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Becker: "Papa Does Preach"

By John Shaobek of Astraea

Dr. John Becker (Ted Danson) is the usual dedicated, gifted TV physician. He will go out of his way to help people in need, but there any similarity between him and Marcus Welby ends abruptly. The foul-tempered doctor has seen too much of the world and its troubles and does not hesitate to vent his spleen upon whoever is nearby. He is brutally honest with his patients and has even had to take anger management classes after some of his hateful behaviour backfired on him during a malpractise trial. He has a tiny storefront practise in the Bronx, assisted by longsuffering Margaret (Hattie Winston) and ditzy nurses' aide Linda (Shawnee Smith) who's perpetually on the make. Despite his evil disposition, he has several friends, including the lady (Terry Farrell) who runs his favourite diner, and a blind newsdealer (Alex Desert) who has his stand in a corner there.

In the episode called "Papa Does Preach" (referring to a subplot about a friend of Becker's who becomes a street kid's mentor), a shy, slightly nebbishy man named Jim Reynolds (French Stewart) presents for an appointment concerning the results of a cholesterol test. Compassionate Margaret is happy to see Jim is "doing so well," and explains to Linda that when Jim first came in to see Dr. Becker, he had "a multiple personality disorder. Two completely different people living inside of him." Linda asks what the other personality, Jerry, was like, and upon hearing that he was "loud, obnoxious, rude and despicable," she thinks he sounds attractive. "Imagine going to bed with one man and having no idea who you're going to wake up with." Margaret informs her that Dr. Becker referred Jim to a psychiatrist "and now he is completely normal." Linda is less than thrilled to hear this.

Becker flatly compares Jim to a pound of bacon and tells him he has really high cholesterol and could die. (Good move; the actor playing the Reynolds group is not overweight, only appears a bit out of shape. Message: Fat people aren't the only ones to have heart problems.) He says Jim has not been taking the pills he was prescribed earlier, but Jim says there's a problem -- Jerry is "back." Becker asks if Jerry is present; Jim says "Yeah! You know the deal. You never know when he's going to come out." Becker: "I thought Dr. Geary gave you a new medication that kept Jerry away." Jim: "Yeah. He did. But then Jerry hid the pills before I could take them." Big laugh.

Okay, so we have a stereotype relatively nice guy / obnoxious jackass setup, and multiple personality can be cured by medication. Ooo kay...

Becker says that the whole "extra personality thing is up to Dr. Geary", and that he must consult with him about that -- he's much more worried about the cholesterol. Jim insists that he has been living a healthy life, but on the way home from the gym, Jerry stops off for chili dogs. Becker suggests simply reasoning with Jerry, but Jim says they're not speaking. Becker says he himself must speak to Jerry then, and suggests Jim make an appointment for him. "Just tell him you're taking him to a strip joint and then drop him off here." Jim replies "Okay. But he's going to have to drive. I lost my license." How unrealistic can you get, besides the implication that a crime has been committed (if they've got licenses under both names, they're breaking the law).

Jerry arrives for his appointment the same afternoon, with a black jacket and a swagger. Clearly, he cares much more than Jim about his appearance. He immediately makes sassy comments about how nice the women look. Linda is interested, but Margaret is not impressed. Dr. Becker does another cholesterol rant, reminding Jerry "if Jim dies, you die." Jerry, who obviously loves life and wants to enjoy it as long as possible, suggests that Becker tell Jim to stop hiding the cholesterol pills; he himself would have been willing to take them, but never even saw them. Jim is apparently phobic about the side effects of all medication, hid the pills and palmed the irresponsible behaviour off on his "obnoxious alter". That's a pretty sophisticated piece of work for a sitcom. This is the first time it has been seen. (Try imagining Lennie and Charlie Keller in the same situation). Jerry insists he will take the pills if Becker provides them, but that Jim will only throw them away. Becker does the stereotypical therapist move -- the one you've seen a million times on Geraldo -- of looking intently at his client and saying "Jim, are you in there? I want to talk to you." Long pause. Finally, Jerry snarks "Do I LOOK like Jim?!" and stalks out, to much applause from this group.

When Jim returns later, Linda tells him she met Jerry. Jim assures her that he and Jerry are two completely different people. Linda is sexually aroused and asks if the two ever play "Canadian Doubles". Margaret scolds her for being excited by something so "sad"; "What must have happened in that man's life to get him to this point where he is so confused?" Only a bit of lip service to the Wilburian paradigm, but again suggesting to the public that multiples are confused, and that something terrible must have happened to make them that way. Like the tossed-off line about a "new medication", and like a very similar line in A Beautiful Mind, this is the mental health system's way of keeping our thinking in line.

Jim shows Dr. Becker how Jerry communicated with him about the appointment by writing on the palm of his hand: "Go see Becker and tell him he's an... " Becker confronts him with Jerry's story. When Jim denies it, Becker suggests that he take a pill then and there, but Jim is unable to swallow it and explains that he really is worried about side effects. Becker is unmoved: "They also cause irregular periods. Are you worried about getting those too?" Given who we're dealing with, that's a very good question. Becker again says he must consult Dr. Geary; Jerry comes out and gives Becker a ration for failing to convince Jim to take the pills. He storms out, Becker shouts at him to get back into the exam room. Jim comes back in and once again insists he can't take the pills. Becker snaps "Just take the pills, you crazy bastards." The response is incoherent weeping. Becker asks "Jim, Jerry, who'm I talking to here?" The reply: "My name is Stephanie, and I'm this many years old" (holding up three fingers).

Becker consoles the child and leaves her for a minute, saying "You gonna be alright here all al.... oh yeah, like you're all alone." Linda sneaks into the exam room as Becker enters his office to call Dr. Geary. He explains to Margaret that "Jim and Jerry have had a child."

A moment later, Linda pokes her head into the office and says she's handled everything and that they'll be glad to take the pills; "I'm having tea with Jim on Friday and going dancing with Jerry on Saturday; but right now I have to take Stephanie to the zoo." She leaves, leading Stephanie, who is sucking on a lollipop.

What we liked about this episode was that the emphasis was not on a mental disease, but on the difficulties of persons in a family with very different temperaments trying to get along and take care of the body. Note that the "bad alter" is the one who's willing to take responsibility for the body. Becker calls them crazy, but only because he's fed up with their inability to get consensus, not because he really thinks they're psychotic; he insists repeatedly that he really knows nothing about "extra personalities" and is desperate to contact someone more knowledgeable (in another scene, he is shown poring through a number of books, probably by Colin Ross and so on). He treats them as separate persons, including Stephanie, in spite of her sudden appearance. His focus is on keeping them physically alive; he doesn't really care that they are multiple, except insofar as it's keeping their body from getting necessary medication. We give it a B -- it would have been a B+ if Margaret hadn't had to preach about "what made him this way". We'd have given even higher marks if they hadn't given us that bull about "medication to keep Jerry away," if something had been said about the Reynolds being successfully employed, and if they hadn't made that crack about their driver's license.

pavilion @ karitas . net
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