Despite kinks, Michael J. Fox greatly succeeds with TV returnPosted on September 26, 2013 | by Sean Hickey
With the curtains closed on two of its most successful comedies of the past decade, “The Office” and “30 Rock,” NBC faces the looming challenge of filling those very funny shoes. But “The Michael J. Fox Show,” one of the most anticipated sitcoms of the fall TV season, could be the solution.
After spending years in film and taking a break from acting, Michael J. Fox returns to television in this half-hour, New York-city based sitcom that is inspired by Fox’s own life. The pilot introduces Michael Henry (Fox), his wife (Betsy Brandt), their three kids (Juliette Goglia, Jack Gore, Conor Romero) his spinster sister (Katie Finneran) and Michael’s old boss (Wendell Pierce) from his days as an NBC local news anchor. Henry, who left the news desk after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, is deciding whether or not to return. Parkinson’s, New York and NBC are major topics in the first episode. Expect witty and sweet references to the disease, shots of the Upper West Side and cameos by Matt Lauer and Al Roker.
Unfortunately, “Fox” does not always meet the expectations that result from its lead’s presence. While the pace is quick, the comedy cannot keep up. Rapid one-liners feel hectic more than they do rhythmic, though this may result from writers trying to squeeze as many jokes into one pilot as possible.
The pilot also suffers from a symptom plaguing many comedies where children portray overplayed stereotypes. And the pilot’s mockumentary style, which includes interviews with each family member, is better left to shows like “The Office,” which perfected the craft. Though it is played off as an assignment for the middle child, Eve, the directorial choice does not suit the rest of the show.
Despite these issues, the pilot does demonstrate why NBC already ordered an entire 22-episode season of this show. Fox, who has a pre-installed fanbase, is charming and extremely watchable. Brandt also draws a crowd after her time on mega-hit “Breaking Bad” and plays a believable and likable wife and teacher.
A sitcom about the news is finally given a unique concept. The scenes at NBC are some of the most entertaining, and Henry’s reporting makes the show and character feel grounded. This strong and unique setup offers the potential for great future episodes. All of these elements, if used correctly, are bound to deliver funny yet humanizing scenarios that Fox will knock out of the park.
“Fox” may have some kinks to work out, but comedy pilots are rarely fully formed out of the gate. The missteps evident at this point are easily fixable and, with a long season ahead of them, the writers and producers of the show have plenty of time to smooth things over. With NBC’s comedy lineup desperate for hits, “The Michael J. Fox Show” may just be what the network needs.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 26 print edition. Sean Hickey is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.