Michael J. Fox is back, and his highly anticipated return to television premiered last night to mixed reviews. His self-titled, The Michael J. Fox Show, began with more of a whimper than a bang, as its first two episodes focused more on setting up the characters than on any sort of comedic storyline or original plot. With hopes high for the star who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s back in 1991, the premier of The Michael J. Fox Show fell flat.
Fans and critics alike don’t seem to know what to do with the Fox’s return to prime time. Reviews range from flattering the bold portrayal of Parkinson’s disease to calling the show a “run of the mill” comedy. It appears that the show does hold a lot of promise, but with expectations so high, fans are mostly disappointed. The premier of Robin William’s new show, The Crazy Ones, on the same night did not help. There were over twice as many viewers for William’s premier, 15.6 million to Fox’s 7.2 million, and The Crazy Ones was rated at 4.0 while The Michael J. Fox Show had a 2.1, falling flat.
The cast cannot be to blame for the lackluster numbers. They have assembled a very talented group of actors to complement the star of the show. Betsy Brandt as his wife, Annie, and Juliette Goglia as his teenage daughter, Eve, were especially noteworthy in their performances despite the flat story material they were given. Brandt is the supporting wife, and does a fantastic job of balancing the average sitcom wife role with the twist of caring for an ill spouse. Goglia portrays the sarcastic teenager well and manages to wedge in some extra emotion, though the material she’s given in the second episode regarding a new friend who may or may not be a lesbian is sub-par at best.
It feels like the producers of the show believe the return of their star and a lighthearted portrayal of his battle with Parkinson’s will be enough to carry the sitcom. They’ve even titled the show with his name, despite the main character having a different name altogether, Mike Henry. Meta jokes during the first two episodes persisted throughout, another indication that the success or failure of the comedy is set on Michael J. Fox’s shoulders. His character is also returning to work after being out of commission due to his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, and the forced applause from a crowd more than once in the first episode only serves to heighten the meta-storyline in an extremely awkward way. Sure fans of Fox will rally to his brave return to entertainment, but do they have to remind us of that every few minutes? A slow motion, corny promo of Fox’s character is displayed as part of the meta-joke as Mike Henry is prodded into taking up his former role as a television reporter by his producer, played by the talented Wendell Pierce. Some of their bits are saved by the charisma shared between Pierce and Fox, but only just.
Can The Michael J. Fox Show be saved despite the premier falling flat on its face? Absolutely. Comedies, especially sitcoms, can take a while to warm up. Many are never given the chance to get past their initial cold openings. But with the special twist that this is Michael J. Fox’s return to a starring role on television and the uniquely bold storyline focusing on a main character with Parkinson’s disease, this show will likely get is chance to become a staple in NBC’s comedy lineup. It remains to be seen if the writers will be able to take advantage of the opportunity and help the show reach its true potential. No doubt fans will be fervently hoping that they do.
Written By: Danyelle C. Overbo