NBC ordered 'The Michael J. Fox Show' with a direct-to-series purchase--and really, why wouldn't they? Everyone loves Michael J. Fox; he is Marty McFly from the 'Back to the Future' feature franchise... he is Alex P. Keaton from the beloved sitcom 'Family Ties'... his show 'Spin City' was a rousing success until he sadly had to step away from acting due to being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He's an hilarious actor who has somehow sustained his boyish good looks to age fifty-two and he published a 2002 memoir titled 'Lucky Man' that turned him into a walking inspiration.
So how best to showcase his talents, in his grand return to television comedy? Well, how about putting all of that up on the screen?
'The Michael J. Fox Show' is about Mike Henry, a former NBC news anchor in New York City who stepped away from his reporting duties due to his diagnosis with Parkinson's. He is beloved by everyone in the city, who misses him and wishes he would come back to television... which is, of course, exactly what he does. Mike Henry makes his grand return to the small screen in the same way that Mike Fox does, continuing to do what he does best.
This concept was leaked weeks ago, as the show was in production. I knew that Fox himself would deliver in the new series--like everyone else, I've been a fan of his for decades--but I could see a couple of potential potholes the show could fall into, if not handled well. Back when I first heard that 'The Michael J. Fox Show' was coming to NBC, I thought to myself there would be a danger of the series making Henry's battle with Parkinson's a cheesy, syrupy tale (in a way that Fox himself never has), and that the show would need strong supporting cast, to ensure Fox wasn't carrying the load alone.
I am very pleased to say that 'The Michael J. Fox Show' avoided these pit-falls and is a damn fine, funny little sitcom. Henry's Parkinson's is present, but neither played up nor lampooned. What is mocked, rather, is the response to his illness from others: a police officer wants his autograph because the officer's uncle has Alzheimer's; Henry's new production coordinatior bursts into tears at his bravery whenever he speaks to her; even Henry's own daughter milks his inspirational story for all it's worth, in order to get out of school work. Henry makes fun of NBC's desire to milk his story, as well, talking about how they'll want to put him on tv in slow-motion with sappy music playing (which is, of course, precisely what happens). These gags are light-hearted and genuinely funny, as they are drawn from Fox's own experiences and come from the right place.
As for the supporting cast: this is what is going to make this series a hit. Fox is terrific on his own, but giving him this cast to play off of makes this show the success that it is. 'Breaking Bad's Betsy Brandt plays Mike's loving wife Annie, who is both sexy and motherly all at once. Katie Finneran is Mike's self-centered sister Leigh who lies about her age and is always on the hunt for a man. Mike and Annie's kids were the most pleasant surprise of all: Conor Romero plays the eldest son, who left college to
pursue his dream of "reimagining the search engine." Jack Gore is adorable as little Graham, who never stops eating. And there's Juliette Goglia, Mike and Annie's daughter Eve, who I predict will be the breakout star of this new cast. Every member of the family hits their marks and keeps the comedy lively and witty.
But that's not the entire cast--I would be remiss not to mention Wendell Pierce as Mike Henry's network boss Harris Green. Pierce, best known for his work on the dark & gritty HBO series 'The Wire,' is the man who provides the biggest laughs in the first two episodes of 'The Michael J. Fox Show.' He and Fox have a believable chemistry from their very first scene, which makes them feel like old, trusted friends. The Harris character is a brilliant addition to the script and Pierce plays him to perfection.
So in sum: we all knew we were going to tune in to 'The Michael J. Fox Show,' even if it was just to see our beloved Marty McFly again. But thanks to clever writing, a stellar cast, and humor that stems from love rather than cruelty (take a note, 'Back in the Game'), 'The Michael J. Fox Show' is a winner.