11/16/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
CBS (Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET)
The Cheers bar closed back in 1993, but everybody still knows Ted Dan-son's name. CBS figures he has another hit sitcom in him, even if his Ink did dry up on the network two seasons ago. So here's Danson as John Becker, an abrasive but dedicated physician in general practice in New York City's borough of The Bronx. Becker is a little like the irascible old Brooklyn G.P. played by Paul Muni in the 1959 movie The Last Angry Man—except this doctor is middle-aged, tall and handsome.
If you happened to catch Danson several months ago in the Showtime drama Thanks of a Grateful Nation, you know he's fully capable of playing a man who's both principled and a royal pain. The problem with this new series (which premiered Nov. 2) is not the star's performance but the writers' unwillingness to take the character far enough. In the episodes we've seen, the doctor's diatribes have been directed at relatively safe targets: daytime talk shows, a bad driver, a noisy neighbor (okay, he did throw in a gratuitously nasty reference to the neighbor's immigration status). We laugh when Becker bluntly chastises a patient for his obesity or insults a would-be swinger seeking Viagra. But his devotion to an HIV-positive child (he even pays the bill for the boy's special treatment) is quickly advanced as evidence that this healer is a good guy underneath. And that pretty diner owner (Terry Farrell) who professes not to fancy regular customer Becker? It's all too clear she really does. The show would be better if the doc had more bite to go with his bark.
Bottom Line: Medical sitcom's condition is only fair