If laughter is the best medicine then multi Emmy award winning former Cheers star Ted Danson can probably write you a prescription. Successfully exorcising the ghost of womanising Boston bar owner Sam Malone in the former series, Danson reinvigorated his career by playing the eponymous M.D. on the sitcom Becker. Created by Dave Hackel, and executive produced by Hackle and Ian Gurvitz, Becker was originally scheduled as a mid-season show, but was brought in early in the 1998 season.
Danson starred as John Becker, an extremely dedicated and very talented doctor, who tends to a medical practice in New York's Bronx. And while a brilliant doctor, he tends to fare rather less well in the traditional bedside manner stakes. Under the guiding hands of Hackel and Gurvitz and the expert comedic playing of Danson, the character of Becker is cleverly portrayed as a multi-faceted character. One who, while possessing a cynical and rather gruff exterior, is sometimes in spite of himself always ready to go the extra mile to help anyone in need. In point of fact, on the surface there appears very little to like about him. Indeed, he often seems to go out of his way to offend those around who try to get close to him. It's this very unwillingness to open himself up and allow his defences to drop, which paradoxically allows the audience to ultimately like and identify with the character. Thanks to sharp writing and the lead actor's innate warmth, charm and acting skills, what could and should have been a fundamentally unlikable character, is instead seen as a vulnerable human being protecting himself from the emotional hazards of the world in the only way he knows how. In many respects Becker is as much a comment of contemporary American society in general as it is a simple situation comedy.
The character of John Becker views the world around him and sees that society has seemingly gone mad, full of maddeningly perplexing inconsistencies and inhabited by people who appear to have lost the ability to just think straight. Becker is basically a simple man who possesses a complex world-view, in many ways much as a child does. The character says whatever comes to his mind irrespective of the appropriateness of the situation or circumstances. He holds nothing back toward anyone. He's the type of character that actually says out loud all of the seemingly vile, evil, reactionary ideas that creep across all of our brains at one time or another. But unlike the majority who believe human decency shouldn't allow such views to be aired, Becker says them anyway. In this respect, the character functions as a combination of mirror to our own repressed views and as a safety valve. Someone who can openly say what we might only dare think with impunity. In this respect, Becker functions on much the same level as earlier characters of this type such as Archie Bunker, or the UK's Alf Garnet. Unfairly limited to cable, satellite TV (Paramount Comedy Channel in the UK), the series more than deserved (but never got) a high profile slot on one of the major terrestrial channels.
Ultimately, razor sharply written, winningly acted and wonderfully abrasive and acerbic in its world-view, Becker proves itself to be more than just a carefully crafted vehicle for its star, Ted Danson. In reality, Becker transcends the narrow confines of the genre of simple situation comedy to make telling and often uncomfortable statements about the foibles and mini madnesses which we encounter in society on a daily basis. In it's distorted fairground mirror way, Becker is close to being as profound as it is funny. A rare combination indeed - one that we should cherish.
Published on November 29th, 2018. Written by Andrea M. Iannuzzi & SRH for Television Heaven.