Welcome back, Michael J. Fox. I mean Mike Henry. No wait — welcome back, Michael J. Fox, and nice to meet you, Mike Henry. After appearing on other shows in guest stints and recurring roles, Fox is officially back to TV business as he leads his own single-camera comedy series, The Michael J. Fox Show.
Fox stars as his news reporter doppelganger, Mike Henry. Henry left work at New York City’s NBC News after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago. Now, Henry is thinking about returning to work, much to the delight of his family. Henry’s clan includes wife Annie (Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt), his brassy sister Leigh (Katie Finneran), and his children, Mark Zuckerberg wannabe Ian (Conor Romero), Eva Amurri lookalike Eve (Juliette Goglia), and token adorable youngest child, Graham (Jack Gore).
The pilot opens with Mike explaining his circumstances — Parkinson’s disease, leaving work, etc. — directly to the camera. Equipped with the world’s best iPhone camera, Eve is recording a video project comparing her dad’s struggle with Parkinson’s with the Dust Bowl in The Grapes of Wrath. (No, it makes no sense, but it’s an excuse to introduce the Henry family.)
The seeds of returning to work are sewn when Mike happens to run into his former colleague Harris (The Wire’s Wendell Pierce). Harris immediately offers him his job back because it’s the pilot, that’s why. The contrived meeting between Wade and Mike is later explained to be part of a scheme Annie concocted in order to get Mike out of the house and doing what he loves.
The show flirts with using its New York setting for what it has to offer, an exciting prospect if the show continues to do so. For instance, Matt Lauer cameos as himself, warmly greeting Mike as a former colleague. He also happens to be Mike’s arch rival — although it’s a one-sided rivalry, mainly stemming from Mike’s envy.
Using the real NBC News as a backdrop, Harris introduces Mike to Kay (Ana Norguiera) his new (and shorter) segment producer. Kay is so excited to be working with the great Mike Henry, she could cry. And she does repeatedly.
The pilot couldn’t be more of a set-up episode. For the remainder of the first season, and most likely the series, Mike’s challenge will be to balance work, family, and Parkinson’s. The family dynamics have also been established so that Annie and the kids show signs of becoming fully fleshed out characters. Annie is a high school English teacher on a noble mission to prevent more bad poetry from entering the world. Ian is “re-imagining the search engine.” If you want to hear more about it, you can Google it. Eve is smart and crafty but “doesn’t apply herself.” (Yes, we apparently needed her teacher to actually say this.) And Graham sits on open dishwasher doors to eat dinner. (He’s a little kid, that’s good enough for him.)
What still needs work is Mike’s work family — Harris and Kay. We really don’t need another hyperactive, emotional TV producer in the style of Rachel McAdams in Morning Glory or Katherine Heigl in practically every rom-com. Instead, I’d be interested in watching the show establish Kay as more than just a foil to make Mike look good. Fox is already so likeable that he doesn’t need any help in that department. What’s more, it’d be a shame to waste a talent like Pierce in the role of token best friend with little else to do but push Mike out of his comfort zone. A meeting of Harris’ love for the ladies and Leigh’s love for the fellas is ripe with deliciously awkward possibilities.
The word that comes to mind watching the pilot is possibilities. Let’s hope it delivers. If a woman can deliver a baby in a tree, then this series can deliver on our hopes and dreams for a new comedy classic.
Favorite lines of the night:
“Enough with the kale! We get it, you’re white.”
“Wakey, wakey Kevin Bacon-y.”
“I’m going to take my laptop to a Panera…like a drifter.”
What do you think PopWatchers? Are you hopeful for the possibilities of The Michael J. Fox Show, or are you sticking with Spin City and Family Ties reruns?