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TV Tonight: Michael J. Fox Is Better Than ‘The Michael J. Fox Show’

An extraordinary star returns in a very ordinary sitcom.

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Eric Liebowitz/NBC

The best thing about Michael J. Fox’s return to a starring role on network TV is Michael J. Fox’s return to a starring role on network TV.

I mean that two ways: First, The Michael J. Fox Show proves that Parkinson’s disease has not taken away the precision delivery Fox had for years on Family Ties and Spin City (if you needed it proven after his remarkable guest turn on Rescue Me and his delectably manipulative lawyering on The Good Wife). And second, the ways in which the comedy uses his experience, irreverently but not snarkily, is by far the most remarkable part of the show. The problem with The Michael J. Fox Show is how unremarkable everything else in it is.

The pilot establishes quickly that Parkinson’s will be part of the show and fair game for comedy: Mike Henry (Fox) was a news anchor in New York City until he left his job because of his condition. He’s been a stay-at-home-dad for years, but the family is eager for him to get out of the house, and when his old producer Harris (Wendell Pierce) asks him to get back behind the desk, he accepts. But, he says, “I don’t want a pity job.”

The show has fun with the idea of the network milking Mike’s return–to his chagrin, his affiliate cuts a promo reel to Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero” and contrives to get him spotlighted by Matt Lauer. (“That guy’s aces!” says Harris, a bit of intranetwork logrolling that’s perhaps the funniest line in the pilot.) But to his family Mike is no pity case or human-interest story, just a regular, sometimes exasperating dad and husband. As they sit down to a celebratory breakfast after Mike’s return to the air, he shakily, slowly serves out a spoonful of scrambled eggs. There’s a tense pause, until wife Annie (Betsy Brandt) interrupts: “Can you not have a personal victory right now? We are starving!”

(PHOTOS: The Multitalented Michael J. Fox)

This first episode isn’t hilarious, but it’s very promising. It has an idea and a take. This doesn’t need to be a sitcom all about living with Parkinson’s per se: it’s a sitcom about a man re-changing his life. Is he the same guy after years home with his kids? Does he want to be? Does he still have what it takes at work? Will it be weird? That’s a fertile conflict; those are stakes. It’s something that can fuel story and character and, let’s hope, laughs.

Then, in the next two episodes sent to critics, that idea just–disappears. (Not the Parkinson’s; the episodes involve a lot of prescription-side-effects humor.) Mike’s transition back to TV takes all of two minutes at the end of the pilot. He’s just back at work now. And what’s left is what worked least well in the pilot, a mundane, dated-feeling family comedy that feels like it’s missing its laugh track. (And it’s supplemented by a quickly aging modern device: the talk-to-the-camera confessional.) The remaining show has no focus. Why is it telling this story, about this family, at this point in their lives? It doesn’t know itself or its purpose beyond, “Michael J. Fox, in a family sitcom, on TV.”

Even that might be fine, given the strong cast assembled here, if the writing were up to the on-screen talent. Breaking Bad’s Brandt makes the switch from drama easily (though in a generic understanding-wife role), Pierce is dandy as a comedy version of his Bunk Moreland from The Wire, and Fox is Fox: as he’s shown in his recent career, he has range and dexterity enough to make Mike simultaneously likeable and kind of a self-centered pain. (The latter he’s done for a few years on The Good Wife, which in a bit part managed to define his character more specifically than this show does with him as the star.)

The three episodes NBC screened, especially the two past the pilot, aren’t bad, really; they’re studiously un-bad to the point of blandness. The supporting characters are thin types–a college-dropout older son, eye-rolling daughter, cute younger kid. And Katie Finneran’s irritating-sister is awful, essentially a 2013 version of the Wacky Neighbor, whose character definition amounts to: 1) aging, 2) needy, 3) insecure, and 4) boobs! The show as currently conceived is a situation comedy in the most disappointing sense: situations occur not so much to advance any character but because hijinx will ensue. (Daughter Eve brings a lesbian friend home; Leigh tries to write a young-adult novel; Mike gets a crush on a sexy neighbor, played by real-life wife Tracy Pollan.) Even as generic comedy, they don’t pay off.

The reason to hope here is Fox himself, and the fact that, having given The Michael J. Fox Show a full-season order, NBC should be patient enough to give the comedy time to find itself. If the pilot is making the meta-case that Michael J. Fox the actor is a professional whom no one should patronize, it’s right on. The first step is to say that Michael J. Fox the show needs to get better.

VIDEO: 10 Questions for Michael J. Fox

22 comments
JoelPerreault
JoelPerreault

Wendell Pierce sucks. His overall style is unlikable, I don't like seeing his face, and he looks stinky. I tune out to any show with him on it.

nmerczel
nmerczel

I don't understand what everyone is complaining about!  Okay, the first show wasn't that funny.  But after that......I LOVED it!  I sat there laughing out loud.  The show is fun and silly - and even has some good messages.  What more do people want?  Michael J. Fox is a funny, lovable guy.  The plots are never dull.  I sat and watched one episode after another on "Demand" because I couldn't get enough!  Why does everything these days have to be either "dark and edge" or "overly sexual and trashy" in order for people to deem it good?

doctorjohnwarren
doctorjohnwarren

A show shouldn't depend on our memories of an actor in previous shows.  It should stand on its own legs.  This just doesn't have any.  The acting is frenetic and the writing is sophomoric.  I know shows are written by a panel, but it shouldn't show.  In short, it sucks.  Fortunately, White Collar is coming back this week in that timeslot.



lokeanpriest
lokeanpriest

Fox is good but the writing is flat. I would have rather seen darker, crude comedy with shrewd notes. Theres something very generic about the dialogue and character web of this show.

Sydnethia
Sydnethia

Really wanted to like the Michael J. Fox Show, but it is really lacking so much.  The only character I really like is the guy that hired him back to their network.  That's about it.  The other adults are just boring.  

WmKabrich
WmKabrich

I just love the way that the show give you a true look in to the "Progressive (Lib-A-Tard)" life style.   Mom (Liberal art teacher) and dad (A MSM hack) are so cool. Till they are not.  How hypocritical just like the TRUE Lib-A-Tards and it is on the Liberal media home channel (Nothing But Crap).  How great is that.

sandyeggo
sandyeggo

I am willing to give it a chance.  I found myself chuckling quite a bit, needing to watch and listen carefully, as the humor is pretty fast paced.  Here are a few thoughts, with the admission I only watched the first episode:

Please, bring us 'realism'!  Would dad really sit on the dishwasher door?  

Someone has to tell Wendell Pierce to blink when he's delivering his lines to Michael J. Fox.  He blinks in other scenes, with other actors, so I know he can.  ;)  It was... unnatural.  It distracted me.

There was little respect for the Michael J. Fox's desire to have his family sit at the table or have common courtesy, without the overuse of gadgets and poor time management.  It was glossed over and he was summarily dismissed.  It would be refreshing to see a husband and father respected and honored in a sitcom for a change.

The camera angles are obviously necessary due to MJF's height, but... every scene?  It was an odd angle, as a viewer.  Maybe there can be a little variety.  

All in all, looking forward to next week.  

KathyBaker
KathyBaker

I've always been a huge Michael J. Fox fan, but I too found the 'novelty' of the show wear off quickly.  I can always tell when a show is a hit with me or not; if I get distracted by my computer while it's playing, then it's thumbs down....and I was on my computer for the majority of the two episodes.  I have immense respect and empathy for Michaels struggle with Parkinson's, but really, I couldn't understand him when he spoke.  If this were a show 'without' Fox, there would be no show....yawnnn.

nadg44
nadg44

I have been a fan of Michael J Fox from Family Ties on. His talent is beyond the new pilot episode meaning writers step up your game and his on screen wife seems not to have any chemistry with Michael. Very stiff and not fun to see there interaction..But when his real life wife appeared it brought some life and personality to the show. They may want to rethink his on screen spouse..Previous women on spin city had better chemistry ..

MorphySmith
MorphySmith

Fox is NOT better than this show. Nbc and Fox are trying to make MONEY off a show about his disease.

therefore it is ALL about Fox and not in a good way.

gardendistrictdesign
gardendistrictdesign

Phew! I thought it was just me.  I loved Michael in the show, did not like anyone else.  His wife and sister were  stereotypes of so many others before them.  The children annoying and self centered, and they should have used anyone else besides his real life wife for a sexy neighbor.  I just could not buy into any of the characters and I don't hold out much hope that I will like them with time.  P.S. Can't they make a show that the women don't wear makeup when they go to bed?

BeaugardStevens
BeaugardStevens

Michael J. Fox was okay but the writing wasn't good.  The daughter is good, but the grown son I thought was terrible- the show is just not funny-

theherrman
theherrman

wow rough crowd. I tuned it and liked both shows, looked forward to seeing more. Hopefully they survive past the growing pains

BrianHartman
BrianHartman

I really liked the pilot.  Very funny.  The second episode?  Not so much.  The sister made the show almost unwatchable, and the way the whole plot with the "sexy neighbor" played out was just cringe-worthy.  I'm hoping that Fox's wife doesn't make too many repeat appearances on the show.  She's not a bad actress, but it's a plot thread that I would like to see get nipped in the bud.

karfanz
karfanz

it was terrible.. too choppy.. hard to understand what he was saying a lot of the time... and just all around bad.

Michael20202
Michael20202

Love Michael. Really wanted to enjoy the new show but it is seriously unwatchable. Don't like any of the characters or the fast paced A.D.D. pacing but the jokes are flat. Sorry Michael but its painful to watch your new project bomb. Loved your work in the Good Wife.

wil
wil

Dry show. No chemistry. The characters have very little depth. The only one with any level of depth is the Aunt, and she's not all that likeable. Love Fox but I think this is a mistake.
Don't they run these shows through test audiences before airing them?
After watching this, I have to wonder. Its pretty clear that something is missing, or the premise isn't working.
It would be better billed as a drama with some humorous moments.

Jinx
Jinx

As someone with a neurological disorder, I think writers could make super hilarious situations, focusing almost the whole show on his affliction! The writing they did for him on The Larry David Show was wonderful, and really let his talent shine. Almost everyone with any neurological issue loves the guy, but I wish the show l watched had more laughs. He's really a funny actor! Alas, your review details it. The sitcom is doubtful to improve over the bland.

jponiewozik
jponiewozik moderator

@Jinx I'm curious, with your background, what you think of how THE GOOD WIFE writes him as Louis Canning. Not a medical authority but I I think that character is fantastic.