office because Smith’s got the skin care secrets now. I’d think there’d be some kind of ethical violation, patients rights or something, especially since Smith’s doing it in one of those direct selling pyramid schemes. The subplot gives Smith one of her biggest focuses in the series so far, but it’s not a good subplot. It’s not a good focus. She’s fine, but she’s just being silly—as she becomes the make-up “dealer”—not funny or even good. It’s a waste of a subplot. Versus the waste of a main plot.

“Becker” had shown some major improvements the previous couple of episodes, but this episode learned none of their positive lessons. The misanthropy vs. bigotry thing ends up being a cop out, which is weird since the best scene in the episode is when Black man Earl Billings stops going to doctor Danson because of Danson’s bravado.

It’s like someone said, hey, maybe let’s take this seriously. And then someone else said, no, let’s have Danson stick it to the performative liberal.

Zing.

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