The Michael J. Fox Show – Newer Family, Stronger Ties

From Geek Goes Rogue TV Editor Zach W. Lorton, as told to by the air conditioning, which is actually running in the apartment, even though it’s below 40 degrees outside…

There are two things that remind me of being younger.  One of them is my homemade chili cheese dip.  Layer one brick of cream cheese, softened, in the bottom of a deep dish round pan.  Spread a can of chili, preferably Chili Man, over the cream cheese, the cover with shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, perhaps some green onions.  Microwave for about 4 minutes.  Scoop up the dip with some solid chips.  Eat.  Eat it.  Eat it all.

Memories…

The second thing that reminds me of being younger is Michael J. Fox.

As a kid, I watched Family Ties with my family nearly every week.  It was the only sitcom on the air at the time that featured a nuclear family, and it did so with some great writing and great acting from their leads.  The first season wasn’t all that much to sneeze at, but once the second season got into full swing, the show began to hit a major stride.  And Michael J. Fox was a key reason why.

After starring in Back To the Future and The Secret of My Success, Fox continued on Ties, and eventually found another vehicle in Spin City.  The problem with that program is that while he played the main character, the most memorable characters were all the secondary characters.

This time around, The Michael J. Fox Show hits all the right notes in all the right areas — great writing, acting, directing, and editing.  But the big difference is that while all that is great, Fox is the star of the show.  He’s the patriarch at the center of a group of highly functioning, yet equally dysfunctional, family and co-workers.

Having retired from news reporting due to being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, anchor Mike Henry decides, after several years out, to get back in the game.  Reintegrating into his work life isn’t as difficult as he or anyone else thinks it will be, but after holding down the home for several years, Mike’s family is now dealing with him not being there all the time.

Actually, they love it.  The pilot episode sets up the premise — confessional-type video pops up, due to a report for school that Mike’s daughter Eve, but the series maintains the confessionals throughout the episodes, long after the report has been done.  So that’s a minor flaw.  Fox’s family — including his wife Annie (played brilliantly by Betsy Brandt), sons Ian and Graham, and Mike’s flighty sister Leigh — actually can’t wait for Mike to get out of the house and back to work.  They all have their parts to play in the show, and all are somewhat stereotypical, but the situations they find themselves in are very real and very relatable.

What helps is that instead of hiding Fox’s/Henry’s Parkinson’s, the disease is front and center, and is often the cause for or the center of several of the shows laughs.  If anyone has a family member with Parkinson’s, they are completely mistaken if they think the disease is handled disrespectfully by this show.  In the pilot, Mike gets into a broadcast van with a junior employee, and as the van starts moving and items start falling off the shelves, Mike remarks, “To me, this is perfectly still.”

Fox knows how to surround himself with great people, and everyone involved on this show does nothing but enhance the show’s viability.  While some of the family dynamic could come off as cliche on another show, those moments are handled rather deftly here.  For a brand new sitcom, it’s one of the best I’ve seen since New Girl.

The Michael J. Fox Show airs Thursday nights at 9:30/8:30 Central on NBC.

Zach W. Lorton is a media producer and professional DJ/MC by trade, and a comedian, actor, and musician by default.  His debut music project is set to begin recording in 2014, and will likely take the world by storm, possibly in the form of a Sharknado.


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