If you thought the new fall series were bad, wait until you see their midseason replacements.
The first arrives tonight on CBS, and it is not a pretty sight. Ted Danson plays Dr. John Becker in "Becker," a sitcom about a doctor who practices in the Bronx and says what's on his mind, no matter who it offends.
The hook is supposed to be that Becker is, in the words of Danson, "an equal-opportunity offender." Danson and executive producer Dave Hackel see the sitcom as a satire of political correctness.
Hackel and Danson believe the show is "breakthrough television." They are wrong. "All in the Family" was breakthrough television. If "Becker" is breakthrough, Don Rickles and "C.P.O. Sharkey" is to the sitcom what "West Side Story" is to musical theater.
Here's some of that cutting-edge anti-PC talk from Becker. In fact, they are the very first words out of his mouth tonight, so you know the producers think the words are not only clever but defining. "You know what's wrong with this country? Those idiot TV talk shows," Becker says. "I watched one last night. I should have just stuck a fork in my eye. It's like America stepped in something and it's scraping off its shoe directly over my TV set. Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones -- they're all broadcasting straight from hell."
zTC Woooo. Tough stuff. You have to be really brave to voice an opinion like that, knocking something everybody loves as much as TV talk shows. Come on. This wouldn't have been cutting-edge 20 years ago when Phil Donahue ruled. And "stick a fork in my eye"? I think that really is a Rickles line. Actually, it's kind of even beneath Rickles' bottom-feeding humor.
I don't mind stupid and shopworn -- if I did, I wouldn't have made it through most of the new fall series. What makes me mad about "Becker" is CBS trying to sell it as daring when it is as intellectually and politically cowardly as they come on network TV.
Because, guess what, even though Becker offends fat people and immigrants, he's really a good and decent person and physician underneath. We know this because he's personally paying for specialized care for one of his patients, a 7-year-old African-American boy with AIDS. And he's doing it in secret, because, like a true philanthropist, he doesn't want anyone to know.
Can you hear me gagging? Isn't there anyone at CBS who's figured out that it is way past time to stop using minority characters to show the largesse and goodness of the great, white male?
As for Danson, the nicest thing I can say about his performance is it is every bit as good as the hack work he did in his last failed sitcom, "Ink." Get a life, Ted. If you don't know how bad "Becker" is, then maybe it's true McLean Stevenson or Tony Danza could have played the bartender at "Cheers" and they would be the guys with the mantel full of Emmys.
One of the big jokes tonight comes in a scene that features Dr. Becker yelling at and insulting an obese patient because he hasn't lost weight since his last visit. "I have one word for you," he says to the man before walking away from him dismissively, "salad."
I have two words about "Becker" for CBS: Cancel it. OK, three: Cancel it fast.
When: 9: 30 tonight
, Where: CBS (WJZ, Channel 13)
Pub Date: 11/02/98