The Michael J. Fox Show: Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC
So far many of the comedies I’ve reviewed in the fall season have followed one trend (that of parents and their adult children forced together by circumstances), however, there’s also a second key trend that’s floating around: after a weak 2012-13, it’s very clear that the big four are reaching back for big names from the 80’s and 90’s in the hopes of bolstering their network’s success. CBS goes to this well tonight with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s The Crazy Ones, but it’s NBC who goes all in on this concept, dragging James Spader out for The Blacklist, and Michael J. Fox for tonight’s offering: The Michael J. Fox Show.
The Michael J. Fox Show follows Mike Henry (Michael J. Fox), a retired reporter with Parkinson’s disease who happens to want to jump back in to the fray after being bored at home. Luckily, his old boss Harris (Wendell Pierce) needs Mike as much as Mike needs NBC (it’s meta, get it?). Now with him back at work, he’ll have to juggle all of the usual day-to-day activities at work and at home while also dealing with his ailment.
In a lot of ways, The Michael J. Fox Show feels like a throwback to other things, synthesizing many surface elements of sitcoms past: works as a newscaster, a loving wife and 2.5 kids, doting in-laws (who double as the wacky next door neighbors), even sibling rivalries! However, where in most cases such tropes would be called cliché, the true beauty in this show lies in the way that these stock tropes deal with the obvious elephant in the room: Fox’s very real health condition. The first episode aired tonight deals with that head-on, but the second episode allows it to slip into the background, allaying fears that it would be dropped like an anvil.
The show maintains a certain sweetness, and that’s courtesy of the dynamic of the show’s central pairing: Mike and his wife Annie (Betsy Brandt), both perfectly nail the married dynamic, driving each other crazy while still showing a clear love for each other. A large amount of that is courtesy of the writing, which could have easily veered into the maudlin, but ultimately aims straight for establishing each of its’ characters (and particularly Mike’s) flaws early on (particularly his vanity, though it also pops up in every character but Annie by the middle of the second episode) and letting those drive the plot.
I think there are a few minor flaws with the show, as there tend to be with many sitcoms coming out of the gate. First and foremost, while the talking heads are often funny, they feel out of place in a show that seems to have a classic feel. This is made worse by the fact that the cutaways are explained away and plot-relevant in the first episode, only to persist in the second. Secondly, it seems like many of the secondary characters don’t have much to do at times, with both Kay (his assistant), and Leigh (his sister) both feeling very ancillary to the first two episodes.
The Final Verdict: In a lot of ways, The Michael J. Fox Show feels like a throwback, but it adds a few wrinkles here or there to keep the show from feeling truly cliché. Additionally, while sitcoms tend to not truly find their voice until midway through the first season, it seems like the show has found it’s voice very early on, looking for a healthy mix of both heartwarming with a little bit of sass to keep it from venturing too far into saccharine territory. Check it out, there’s pretty strong odds this is the best new sitcom of the season.