The Telefile
<i>Growing Up Fisher</i>: Another Sickly Sweet “Dysfunctional” Family Comedy

By all accounts, The Michael J. Fox Show should have been good. It starred television treasures (Michael J. Fox, Betsy Brandt, Wendell Pierce), it had a primo time slot and it did not shy away from Fox's real-life battle with Parkinson's (in fact, that was a prominent part of the show.) But throw some annoying kids in the mix, sitcom-friendly problems (all family squabbles are fixed within the half-hour and no one ever holds a grudge),and the uneasy feeling that Parkinson's is being used as a comedy crutch more often than it should be, and well, you've got a major disappointment.

Growing Up Fisher isn't as grating as The Michael J. Fox Show (the teenage daughter here is not insufferable), but it does share a lot of the same problems. Based on the childhood of the show's creator, DJ Nash, Growing Up Fisher is a sickly sweet portrayal of a "dysfunctional" family as they cope with divorce. So what makes the Fishers so different? Well, patriarch Mel (the absolutely-great-in-everything J.K. Simmons) is blind. But he's not like a regular blind guy: he cuts down trees, and drives cars, and he's a lawyer, and he hides the fact that he's blind from people that aren't friends or close family. And just like on The Michael J. Fox Show the family goes out of their way to make his condition more of a punchline than a problem.

The rest of the Fisher family includes Mel's soon-to-be-ex-wife Joyce (Jenna Elfman, who replaced Parker Posey after the original pilot), who is supposedly wacky because she does things like talk about her bras and her butt and smokes a pipe. Their kids are normal-but-sassy (she calls her parents "Sherlock and Magoo"!) teenager Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley) and precocious, adorable 11-year-old Henry (played by Eli Baker, but whose grown-up version is narrated by Jason Bateman.) Outside of the Fisher clan, Henry has a best pal named Runyen (Lance Lim) who speaks like a 1950's wise guy ("Mel baby!" he exclaims, multiple times) and is somehow even less believable than just about everything else in this pilot.

Mel and Henry have a close father-son bond and the majority of the pilot revolved around Henry feeling like his dad will no longer need him now that he's moved out (into a trendy downtown loft that his 11-year-old son found and put down a deposit for him) and now has a guide dog to help him. The issue, naturally, is eventually resolved (Mel concocts a tricky little scheme in which he "loses" the dog and Henry helps him find it) with a nice little bow. That's the biggest problem with this show as a whole: everything is too tidy. Families, no matter how well they get along or how "quirky" they are, bicker and go through hardships. Especially during a divorce.

Growing Up Fisher is a relatively harmless show -- it's there for really no other purpose than to make you feel good. (I'll still take the louder, messier, and ultimately funnier based-on-a-true-family brood over on The Goldbergs.) The cast here is unquestionably talented, and Simmons is especially impressive in his demanding role, but it's a shame that they're playing a group of real people who feel so fictitious. It's more cutesy (heck, Henry even meets an adorable girl his age down the hall, in case the narration didn't make it feel enough like a Wonder Years wannabe) and tidy than it is actually funny. That said, it does get bonus points for not using the overused faux-documentary/confessional trope.

Life is really messy, and Growing Up Fisher needs to get a little messier for anyone watching to actually connect with it, even -- or especially -- if they can't relate.




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