TV's Funniest Sitcom Doctors
It's Not All Serious
The role of doctors on most television shows are largely relegated to drama because, for the most part, medical matters can often be quite serious.
Conversely, when lives aren’t exactly on the line, some TV doctors can bring their share of the funny.
The following non-comprehensive, unofficial list will prove my point.
Should you feel that I have missed anyone, please bring it to my attention via the comment section below.
Dr. Howard Sheinfeld
Divorce is Very Expensive
Character: Dr. Howard Sheinfeld Actor: Elliott Gould Show: E/R
As Sheinfeld, Gould played a down on his luck eye, ear, nose and throat specialist who took on a second job as an on-call emergency room physician to keep up on his alimony debts.
With a steady flow of guest stars as patients and a very-talented supporting cast of hospital staff, Gould could adjust his talents to be both a straight man and deliver the punch lines when needed.
At the same time, he would easily hold his own with the rest of the cast, an overlooked testament to his comedic ability.
Sadly, the show only ran for twenty-two episodes in the mid-eighties.
It almost exclusively is remembered as the one of two shows of the same name that had George Clooney in its cast.
It’s a shame because Gould deserved better though, to his credit, he went on to much better things.
Check Out The Co-Stars
Dr. JD Dorian
Zach Braff's Wide Range of Skills
Character: JD Dorian Actor: Zach Braff Show: Scrubs
Dr. Dorian brought laughter multiple ways, effortlessly shifting between glib straight man to lost soul in a soul-crushing bureaucracy to a completely terrified, bullied man with caught up in a slapstick moment.
Zach Braff’s immense comedic versatility brought him considerable (and much deserved) critical acclaim as well as a number of award nominations and wins.
Sacred Heart Crazy
Dr. Lilith Sternin-Crane
Oh, So Cold
Dr. Sternin-Crane was, figuratively speaking, was back handed with the “ice princess” tag.
It couldn’t be further from the truth. She was a genius and highly inept socially. Despite her wickedly cutting remarks which were so on point yet so soul crushing, particularly to her ex-husband, Fraser, she seemingly cared about things being right and had no time for the burdens of social conventions.
Hmm… that rings a bell. Seems like there is a new…male version of that same sort on TV these days. He’s a doctor though not affiliated with any medical field and you absolutely cannot ever sit in his spot. Not seeing the similarities?
Anyhow, back to Lilith. She’s a one of a kind character who, in the actresses own words, was sweet with “no idea how to react to other people.”
Lilith was also labelled as uptight. It’s a fair accusation. Actually, it was something of a compliment. Because Ms. Neuwirth appeared to constantly be holding Lilith in check.
Lilith (as well as Fraser) appeared in no less than three sitcoms-although in Wings it was a guest appearance. Still, I think it’s some sort of record and a testament to the character’s popularity.
Lilith's First Appearance
Dr. Tim Whatley
The Labelmaker Debacle
It is one thing to give away a gift; it’s altogether different when you give it to the gift giver’s friend.
Perhaps it’s not the most prudent thing to have sexual dalliances in the same treatment room while you are supposed to be tending to a patient. But that seemed to be his preference for fun.
The dentist effortlessly walked the line between creepy and contemptible. He could have broken bad at any time. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
A Little Laughing Gas
Dr. Linda Freeman
She Knows and She Really Doesn't Care
Character: Dr. Linda Freeman Actress: Jane Lynch Show: Two and a Half Men
The thing about Dr. Freeman is that she was crazy witty. It seemed like every retort was a wicked smart comeback and it was funnier than anything her patients, the Harper brothers, would ever say.
Add to that, her blouses were bright and highly stylish, looking far better on her than Charlie Harper’s asymmetrical and seemingly endless bowling shirts.
Like a true, highly trained professional, she was experienced in getting to the point and often did so without missing a beat or an opportunity to remind patients to keep their payment balance at zero.
Freud Would Have Been Proud
Dr. John Becker
He Just Wants To Be Alone
Character: Dr. John Becker Actress: Ted Danson Show: Becker
John Becker was a highly-skilled health professional who suffered from constant exasperation. The sole cause of his irritation was people.
Complicating his character-based dilemma was the right-between-the-eyes point that his career choice involved helping people.
Since he couldn’t figure a way out of his situation, the best he could do was suffer the foolishness of others to the point of breaking.
Becker was considered a misanthrope (someone who hated people). Perhaps the real truth was that he was an idealist and felt that people could do so much better but seemingly always settled for less.
The Horrors of Portable Toilets
Dr. Leo Spaceman
Practices on Himself
Character: Leo Spaceman Actor: Chris Parnell Show: Thirty Rock
Dr. Leo Spaceman was an integrity-challenged, alleged physician who spent his work days constantly misdiagnosing patients.
Career-wise, Spaceman was walking litigation.
Perhaps he could have been much better at his work but he was either too incompetent or too stoned to care.
He seemed a big vague on getting to the truth. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate honesty; it’s just that dancing around things to his version of reality.
In addition to his alleged medical skills, he also fancied himself as a capable dentist though it was never clear if he had a degree, from some sort of paper mill, to that end.
Not that he would let such a formality get in his way.
Incompetence That Spanned Generations
If Only People Would Listen To Him
Character: Dr. Frank Burns Actor: Larry Linville Show: M.A.S.H.
Frank Burns was a sniveling man, deeply ensconced in a highly rigid world of social values, none of which seemed to matter when it came to himself.
His concept of truth being an abstract notion made him more suited for running a political campaign than caring for the gravely wounded American soldiers in the Korean War.
His professional skills were suspect to the point of prompting his colleagues to wonder, aloud, how the man got through medical school.
Burns, with a wife and family stateside, wiled away the hours by pursuing passionate charge nurse, Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. It was one of the worst kept secrets in the medical outpost where both were stationed.
When Margaret dumped Frank, he went out of his mind and was soon shipped back home.
The greatness of playing such a creep was a compliment to the talents of actor, Larry Linville. He was consistent talent, often overlooked by the enormous wealth of talent in the M.A.S.H. cast.
On a personal note, I very briefly met Mr. Linville towards the later part of his life. (He did not look well.)
While I would have liked to ask him many questions, I simply thanked him for the great job he did as Frank Burns and bringing the laughs.
He was a seriously under-appreciated actor.
Frank The Teacher
Obey The Doctor Or Else
Character: Granny Clampett Actress: Irene Ryan Show: Beverly Hillbillies
Doctor Granny was a different, and in her estimation, an extremely adept M.D. though in her family, the initials stood for “Mountain Doctor.”
Hers was an in-your-face style of healing patients. She made house calls, regardless of whether the patient asked for her services. Doctor Granny’s method of handling patients involved a take-no-prisoners type of aggression.
She believed in her own Smoky Mountain style of healing and was especially partial to liberal doses of what she called “rheumatis’ medicine,” something the rest of her family knew (but never let on) was little more than moonshine.
One of her bigger challenges was taking on special guest star and Mr. Universe, Dave Draper (playing himself) with the plan of healing the champion bodybuilder from the horrid sickness of the ”barbell bloat.”
It certainly was news to Mr. Draper.
Dr. Granny's Plan For Politicians
Dr. John "Hawkeye" Pierce
The Pride of Crab Apple Cove
Character: Hawkeye Pierce Actor: Alan Alda Show: M.A.S.H.
Dr. John “Hawkeye” Pierce was the heart and soul of the hyper-dystopian 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) outpost during the Korean War.
He was a gem of a trauma surgeon who deftly managed the horrors of putting together the bodies of men destroyed by war.
His methods of coping with the horrific stress was primarily drinking alcohol…”only to excess”; cavorting with nurses; creative practical jokes, largely on bureaucracy-loving goofs like Frank Burns, and raging against the insanity of the war machine.
Despite his intensity, Hawkeye always kept his empathetic nature, along with his heart, on his sleeve.
Though he largely was deployed laughter as a coping mechanism, he could change emotions in the blink of an eye.
His range and depth was solely due to the incredible talent of Alan Alda. For his portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce, the actor earned 18 Emmy nominations and 5 Best Actor Awards. He also won 6 Golden Globes.
It is a just validation of his incredible work.