The Michael J. Fox Show Review
I've been putting off writing this article. For those of you who do not know, Michael J. Fox is not just some actor I like. He is one of my idols. He was one of the first actors I learned to recognize, and not just by the characters he played. While some people were traumatized by Bambi's mother or Old Yeller being shot, my traumatizing childhood movie moment was Fox being incinerated in Mars Attacks! The temptation is to feel bad and label him a hero just because of his Parkinson's, but what has really impressed me is the fact that he has kept an unbelievably good spirit about the matter, even being self-deprecating about the matter. (During a 2010 live show, he quipped, "By the way, going to auction with Parkinson's... it's expensive.") In fact, one of my most popular articles on this site was a countdown of my favorite performances by the man.
So it goes without saying (especially since I said this in the aforementioned article) that I was pumped for Fox's return to TV. I made a rare choice to watch the show live (I tape almost everything I watch). I sat down, watched the double feature pilot... And that is where the disappointment started. Okay, to be fair, those first two episodes were okay, but episode three is where it really clicked that this show is not that good.
To begin with, the premise of this show is pretty good. Fox plays Mike Henry, a popular New York TV anchor who retired years ago because of his Parkinson's. The show is a less-than-subtle parallel to Fox's real life as he is making a return to TV in lieu of his Parkinson's. However, he is still trying to juggle with his return to his career with his personal life.
Even with a decent premise, watching the first few minutes tipped me off to something. This show really plays like an old-fashioned sitcom. I suppose even the title should have been a hint about that one. After all, when was the last time there was a show called "The [actor's name] Show"? Now, there is nothing wrong with old-fashioned. I still sit back and watch I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. The problem is that this show feels straight up out of touch.
How do I describe this show's humor? Saying that this show's humor does not play well without a laugh track practically goes without saying. But going further I would say that this show feels like a group of out of touch old people trying to be funny instead of the humor coming naturally. Nothing about the humor feels big or audacious. Everything feels like the writers are playing it way too safe. Concepts like lesbians are thrown out like they are still groundbreaking revelations, phrases like "Twitter war" are thrown out as if they were actual punchlines, and plots center around the two leads worried about being cool parents as if... For crying out loud, how contrived can you get? How soon until we see an episode about '80's flashbacks because... you know, the '80's were funny!
Is the humor a total wash? Giving credit where it is due, I laughed here and there. However, there were no big gut laughs. I chuckled once or twice and smiled here and there, but that was about it. Look, I am not expecting this show to push the envelope like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Louie, but the writers could stand to take a few more risks. And yes, there are cutaway gags. Is there some kind of law that dictates every sitcom nowadays must use cutaway gags? Yeah, this show's style feels like some awkward hybrid of a classic '80's style sitcom and a modern sitcom.
Speaking of risks, a lot of people are probably considered with the way this show treats Fox's Parkinson's. Fox may have a good sense of humor, but that does not change the fact that Parkinson's is still a very serious issue. There are two ways this could have gone - a lot of tasteless jokes that exploit Fox's ailment or being a little cutesy with the issue to the point where it wears out its welcome. Giving credit where it is due, handling this is one of the few things this show does right: There is a balance where the acknowledging his Parkinson's for humor and not going overboard. In fact, these were some of the jokes that at least made me laugh a little - such as Fox being unable to stay in his news chair. (Some episodes do not even acknowledge it).
Good shows are built around good characters, and The Michael J. Fox Show is unfortunately filled with some real losers. Fox is likable even if he does not have a ton to work with, but he is after Michael J. Fox. The guy could play a masochistic Nazi sympathizer, and he would still probably be likable (or at least be entertaining in the part). As for the other characters, there is... there is... Well, there is little point in using names. The cast list is basically a role call of generic stereotypes and tropes. We have the supportive wife, we have the trouble-making son who is always cooking up schemes, we have the daughter who wants to be an artist, we have the wacky relative, we have a few younger kids... I think.
Much to my consternation, these characters do have a lot of screen time. I could bemoan the way sitcoms have too many plots running around each episode, there are two problems. I have more or less accepted this as a necessary evil that is not going to change any time soon. More importantly, as a writer, I do not practice what I preach. Also, I realize that on this show, it is practically a necessity. Even if he is acting again, Fox's Parkinson's probably still limits how much the man can work. But if we are going to watch these characters, can they not be entertaining? Or likable? Or have good stories. One example of the bad story telling is in episode 2, when a key scene (Henry's daughter says she spotted her brother making out with a girl) happens off-camera. Compare this to a good Michael J. Fox show - Spin City. True, that juggled a lot of plots, but they were usually good plots because the supporting cast was funny, likable and endearing. It was not just a one-man show with a group of cookie cutter side characters.
And that's The Michael J. Fox Show in a nutshell. Being fair, this is not the first time one of my idols has let me down. Of course, I was not born yet when David Bowie recorded Never Let Me Down and I am young enough that most of the DeNiro movies in my life have been less Silver Linings Playbooks and more Little Fockers. Is the show atrociously awful? Well, after watching a few episodes, the best I can say is that some of them were tolerable. One's ability to watch this show really depends on his or tolerance for really old-fashioned sitcoms. But depending on what end of the spectrum one sits on, there are a lot better options. Classic sitcom aficionados can stick to Cheers or Dick Van Dyke while anybody who wants to watch what is on TV can watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And anybody who wants their Michael J. Fox fix? Well, I refer you to this.
- Top 10 Michael J. Fox Roles
With his return to TV, it's time to look at some of Michael J. Fox's best performances.
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