Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future, Spin City) is such a beloved star whom viewers have so long yearned to see return to television in a regular series role that this fall’s THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW on NBC may just be the year’s most anticipated new comedy. In it, Michael plays Mike, a newscaster with Parkinson’s disease who leaves his job as a popular newscaster, but then decides to return to work, much to the relief of his family. It’s semi-biographical.
Most people don’t know a lot about Parkinson’s, but the obvious symptom is the incessant shaking. Like Fox himself, Mike suffers from this ailment, which makes it easier for the actor to inhabit the role. It takes very little time, though, to see Mike as any other person, and get past the disease. In the twenty-two minute “Pilot,” this is possible early on, a credit to Fox.
The character should please those looking for the comeback, as Mike has the wit and charm we’re accustomed to seeing from Fox. It’s easy to see why everyone loves him so much, both the actor and the character, and not just because of the bravery he has at fighting his illness.
The Parkinson’s is not ignored. Quite the opposite, really. THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW plays on the perception others have of Fox, and the things they think about him or say to him. People on the street feel empowered enough to make comments and share stories of their own afflicted relations, and his boss at news network, Harris (Wendell Pierce, Treme), is happy to take advantage of the situation when advertising for Mike’s triumphant comeback. All of this makes Mike uncomfortable, but it’s just something he has to deal with, which he does with grace.
Inside his home, however, he is not worshipped and fawned over. Like most families, Mike’s doesn’t see him as anything special, though they love him. Daughter Eve (Juliette Goglia, Easy A) thinks nothing wrong with milking Mike’s condition for a school project, which thankfully the teacher sees right through. Mike’s sister, Leigh (Katie Finneran, Wonderfalls), mooches off of him for an apartment, then complains when it’s in the basement. No one will sit down and eat together as a family. Everyone wants Mike out of the house during the day.
And that’s actually the problem with THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW: it’s just a normal family sitcom. There isn’t any special or notable about their interactions. School assignments, avoiding college, a broken dishwasher, sparring (then bonding) siblings, kids who thinks their father is lame; these are things faced in many others shows on the air, and this one handles them in much the same, familiar manner. It’s just like beloved classics like Everybody Loves Raymond, Full House, and Home Improvement.
I understand it is hard to find a fresh take on this genre at the moment, which so few have managed to do, but if it can’t be done, it shouldn’t be attempted. Fox is an accomplished performer with many great credits to his name, but this seems to be a waste of his talent. Perhaps the type of show he is most familiar with, Spin City and Family Ties, has just grown stale, and he needs to make a bigger departure, like he has during his recurring stint on The Good Wife these past years. The writing is just way too mediocre here.
Which is not to say that people won’t watch it. It does feel quite good to see Fox back in my living room, doing what he does best, even if the material is lackluster. He deserves a good show, and even if this isn’t it, perhaps it’s a stepping stone to something better. In the meantime, the novelty of his comeback combined with the sympathy many feel for him may just be enough to keep THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW going.
I would like to say I was impressed with what Betsy Brandt brings to the role of Mike’s wife, Annie, not necessarily because she stands out among the others, but because she blends in so well. Annie is nothing like Brandt’s recent role of Marie in the extremely popular series Breaking Bad, and so it’s cool to see that she can differentiate herself even in two characters that could potentially be very similar. She melds well with Fox and their television children.
THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW premieres Thursday, September 26th on NBC.