The Telefile
<i>The Michael J. Fox Show</i>: Hasn’t He Been Through Enough?

Who doesn't love Michael J. Fox? (Wait, if you don't, you probably shouldn't answer that, as you are a monster). That's the question NBC is banking on for The Michael J. Fox Show to be a hit. That our universal love for the actor will make us overlook just how weak the new series with his name in the title really is. And while Fox's talents and charms are still as undeniable as ever, you can't help root for the guy… to wind up on a much better show.

Fox plays Mike Henry, a former NBC newscaster in New York City who chose to leave his line of work due to his struggles with Parkinson's and be a stay-at-home family man instead. Fox's own real-life battle with the disease is something he's addressed on television before (during a particularly hilarious cameo on Curb Your Enthusiasm) but The Michael J. Fox show digs a little deeper into it. From day-to-day struggles (like having trouble dialing numbers on a telephone) to life-altering changes (the way everyone in your life perceives and treats you), Fox doesn't hold back from telling it like it is.

And therein lies the biggest issue with The Michael J. Fox Show: it's a wasted opportunity for something great. Instead of giving Fox a creative or smartly written outlet, the show is instead a lackluster, unfunny family comedy with a gaggle of unbelievable and some downright unlikable supporting characters.

Now, there are solid turns from Breaking Bad's Betsy Brandt (once again stepping into the role of supportive wife) and The Wire's Wendell Pierce (as Fox's boss), even if the material doesn't give them enough to work with. It's the rest of Mike Henry's tribe that's troublesome here: he's got a trio of annoying, rude kids who do things like throw condom water balloons off buildings, break the dishwasher, drop out of college and exploit their father's disease for better grades at school -- and I assume we're supposed to like these children at some point. Unfortunately, at least in the pilot, there was nothing quirky or cute or funny (at one point his eldest son chimes in that The Voice judge Adam Levine is "a story teller") about these kids.

Then there's his awful sister, who fits the wildly overused trope of the single, older, sassy, desperate, sex-starved blond who always seems to be looking for a man. She spends most of the episode spouting out terrible one-liners such as: "Enough with the kale, we get it, you're white," "It feels like bangs are for heavy people," and "I have less eggs inside me than a Bennigan's, because they don’t serve breakfast." Yeesh.

On what planet would anyone want to spend more than five minutes with this woman, let alone entire television seasons? She's so bad that she somehow makes the character of Fox's young female assistant -- who constantly pukes and cries in his presence because she's such a nervous wreck around him -- the less annoying one.

The only thing that might be worse on this show is the cringe-inducing NBC promotional tie-ins throughout. If NBC was trying to restore its image with this show, why not put the focus solely on the beloved Fox? There's not one, but two scenes in which they try to convince us that Matt Lauer is a guy who is just "aces." In addition to trying to fix Lauer's reputation, there's also a name drop for The Biggest Loser and the assumption that the biggest celebrity in all of New York City would be someone who used to work for NBC.

For a show that is meant to deal with something as unflinchingly real as Parkinson's, the show feels far too sitcom-y to resemble any sort of believable reality or even a sympathetic or interesting one. Every line feels as if it's skipping a beat and waiting for an audience to whoop, laugh and aww at every zinger, while painfully predictable conclusions are wrapped in a tidy TV bow. (Word to all new comedies: the hokey voice-over about lessons learned at the end of episodes is one reason why so many of us turned away from Modern Family.)

I get that trying to make a family sitcom feel fresh is like trying to reinvent the wheel, especially when you have to try and turn "struggles" like a family not sitting down together for a meal into comedy. The Michael J. Fox Show has an opportunity to tell an extraordinary story at its core (how many network comedies have a main character with a disability?) and is instead a run-of-the-mill sitcom.

Fox is, of course, great with the material he has and his welcome return to the small screen makes it hard to truly hate the show. You most certainly can't fault him for the show's disappointing start. His ability to poke fun at both his own condition and his celebrity in the latter portion of his career makes him even more likable, if that's possible. Fox is willing to go the extra mile, so here's to hoping the show gives that to him rather than keep him stuck in a mediocre sitcom. I'm rooting for him.

The Michael J. Fox Show premiered on Thursday, September 26 on NBC at 9 PM ET.

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