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.
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.
When: The series was canceled as of February sweeps, so this viewer stopped watching.
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’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)
Well, it’s been canceled, for one thing.
This viewer initially rated the pilot four stars, owing largely to Michael J. Fox’s ultimately winning on and off-screen faces that have nothing to do with his Parkinson’s Disease. The dialogue rang sharp in the beginning, walking a fine line of confronting Fox’s real life diagnosis by also confronting it fictionally. And, for the most part, the show stuck to that premise, allowing Fox to make lighthearted pokes at his condition directly while allowing the show to skirt in and around it, doing a dance that never felt awkward, even if the jokes came at the expense of an occasional awkward chuckle.
Yet, the show descended into a bit of a one-note knockoff of Modern Family, particularly when it focused on the children – three of the most annoying children on the planet that could not believably be the offspring of Mr. Fox’s charming Mike Henry and his pleasantly progressive show-wife Annie (Betsy Brandt) – and the ne’er do well for a sister that lives downstairs from them. It stopped being an original take on a family dealing with the degenerative disability of one of its own and started riffing on the misguided notions of the wacky, functionally dysfunctional family, complete with 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 was entirely too two dimensional and overly precocious to be endearing. In other words, it stopped being original altogether, lacking the edge of the ABC sitcom it was emulating and squandering the heart and soul of the show – Michael J. Fox himself – as well as the womanizing boss Harris (Wendell Pierce), who was good for a few one-liners and the occasionally hilarious physical comedy bit.
In truth, the comedy in this show was 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). And while dancing around Fox’s/Henry’s Parkinson’s could have become stale after too long if overused, as it turns out, so did the premise of focusing on the slightly off-putting children and sister, since they showed very few redeemable qualities when held up against their more normal-seeming parents/siblings. Juliette Goglia as daughter Eve was possibly the most annoying – and quite aggressive for a middle child – espousing her eschew views of the world without learning too many core lessons (though sons Ian and Graham also had their moments).
In the end, The Michael J. Fox Show just didn’t sustain the sharpness and charm that was almost solely provided by its headlining star in the pilot, primarily because it deviated from his character in big ways at times, focusing on these other family members and, thus, offering more screen time to performances that didn’t come close to that of the erstwhile Alex P. Keaton. While NBC is contracted to air the entire season produced, it was the right call to cancel it, particularly given its ratings losses to other sitcoms in the same time slot and the fact that similar ilk already dominates the airwaves.
The Michael J. Fox Show is slightly better than mediocre at best because it squandered its originality and the whole reason the show existed to begin with, namely Michael J. Fox. If Fox is ready to work on a more consistent basis, maybe someone can find him a better vehicle – even skewer his sardonic Mr. Nice Guy type toward something a little edgier. Yet, he should probably tell wife Tracy Pollan to stay home – her guest stint early on was cringe-worthy.
THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:
Canceled! I stopped watching it when I learned the news, even though I was behind, and I’m kind of relieved I don’t have to continue reviewing it. That alone should say something.