Who: “The Michael J. Fox Show.” currently airs on network TV, specifically on NBC, Thursdays at 9:30 PM.
What: “The Michael J. Fox Show,” a situation comedy marking the comeback of Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly himself, none other than Michael J. Fox. The actor, who has been famously diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease since the nineties, has been away from series television since his diagnosis and his stint on Spin City. The show parallels Fox’s real life comeback; the main character, Mike Henry, is a former network news anchor that retires due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease but decides to return to the news after he realizes he still has some energy to devote to work and after he drives his family and himself crazy staying at home. The show also deals with the family’s adjustment to his diagnosis as well as to his decision to reenter the workforce.
When: The series premiered on NBC, Thursday, September 26, 2013, at 9:00 PM.
Where: The show is set in New York City at the NBC local news affiliate in Rockefeller Center as well at the Henrys’ home apartment.
Why: I have always been in love with Michael J. Fox, ever since his Family Ties and Alex P. Keaton days. He is a truly charming actor with great delivery, a good off-screen nature, and a willingness to be self-deprecating, both through his characters and his off-screen personae. Plus, this is his big comeback; he hasn’t been on television for more than a special or a rare guest appearance since his diagnosis, and since the show was incorporating his condition rather than avoiding it, I wanted to see how it would all turn out. I felt my inner child and hard core devotion spring into action at the mere mention that Michael J. Fox was returning to TV. I wanted to watch this show to support Michael J. Fox! For better or for worse.
How – as in How Was It?
The pilot/premiere rating scale:
***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING. HOLY SMOKES!
**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing. I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.
*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens. There are things I like, and things I don’t. We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.
** – I will give it three episodes. Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together. No matter how unlikely.
* – Pass on this one, guys. It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.
The Michael J. Fox Show = ****
Mike Henry (Fox) is a journalist and news anchor who resigned well before retirement when diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Though he still has high energy and spirits, he is driving his family crazy at home, including his wife, two sons (one younger, one college dropout) and daughter as well as his sister, who seems to live in the same building and spends an inordinate amount of time in his apartment. He happens to run into his former boss while spending time with his kids, and his boss convinces him to reconsider returning to work. Mike toys with the idea, and his family supports it, but he doesn’t want to work out of sympathy and/or pity for his condition but because he still has something to offer to the world, to his family, and to himself.
For many reasons, The Michael J. Fox Show, should read as corny and contrived, but the program ultimately turns out to be quite funny, almost entirely because Fox remains as winning as ever. His comedic skills have not been diminished by his hiatus from regular screen work, and the writing for the show is actually sharp, choosing to confront the issue of the actor’s real life diagnosis via the character’s fictional diagnosis and injecting humor and heart into the proceedings.
The supporting actors in the ensemble are a bit of a mixed bag; the three children could be potentially annoying based on the archetypes they have been given: the college dropout with intelligence and misguided ambition; the daughter trying to find her place in the world by demonstrating how open and accepting she is while still appearing to be somewhat sheltered and naive; and the little boy comic relief, whose character is currently entirely too two dimensional to be endearing. The actress playing his wife appears to have good chemistry with Mr. Fox, but she has not found the comedic button that comes so natural to Mike, the trademark of his livelihood and career. Also, the sister smacks of Eddie Haskell or any other “busybody neighbor” character, with the addition of being the single, older, woman seemingly desperate for any kind of attention to validate her self worth. The comedy in this show is almost completely provided by Fox, reacting to his eccentric family and to his situation, fortunate or unfortunate though it may be, with the sardonic wit that made Alex P. Keaton so lovable, despite his judgmental attitude and conservative leanings (in contrast to his hippie parents).
The four star rating stems directly from the jokes about Parkinson’s Disease that are prevalent in the first two episodes, which aired back to back when the series premiered. While the choice to confront rather than skirt the issue is potentially healthy and useful for opening up a dialogue and may even lend other Parkinson’s sufferers a reason to laugh, focusing on Mike’s condition for too long also has the potential to backfire, either because doing so will desensitize others into thinking such jokes are okay out in the real world or will simply undermine the seriousness of the disease and the resultant effects on the diagnosed and his/her loved ones. It’s a fine line that, this viewer believes, no other actor could truly walk besides Fox. Fortunately, his wry smile and general affability will help keep the show grounded, in and around the actor’s condition, as long as he is the primary reactor to the situations he and his family face.
The Michael J. Fox Show is recommendable to anyone who likes Michael J. Fox;, frankly, millions of people do. How could one not like him? He’s a likable guy. Assuming such a taciturn viewer exists, the show is all about and staged all around Fox and his condition without being manipulative about these topics, which is refreshing. Viewers who don’t like Fox (which I assume are phantoms and don’t really exist) should probably avoid the show.
THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:
Too early to tell. The Crazy Ones on CBS won the ratings race on the night, but NBC is the most beleaguered of the networks. The show could enjoy a long future as long it stays true to the star in the show’s title and his ability to make people laugh. Let’s see how it fares.