The much anticipated Michael J. Fox show, which premiered with two episodes last night on NBC, turned out to be a fairly conventional family sitcom buoyed by the charm of Michael J. Fox and a considerable amount of Parkinson’s humor. In fact, it’s only the disease that afflicts both Michael J. Fox and his character, Mike Henry, as well as Fox’s extreme likability that sets the series apart from any other middle-of-the-road Modern Family clone populating the fall television season.
That’s not to say it’s a bad show, although the pilot displayed more promise and potential than the second episode would deliver. The The Michael J. Fox Show has a very late 80s/early 90s sitcom sensibility, and for a single-camera sitcom, it often feels like it’s missing a laugh track, as the humor too often relies on setups and jokes, rather than extracting natural humor out of the situations.
As for those situations, the pilot episode has Mike Henry returning to work as a local and revered NYC news anchor after a long absence, in which Henry tended to both his Parkinson’s and his family. With too much time on his hands to parent, however, his family feels suffocated by his constant presence, and they eventually encourage him to return to work.
Outside of the Parksinson’s jokes, which are handled with deft self deprecation, the humor is fairly tame, and little on the generic side, although to the credit of both Michael J. Fox and Betsy Brandt — who plays Henry’s charming and good-humored wife — they deliver the jokes with considerable ease and magnetism, and their chemistry together is instant.
The second episode, however, is not as strong, although it’s more a function of the storyline than anything else. In it, Mike Henry develops a crush on an upstairs neighbor (played by Fox’s real-life wife, Tracy Pollan) but the extent to which they push the crush gets weird and uncomfortable. He has sex dreams about her that his wife overhears, and after he sets the neighbor up with his boss and friend, played with devilish charmisma by The Wire’s Wendell Pierce, he attempts to sabotage their relationship out of jealousy, all in front of his wife, who doesn’t find the crush nearly as unsettling as I did (there were a few moments, in fact, that I feared that The Michael J. Fox Show would not be the conventional family sitcom I suspected, but instead an icky swinger comedy about a guy with Parkinson’s who leaves his wife for the upstairs neighbor).
As is the case with any sitcom this early in its run, it’s difficult to say whether it will find its legs, but with the talent assembled, it has the ingredients to be this generation’s Cosby Show (with Parkinsons): Safe, mildly amusing, and sweet. For the moment, however, it’s just another inferior Modern Family wannabe that slides by on the allure of Michael J. Fox and the novelty of his Parkinsons.