There’s a point in Thursday’s premiere of The Michael J. Fox Show (9/8c) where Fox, as former local news anchor Mike Henry, contemplates a return to the medium he left after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease years before.
“What if I’m not the guy they remember?” he uncertainly asks wife Annie (played beautifully by Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt), the line an obvious nod to Fox’s own sitcom comeback.
It’s a valid concern. Fox was beloved as Family Ties‘ Alex P. Keaton and Spin City‘s Mike Flaherty… but hasn’t carried a series since City wrapped more than a decade ago. Can a half-hour comedy – in which Fox/Henry’s debilitating illness is a joke hit lovingly but often – match up to his previous successes?
You’ll let us know your thoughts on that in a moment; first, a short recap of the double-episode premiere.
At the start of the pilot, Fox’s character is a stay-at-home dad whose micromanaging drives his family nuts. He finally agrees to go back to work at New York’s NBC affiliate but wants to avoid the anchor-overcoming-adversity angle. That proves tough, especially when his boss Harris (Treme) commissions a slow-mo, welcome-back promo set to Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero.”
But it’s not like Mike’s family is any less exploitative; teen daughter Eve (Juliette Goglia, Good Luck Charlie) unsuccessfully tries to pass off a lazy iPhone video about her dad’s “struggle” as an English project – thus setting up the characters-speaking-directly-to-the-camera interview device that continues into the second episode. Meanwhile, college-age son Ian (Conor Romero, Person of Interest) is back home after dropping out of Cornell, and youngest child Graham (newcomer Jack Gore) competes with his aunt Leigh (Katie Finneran, Wonderfalls) for who’s the less mature.
By the end of the first half-hour, Mike is back on the air with a piece that gets him booked on – and then bumped from – NBC’s Today. (Let’s hope the “Matt Lauer is a jerk” thing turns into a running gag.) But the slight setback doesn’t matter much when all of the Henrys sit down for a family meal, something Mike’s desired for a while.
The next ep finds Mike entranced by the Henrys’ new upstairs neighbor (played by Fox’s real-life wife and former Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan). He likes that she makes him feel desirable, which comes across as a little bit disingenuous, given the fun, sexy married relationship Brandt and Fox establish in the pilot.
Mike and Annie invite neighbor Kelly to dinner with Harris; when the pair hit it off, Mike is displeased. The evening ends with the anchor apologizing to his perfectly lovely, very understanding spouse at an arcade adjacent to Times Square – the location comes about thanks to some secondary plots involving the kids. Plus, how else could the installment end with ball-pit funtimes?
At the end of the full hour, you come away with the sense that Fox’s comedic timing and presence are undiminished; he and Brandt, in particular, play off each other in a way that serves the series well.
That’s what we thought, but how about you? Grade the episodes via the poll below, then hit the comments to back up your choice!