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TV Reviews

MPAA Rating
Genre
Comedy
Cast
J.K. Simmons as Mel Fisher; Jenna Elfman as Joyce Fisher; Eli Baker as Henry Fisher; Ava Deluca-Verley as Katie Fisher; Lance Lim as Runyen; Jason Bateman as Narrator
Channel
NBC
Reviewer
Paul Asay with Steven Isaac
Growing Up Fisher

Growing Up Fisher

When you're a kid, you think your parents watch every little step you take. It's like they have eyes in the back of their head. And that's true even if they're totally blind.

In the Fisher family, that blind parent who sees more than you'd think is Mel, one of the more insightful blind guys you'll ever, um, see. He doesn't let a little thing like ocular impairment get him down. He'll chop down trees like Paul Bunyan, throw a football like Paul Hornung (yeah, Hornung was a running back; that's part of the point here) and teach his daughter to drive like Paul Newman. He never even told his courtroom colleagues—or anyone else outside the family, for that matter—he was blind until just recently. If you think you're going to pull one over on the guy, think again. He and his new guide dog, Elvis, make a formidable pair, and he'd tell you pretty forcibly that Jacob never would've gotten Esau's birthright with him in charge.

This is not to say Mel is perfect. Nor is he shepherding the perfect family. He's separated from his wife now, for one. And maybe that's partly because Joyce likes to think of herself as her kids' best friend—a hip, empathetic, overgrown teen in mom jeans.

Katie, the actual teen in the Fisher family, sometimes plays divide-and-conquer with her parents, while younger brother Henry does his best to just ride out all the insanity, aided and abetted by buddy (and perhaps future juvenile delinquent) Runyen.

"My family's a circus with a blind ringmaster," Henry admits.

And yet, for all their collective quirks and divisions, the Fishers may have netted what it means to be a loving family.

Growing Up Fisher, a 2014 midseason replacement show co-produced by Arrested Development's Jason Bateman and directed by Friends alum David Schwimmer, is both sweet and quirky. It's stocked with loving, caring characters who try to do the right thing (mostly). And, even when things go awry, kids and parents alike find a way to muddle through and make up at the end.

Like the Fishers themselves, the show has its problems. Mel and Joyce's decision to separate comes off as frivolous and wholly unnecessary. And episodes can deal with some ticklish subjects, ranging from underage drinking to drugs to sex. (Sometimes the themes related to these issues are right on. Sometimes they're askew.) A bit of mild profanity hops into the dialogue now and then.

It's an imperfect show about an imperfect family that gets it right, then gets it wrong, then giggles about it for a while before sharing a big group hug.

Episode Reviews

"Drug/Bust"

Henry's convinced he's going to go blind on his 12th birthday, just like his dad did. So he decides he needs to see as many things as possible before the lights go out. At the top of his must-see list? In the words of excited-to-help pal Runyen, "naked boobs." The boys proceed to spy on a neighbor lady who breastfeeds, peeping in her window and gawking at her bare back and the side of her breast as she uses a breast pump. Then they try to sneak into the high school girls' locker room (but end up in the boys' instead).

Giggles over everything being bigger in high school ensue, as does an invitation from Mom to talk about Henry's newfound attraction to boys. (He protests mightily.) We later see him in his underwear when a surprise party doesn't get started exactly the way Dad and Mom planned.

Dad, meanwhile, finds marijuana in Katie's bag and lectures her for being high. Turns out it's Mom's joint, so Mel proceeds to lecture her too. After Katie tells him he has a stick up his "a‑‑," he relents, though. In fact, he relents so much he decides to smoke the weed himself as a way of loosening up—an idea a couple of cops don't get in the way of when they realize he's "old" and blind. The end result? Dad and Mam and Katie bond over Mel trying to back off from being so "uptight."

We hear a few profanities beyond Katie's disrespectful outburst; "d‑‑n" is included.

"Trust Fall"

Katie's rescued from a high school drinking party by her parents (who think she's been at a friends' house for game night). "There's one game teenagers like to play," Mel tells Joyce, "and the last round typically involves peeing on a stick." Mom and Dad share their concerns that their daughter could get involved with drinking, drugs and underage sex, and Mel tells Katie that she's "basically drunk on hormones" and shouldn't be allowed out of her room 'til graduation. Katie doesn't seem to be drunk on beer though, and she offers excuses for her deception. Katie believes them, but Mel thinks his daughter still can't be trusted. (Turns out she can.) Dad chases down joggers who leeringly compliment her.

Meanwhile, Henry, in an effort to get some relief from his chaotic family, spends the night at Runyen's apartment, despite his friend's horror stories about his family. Turns out, they're almost picture perfect: Henry marvels that they use real plates for dinner and helps wash up afterward. "Chores, structure, routine?" he gushes. "I love it!" Runyen, though, relishes being at a high school party (even though he's stuck in the car) and longs for someone to be Tased. He and Henry speculate about whether a classmate stuffs her bra.

Mel trips on a bag of beer cans and falls down a hole. He and Joyce drink wine. God's name is misused a handful of times.

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