It’s been a long time since NBC had a hit comedy. The network has produced some great comedies recently, notably “Parks and Recreation” and “Community,” but neither is viewed by a large audience. With “The Michael J. Fox Show” there’s a good chance NBC has a hit, and I hope that’s the case because Fox and the series are extremely likable.
Like most comedies “The Michael J. Fox Show” will hit its stride down the road, but the pilot airing tonight at 9 p.m. is strong and indicates the series can grow. The two episodes after the pilot — including one immediately following the pilot tonight — are also worthwhile. “The Michael J. Fox Show” is a charming comedy with an enjoyable core of characters, some pretty decent laughs and an earnest feel-good nature.
Much will be made about how “The Michael J. Fox Show” mirrors Fox’s real life. Fox plays Mike Henry, a beloved New York City TV newsman who returns to work after leaving five years earlier because of his Parkinson’s. It will surely be called “brave” that Fox’s disease is inspiration for the series, but it’s also smart. Fox seems to be a likable person (in real life, not just on screen) so letting him just be himself — for the most part — works.
Mike is affable, witty and self-deprecating while never letting Parkinson’s define him. He doesn’t accept pity, nor do any of the other characters pity him, and Mike’s Parkinson is handled candidly. There’s a joke in the pilot about how NBC will make a big show of Mike’s return to television; a commercial with him in slow-mo, scored by uplifting music. It’s a smart Meta joke on the shamefully marketing of television.
While Mike’s return to work is the center of the pilot, the Henry family is featured more in following episodes. It’s basically a 50/50 split between family and workplace comedy.
Mike was looking forward to spending more time with his wife Annie (Betsy Brandt), a busy highs school English teacher, and three kids. Unfortunately Mike’s oldest son, Ian (Conor Romero) is a recent college dropout — “opt-out” as he puts it — who’s focused on creating the next great search engine. His daughter, Eve (Juliette Goglia) is in high school and all that comes with that. His youngest boy, Graham (Jack Gore) is pretty self-sufficient.
Mike is basically smothering them and realizes he needs a life outside the home, like they all have. So at the prodding of his former producer Harris (Wendell Pierce) Mike goes back to being a news reporter (and rekindling his one-sided rivalry with Matt Lauer).
A lot of the credit for “The Michael J. Fox Show” should go to Fox, but he alone couldn’t make the whole thing function as well as it does. The writers, led by co-creator Will Gluck (“Friends with Benefits” screenwriter), have created solid characters and some snappy dialog which the cast makes the most of.
Brandt is very good as Annie; playing a realistic loving wife and mother who’s not afraid to poke fun at her family — out of love — perfectly. (It’s also a nice change to see Brandt on a comedy after watching her suffer through the most recent season of “Breaking Bad.”)
The Henry kids are also likable by not being too stereotypical, annoying or cutesy. The standout is Goglia’s Eve. She receives some of the better script material in the pilot, like wondering why people always stop her dad to tell him about their family members with Parkinson’s because he’s a celebrity. "Alcoholism is a disease. Do people go up to David Hasselhoff and tell him about their crazy uncles,” she snarks. But Goglia has some good comedic chops and subtlety.
The second episode where Eve tries to make friends with the school lesbian is a poor storyline that doesn’t give Goglia a lot to work with, but the third episode features her well. She interns for Mike at the station, ends up falling in line with his chief rival (guest star Anne Heche), and Goglia excels in the episode.
If I’m going to anoint an MVP for “The Michael J. Fox Show” this early it has to be Pierce’s Harris. He has a number of the series’ funniest moments despite the limited screen time and possesses such a natural chemistry with Fox.
“The Michael J. Fox Show” isn’t without flaws. No one will be blown away by the jokes, but I have a feeling this will improve. It's also hardly original, featuring the trendy mockumentary format of characters directly addressing the camera. Still, this is a smart and thoughtful series with some decent humor that a broad audience will appealing. “The Michael J. Fox Show” should become a hit. Lord knows NBC needs it.
"The Michael J. Fox Show"
Premieres 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26 on NBC