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Spring 2014 Review: Growing Up Fisher

3 Mar

Growing Up Fisher

I’ll start this review by talking about how much I love JK Simmons. The man can do no wrong in my eyes. He does comedy, he does drama, he does Aryan gang leader, and he’s great at all of them. The man is a true pro.

Now that I’ve got my one compliment out of the way, it’s time to be real. Growing Up Fisher is not a good show. It’s actually a pretty bad show. It’s not cringe-worthy, or impossible to watch like Dads or We Are Men, rather it just does a lot of different things poorly and that adds up to a pretty bad show.

Growing Up Fisher reminds me at first glance of ABC’s The Goldbergs, primarily because they’re both narrated by grown up guys telling the story of themselves, around age 11, growing up, in flashback. Henry Fisher, voiced by Jason Bateman in narration form, tells the story of his childhood. The dads, additionally, in both of these shows, are serious Character. Mel Fisher, Henry’s dad, played by JK Simmons, is blind, but tried to use all sorts of tricks to hide that information from the general public for years. Henry’s mom, Joyce, is less of a Character, but still a little bit of one; Jenna Elfman’s mom character is one of those moms who keeps trying to act young, because she never had a chance to be young herself, but she just winds up looking foolish.

I hate judging child actors, because it’s a hard job, and when I do it I kind of feel like I’m watching a little league game and booing the players. When the kid is the star though, it really is an important part of the show, and both kids (there’s a daughter who I haven’t mentioned yet – she doesn’t get a lot to do in the pilot), but particularly Henry just do not cut it in Growing Up Fisher. His timing is all off; the jokes are obvious, on the nose, and not clever to begin with, but his ham-fisted delivery just makes the bad writing stand out more, rather than putting a sheen on it, the way good actors can do sometimes. Maybe he’ll get better – he’s young, but it was hard not to notice.

I feel less guilty judging the truly terrible narration. Over-used, poorly used, and unnecessary narration has long been a personal bugaboo of mine and Growing Up Fisher is one of the worst offenders I have ever seen. Jason Bateman voices future Henry, and he adds absolutely pointless, obvious, and patronizing commentary that not only wastes valuable time but also takes away from whatever else the sitcom has to offer. There are so many examples, pretty much every line Batemen utters – everything he says is easily inferred from context, except for the parts that are explicitly stated by other characters before Bateman restates them for no apparent reason. The worst example I noted down came after his parents awkwardly try to tell him they’re getting divorced but can’t quite say it, only to have his sister explain what’s happening to him. The narrator followed with, “That was the super smooth way my parents told me they were getting divorced.” NO FUCKING SHIT. What, I ask, is possibly gained by that comment? Is “super smooth” such a funny or clever way to put that sentence that its inclusion was deemed necessary?

What goes unsaid until now, the elephant in the room, which really matters more than all of my little annoyances, but is related to them, is that Growing Up Fisher is simply not funny. The timing is off, the jokes aren’t good, and there’s nothing to laugh about. It’s relatively heartwarming, I’ll give it that, and the members of the family seem to genuinely like each other which is nice. Funny though, not so much.

I’ll end with one more quick compliment (making this a compliment sandwich with some very thin bread); I can’t think of another sitcom offhand which features divorced parents who get along as well as the parents seem to in Growing Up Fisher, and there’s always something refreshing about a new and different family set up.

Will I watch it again? No. The narration and the bad acting would drive me crazy even if there were laughs, and there weren’t.  It’s nice that the father is his son’s hero. It really is. But it’s not enough. Sorry, JK. I still love you.