Michael J. Fox is the most likeable person on the planet. This program acknowledges it and tries to give the impression of moving past it, but also plays it safe and lets the overly oozy shmoozy tone of a Michael J Fox television triumphant return come through. Michael plays Mike Henry, a news anchor who had to retire due to his Parkinsons Disease who pours all of his extra time and energy into his family. His family is a very nearly-post Breaking Bad Betsy Brandt as his wife Annie, 8 year old son Graham, older teenaged daughter Eve, college dropout son Ian, and sister in-law Leigh. All of his extra attention is driving his family a little crazy. Soon, opportunity knocks as his old friend/boss Harrison offers him his job back at the news station in the pilot episode.
Mike is initially wary of this offer, feeling that it’s less about news and more about people pitying him for his condition. He isn’t wrong as it seems Harrison is mostly running advertisements that play up his “heroic” story, and Mike is not into the return for the standing ovations. He’s a news anchor, through and through. His daughter also exploits his situation by filming Mike and throwing some cheesy music on it for a school video project. I enjoyed the teacher’s reaction as he basically called her out for doing a disingenuous fluff piece. The daughter has to come to do it without taking the easy way out and give an actual genuine opinion about her dad, that he’s flawed like anybody else, but overall a great dad.
Mike does a piece of journalism and is invited to present it at the Today Show. At Matt Lauer’s personal request, even though the two have a bitter rivalry. At least, Mike has a rivalry with Matt, Matt has no idea. Unfortunately it cuts away before he can present it.
The second episode “Neighbors” is a tip toe backwards. The main focus of this story is Mike and Annie’s new upstairs neighbor. Mike meets her and when she openly flirts with him, he becomes slightly enamored. He’s a bit obvious about it, but still denies it when confronted by Annie. “Women, always jumping to conclusions based on overwhelming evidence” says Harrison. Eventually Harrison ends up with the neighbor, much to Mike’s initial chagrin. Pretty soon, Mike and Annie come to terms with the small crush and they move on. Standard sitcom fair.
The side stories in this one were less than fascinating. The sister in-law Leigh has to write an article for US Weekly and seeks sympathy at the local playground. The daughter Eve has a lesbian friend over and is oddly preoccupied with how she cares about her. I get that it’s an attempt to look cool, but it comes off a little strange. It later turns out the girl isn’t a lesbian and this for some reason upsets Eve. At least until her brother(who made out with the girl) asks her, “Why do you care, anyways?” So at least this bizarre story line comes to a logical conclusion when she realizes how dumb she was.
I love Michael J. Fox, but so far I only like the Michael J. Fox show. I like that the show isn’t overly in-your-face about Mike’s Parkinsons. I also like that while some of his disease is played for laughs as Michael J Fox is never adverse to laughing at himself, some of it is also obviously drawn from real personal experiences from his life. Such as the daughter wondering why people always come up to Mike and want to tell him about people they know with Parkinsons. “Alcoholism is a disease, people don’t go up to David Hasselhoff and tell him about their crazy uncles” she says.
Then to my complaints, of which I have a few. I have a bit of a problem with the character of Harrison, the friend/boss. Harrison is supposed to be here as a funny scamp, a loveable jerk. If this was a drama, however, he would be a straight up villain. He flat out says, at many points, it’s all about the ratings. He wants Mike to do fluff pieces and bullshit so people can tune in and feel good about themselves for cheering on the news anchor struggling with this horrible disease. I get the feeling that this is a character that the show wants me to like, but I can’t really do that. The show is a sitcom and is mostly shot as such, but occasionally switches to an “Office” like documentary style where the family members are being interviewed. Are they being interviewed? Are these just personal asides in their heads? I have no idea, but I find it more jarring than Michael J Fox serving me bread rolls.
Overall I feel that this show is…..okay. It has it’s ups and downs. The show certainly has it’s flaws from the get-go and needs to find it’s footing. Luckily for us one of those ups is Michael J Fox, the most likeable person in the world. After the first two episodes if it were a show starring anybody else, I would probably take it off the DVR and never seek it out again. I believe it can improve.. If a lady can give birth in a tree, this show absolutely has the potential to get better.
Pilot review – Three and half stars out of five
Neighbors review – Three stars out of five