Comfort and Joy

Season's Greetings From Ted, Drew, and That Kid With His Tongue Stuck to the Pole

As a projection of Hollywood liberalism, this is on the self-valorizing side; venting that would sound fatuous in Bel Air gains bravado from being put in an inner-city doctor's mouth. Since Becker's supposed to be blunt, you also notice when the scripts turn timid— gun nuts he'll abuse up front, but Trent Lott only by implication. Nervous that we'll miss the point, Hackel rather overdoes both the curmudgeonliness and Becker's saintly streak, clumsily switching back and forth without finding the middle ground that would convince us they're aspects of the same person.

The implausible role suits Danson oddly well, because he's always been implausible himself. These days, he looks more than ever like a handsome version of Frankenstein's monster, and his charm's unaccountably baleful underside is a quality that casting directors ignore at their peril. (Too bad the movie Danson was born to star in— The Ballad of Gary Hart— will never get made.) As Becker's not-quite-love interest— the owner of a neighborhood diner where he seems to be the only customer, which is either sitcom existentialism or a low extras budget— Terry Farrell has a nice, shopworn attractiveness, and it's a relief that Hattie Winston, as Becker's capable African American office manager, gets to play a human being instead of an earthy-sassy cliché. But while Alex Desert is very enjoyable as the blind newsstand owner Becker bonds with, I do wonder about the sort of Hollywood liberalism that feels compelled to give a black guy a handicap to ensure that the white hero, and/or audience, can relax in his presence.

Frankenstein's monster as inner-city good guy
Pak Fung Wong
Frankenstein's monster as inner-city good guy

All of which does hold my interest more than Becker's more successful lead-in— Everybody Loves Raymond, whose title everybody but me agrees with. Nagged into paying attention by Entertainment Weekly, I've spent the last few weeks catching up, and for the life of me I can't see what's to flip for. Not that it's bad, exactly; it's just . . . oh, all right: I can't stand Ray Romano's stupid, hangdog, petulantly doleful face. His idea of how to make comedy out of self-pity is to treat it as justified, validating rather than ridiculing the boomer narcissism that locates everybody else— parents, kids, you name it— on a scale that runs from nuisance to spiritual wound. But this is so plainly an idiosyncratic reaction that I've been racking my brains to remember the loathsome grade-school classmate that Dolores thinks Romano must remind me of— my version of A Christmas Story's fur-hatted playground bully.

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