Sometimes you want to go where everybody loathes your name. That’s the case with Dr. John Becker, the ranting new alter ego of a fella named Ted Danson. He’s giving this post- “Cheers” sitcom thing a second try, this time following “Everybody Loves Raymond” with his own “Everybody Hates Johnny” on Monday nights. If the retooled “Becker” feels a bit one-note from the outset, it also percolates with potential.
While some may outright reject the idea of Sam Malone with a stethoscope, Danson looks far more comfortable in this brash, cynical character than he ever did on his short-lived CBS effort “Ink.”
And he has the benefit here of some unusually biting, sacred cow-slapping dialogue in the pilot from creator and exec producer Dave Hackel. But you get the feeling that Hackel weasels out a bit by ultimately giving Becker a heart of mush.
Becker is a Bronx doc who holds the world at arm’s length and hangs out at a very un-“Cheers”-like diner, where his arrival clears the place of everyone but its comely proprietor, Reggie (Terry Farrell), and a blind customer named Jake (Alex Desert). Becker marches in and launches into a nonstop tirade about talkshows, pollution, used cars, car salesmen and humanity in general.
Back in his overcrowded office, Becker puts it on the line when an obese patient starts to get snippy: “If you care about your wife and kids, I want you to remember this one word: salad.”
But the belligerent doc has a soft spot for an adorable kid named M.J. (Robert Bailey Jr.), who is HIV-positive. That diagnosis forces Becker to contact the doctor whose wife he stole. She’s now Becker’s ex, too. Dealing with a kid this sick causes Becker to say of Jesus Christ, “He and I don’t have a real good working relationship.”
The shot at organized religion almost qualifies “Becker” as courageous. The show surely wears its pessimism on its sleeve and invites viewers to reject its protagonist. But Danson’s comic instincts are sharp enough so that he understands how to get in his licks and retain his considerable likability.
Yet while Danson is surrounded by a sprightly core of supporting players (Farrell in particular is very good), “Becker” will sink or swim based not on its acting (Danson’s presence notwithstanding) but its attitude. This is a show that doesn’t feel the need to constantly tap-dance. It dares to stomp a little bit, to have some sting, to risk some political incorrectness.
Not that “Becker” is a leap forward in primetime comedy. It’s simply that watching it — flaws and all — makes you realize just how lily-livered most of the competition is.