What would it take to get me to watch a family-centered network sitcom? Apparently, Michael J. Fox.
When I previewed the new NBC series The Michael J. Fox Show this May here at borg.com I was worried the show about a “TV personality who left TV when he got Parkinson’s disease and was making a comeback” would be cringeworthy. Lucky for fans of Fox, the series pilot wasn’t cringeworthy at all, but just plain funny.
If you’re going to be risky, if you’re going to blatantly mirror reality and poke fun at every aspect of what you’re trying to do with a series, from “a very special” appearance on a morning show, to characters laughing out loud at the daily trials of the family of a guy with a disability, to that NBC promo showing the heroic slow motion return of a celebrity named Mike, well you damned well better nail it. The tight writing and comic timing of the writers for The Michael J. Fox Show as well as Fox himself and a strong supporting cast of fresh new faces accomplished all they needed to: Get the audience to stay around for Episode 2, which aired immediately after the pilot. Last night’s two half-hour episodes are a case study in the rewards of walking a tightrope and the big payoff you can get from that success with so much at stake.
When Michael J. Fox left Spin City it was a major downer for everyone–beyond our compassion for him as a person for his rough road ahead–it was like the guy was being snuffed out from entertaining us anymore, way too soon, like when Christopher Reeve was injured in his horse riding accident. Fox, Canada’s number one gift to the world, defines what it means to be loved by audiences. I don’t think it’s about Family Ties or Spin City so much as that quirky kid Marty McFly in Back to the Future. We lost Fox to some disease, but now we get him back, and more than just as a guest character on someone else’s show.
Better than this series, this shows Fox could jump back into movies, too. Recall his great performance as a political idealist in The American President. What’s holding him back now? No doubt this isn’t easy. On his appearance a few years ago on Inside the Actor’s Studio, Fox demonstrated his physical hurdles that he, over time, has been able to manage.
But forget all the serious stuff. The Michael J. Fox Show is a comedy and all that counts in a comedy is whether you think it’s funny. Moving past the Parkinson’s focused pilot, Episode 2 actually had its own cringeworthy moments, but these were the good kind. Fox encounters real-life wife Tracy Pollan living in an upstairs apartment and he goes through the dance of not being attracted to her with his TV wife when he actually has some kind of instant crush on her. With any other actor and actress this might have left us with an unlikeable lead with barely enough time for us to meet the guy, but with these actors in these roles it was an easy sell.
On the one hand, genre fans want people like Michael J. Fox –or even Joss Whedon this week with his new series Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.–to succeed, because we like them, we usually like their work, and even if they miss the mark once we want them to keep trying. No worries here, with Fox’s new series. It’s a comedy. It’s funny. We’ll come back for more next week.