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TELEVISION REVIEW

Danson's 'Becker' Provides Humor With a Dark Side

November 02, 1998|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Ted Danson plays an iconoclastic doctor in "Becker," a rare new sitcom whose humor is detectable without a stethoscope.

This series is a huge improvement over the short-lived Brian Benben comedy that it replaces and is much more compatible with its lead-in, "Everybody Loves Raymond."

"Becker" has two primary locales. One is a diner where Danson's opinionated protagonist relentlessly blows steam in the presence of the owner (Terry Farrell) and a blind newsstand operator (Alex Desert).

The other is his overflowing Bronx clinic where he's assisted by a brassy nurse-receptionist (Hattie Winston) and a new, nipple-ringed nurse's aide (Shawnee Smith) who, just for fun, X-rays her own breasts.

Danson fits nicely here, although John Becker is in part a stock character who hides his soft heart beneath a gruff exterior.

You get that tonight when, after insulting just about everyone else within range--a la Jack Nicholson in "As Good as It Gets"--he goes way out of his way to help a 7-year-old who's HIV-positive. Very sweet, very routine.

It's Becker's outspoken darker side that's far more interesting, his driving hostility creating a tone that separates this series from most other sitcoms and a climate in which edgy humor can flourish.

It does tonight, especially in the diner and in a used car lot, the latter a very funny scene in which a female huckster makes the ever-skeptical Becker a deal that is simply too good for him to accept.

While most other sitcoms have that "pre-owned" smell, "Becker's" aroma is fresh and new.

* "Becker" premieres at 9:30 tonight on CBS. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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