Michael J Fox is what some might call a national treasure. If there’s a Canadian celebrity alive today to be proud of, it’s him. Putting aside his two decades at the top of both the box office and the TV ratings, his life is still a success story. Not only has he bravely battled a debilitating disease for over twenty years, but he has spun that misfortune into something grand and terrific. Over the years, he has used his fame and wealth to help those in much worse situations than his own, and to bring hope to those who previously had none.
This, however, is a TV show. “The Michael J Fox Show” is Fox’s return to primetime TV in a leading role. Now, after seeing his guest turn on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, some may have said it would be impossible to stretch the Parkinson’s joke into a full series. That has yet to be seen, but it hasn’t stopped them trying. The result isn’t as generic or offensive as you might think. In fact, it’s pleasantly surprising.
The show follows Mike Henry (Michael J Fox), a former newscaster who left work when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Now, after five years of smothering his family, they’re ready for a break. We meet the Henry’s as Mike’s wife, Annie, conspires to get him back to work. Focus is shared between Mike’s return to the TV spotlight that loves him, and the family that can’t stand him. All the while sprinkled with your standard dysfunctional family tropes, and a wide range of jokes aimed at Henry’s/Fox’s illness. Bear with me, please.
“Why can’t the meds have cool side effects? Like anything Aquaman does.”
The cast is nicely put together. There are three young actors as the Henry children, and while they don’t rank up with the “Family Ties” crowd, they’re perfectly competent, with pretty good comedic timing. Betsy Brandt is coming strong off her “Breaking Bad” career as Mike’s wife Annie. She really shines in the premiere episodes, and brings the same charm (and nagging annoyance) she brought to Marie Schrader. Wendell Pierce rounds out the cast as Mike’s boss and oldest friend. Of course, Fox is the star here and he’s on top of his game as always.
The comedy is a little unbalanced. The family drama is light and brief, and fortunately doesn’t bogart the camera. If more attention was paid to Mike’s news coworkers and his chasing down stories, the show might open up some new potential for itself. However, a good chunk of the humour comes from Mike Henry’s illness. Parkinson’s is used as the setup and punchline for multiple jokes per episode. Impressively, the jokes are varied and actually kind of racy at times (which I like and appreciate). If you’re going to ride the line, you might as well dig in and cut deep. No regrets! That said, nothing about the show strikes as distasteful or insulting. Everyone who knows Michael J Fox knows how he feels about his illness, and knows how he feels about having a sense of humour. The show asks you to be open-minded.
“Don’t touch my belly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going upstairs to make love with my shirt on.”
The real treat here is obviously seeing Michael J Fox back on TV. His guest appearances in recent years have all been wonderful (and acclaimed), but primetime comedy has missed its leading man for some time. It’s good to finally have him back, and in good form. The show may turn off some of the more sensitive viewers, but with some luck, it might just get picked up for another season. We could very well be seeing a full-fledged comeback.
This show doesn’t break much new ground. The humour is edgy at times, but always knows when to scale it back. The characters are likable and the stories simple and entertaining. The important thing to remember is that you’re watching something that is very personal to the people working on it, and to a lot of people watching. You’re being invited into a rather special circle to share some quality time with good people just trying to entertain. And honestly, it’s not just okay to laugh. At times, it’s pretty damn hard not to.