Archive | 11:04 pm

Fall 2013 Review: The Michael J. Fox Show

16 Oct

Michael J Fox

The Michael J. Fox Show tells the tale of Mike Henry, a legendary New York local television newsman who retired due to Parkinson’s disease with the added benefit of spending more time with his family. He misses work and his family is getting sick of him being around all the time, waking them up early and bothering them in other ways. Thus, his wife and his old producer conspire to convince him to come back to work.

His family consists of his loving wife, Annie (Breaking Bad’s Marie, Betsy Brandt), his Cornell drop out college aged son, Ian, his teenage daughter Eve, his youngest son Graham, and his sister Leigh.  Characters at work include his veteran producer Harris (The Wire’s Wendell Pierce, better known as Bunk), and his new young, nervous, segment producer Kay.  The characters are not cookie cutter outside of the extremely obnoxious Aunt Leigh, who is the feisty single middle-aged women constantly striving to act and look younger.  She could get real tired real fast; I wanted her to go away in just about every scene she was in.

In a lot of ways, the Michael J. Fox Show is admirable.  It starts with the classic family sitcom model which reigned supreme on television from the 1950s to the 1990s and largely updates it to get with the 21st century.  There’s no laugh track, the dialogue is quick without those awful long sitcom pauses, and the characters, the aunt aside, are not ridiculous cartoons.  In addition, it brings the actual warmth and love that were at the heart of traditional family sitcoms, that still resonate even when everything else feels horribly dated in those shows. The family actually seem to genuinely like one another. Michael J. Fox is already a larger than life television personality that many of us feel like we saw grow up over 30 years on television, and making him a local news anchor smartly captures that angle of Fox; regular New Yorkers feel like they know Fox’s character in the same way. The show does a good job with its handling of Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease; we know it’s going to be used for good-natured humor immediately, with a handful of jokes about Fox’s condition in the first episode. Also, I’ll award the show extra points for actually being filmed in New York, which does make a difference.

Unfortunately, though, for all these positive qualities, the problem with the Michael J. Fox is a deceptively simple one. If the jokes were funny, the show would be good. I know that sounds like the most obvious diagnosis for a bad comedy ever, but it’s really not.  Most bad shows have something wrong in their DNA that goes well beyond the jokes not being funny – the structure is broken.  The cast is bad, the laugh track, the look of the show, the tone – the whole idea behind the show is broken deep within its foundation.  That’s not the case here.  The idea is solid, the characters, outside of the wacky aunt, are well-built, the acting is good, the look and feel are fine.  The jokes are read correctly and given room to breathe.  They’re just not funny jokes. Someone needs to go down this script, even keep the same overall structure, and just tweak the dialogue all over the place.

I was expecting another lazy CBS-like effort with, if not a laugh track, tired characters and tropes. The Michael J. Fox Show isn’t that which is absolutely to be praised.  Now, if it could only take that last step and be funny, there’d be a really good show here.

Will I watch it again? It was better than I thought it would be.  Still no. The blueprint is there for this to funny, but it isn’t now. It’s close but not close enough.