Published Jul 02, 2013Rather than tiptoe around the elephant in the room, Michael J. Fox's battle with Parkinson 's disease is thrust to the forefront of his new self-titled sitcom. Going through the quotidian motions of domestic bliss with wife Annie (Betsy Brandt), daughter Eve (Juliette Goglia) and son Graham (Jack Gore), he complains about being at home too much and alienating his family since leaving the broadcasting world after being diagnosed. An early trajectory gag is established with old footage of him gradually rolling off camera on air as a result of his tremor.
This moderately amusing gag is about a subversive as this tepid, mostly awkward, comedy series gets, however. Mike Henry (Fox) spends most of the pilot episode vacillating about the idea of getting back into the news business. He's strongly coerced by his old colleagues, but finds it slightly patronizing and diminishing to have people stand and applause when he enters a room, giving him pitiable looks of faux compassion and throwing out rote, conventional phrases like, "you're so brave."
These observations about how people respond to those coping with severe misfortune are the most intriguing and appealing element of The Michael J. Fox show. None of it really equates the comedy intended, but as a deconstruction of a society constantly performing expectation, there is some rather astute commentary.
Unfortunately, the show asserts this cultural critique while simultaneously adhering to the same degree of insincerity and discomfort. Jokes about him demonstrating a personal achievement by scooping scrambled eggs without spilling them arise, but the phrasing is always careful and politically correct. It's as though everyone is cautiously looking around for his approval to laugh or make light rather than embracing the potential irreverence of it all.
Worse is that the secondary storyline involving his daughter Eve is downright painful. At school, she's asked to make some sort of crass blog video diary of her family dynamic. Knowing that those around her tend towards condescending sympathy whenever she raises the subject of her father, she submits one of those cheesy, inspirational videos about the power of overcoming obstacles. In one of the few inspired moments, her teacher calls bullshit.
Had it stopped here, this bit of incisive commentary could have left audiences with something to think about. But instead, Eve learns a valuable, politically aware, lesson from it all, which she tells to the camera verbatim.
Resultantly, The Michael J. Fox is little more than a tenuous mixture of contradicting tones and messages. It's conscious enough to know how people tend to treat those coping with illness, but isn't emotionally mature enough to avoid the trappings of ultimately doing the exact same thing.
The Michael J. Fox Show premieres on Thursday, September 26th at 9:30pm on Global TV. (Sony)