It's the season's most compelling comeback: Michael J. Fox is back on TV.
Fox, of course, has Parkinson's disease—a degenerative and incurable condition that causes shaking and involuntary movements, among other things. And it eventually forced him to walk away from his hit Spin City. But he could never completely abandon acting. And so after guest starring in such shows as Boston Legal, Rescue Me and The Good Wife, he's back full-time, playing a family man stricken with Parkinson's and looking to re-ignite his career—a familiar character.
As Mike Henry, Fox is a one-time television anchor who's given an opportunity to return to the air—Parkinson's and all. But while that very public workplace fits snugly in the overall mix, the comedy centers mostly around the home front, where he and wife Annie shepherd three headstrong youngsters—teens Eve and Ian, and precocious kid Graham. There, in the confines of a family that has long dealt with Dad's disease, Parkinson's is not so much a scary, incurable condition as it is a source of both irritation and laughter—like Grandpa's penchant for old stories told a dozen times or Mom's inexplicable need to put mushrooms in everything she cooks.
"Can you not have a personal victory right now?" Annie tells Mike as he struggles to steady his arm long enough to serve the family some scrambled eggs. "We are starving!"
It's a show that you almost have to root for, isn't it? Fox has been a pretty fantastic spokesman in the midst of everything—always hopeful (at least publicly), never self-pitying and just as likable as he's ever been. "There's nothing horrifying about it to me," he told The Guardian. "I don't think it's gothic nastiness. There's nothing horrible on the surface about someone with a shaky hand. The way I look at it, sometimes it's frustrating, sometimes it's funny. I need to look at it that way."
And Fox's self-deprecating charisma gets a nice showcase in his new series. While he's sometimes just a tad hard to understand, his comic timing is as strong as it's ever been. While the show incorporates Parkinson's, it's not about Parkinson's—a crucial distinction. The disease is just one part of the picture, as Fox wants it to be, and as it should be.
It's only when it comes to crasser concerns of content that there are some problems with The Michael J. Fox Show. Mike and Annie aren't going to be cheating on each other any time soon, never mind Mike's wandering eye in Episode 2, but characters around them show little to no qualms about sleeping with various people. The two teens have their own share of hormonally charged storylines, some of them including homosexual tangents. Sly (and sometimes not so sly) sexual jokes pock the script.
Like an old friend (going all the way back to the 1980s' Family Ties), it's oddly reassuring to see Fox again in his element. And his comedy is clearly cleaner and, in many ways, nicer than many sitcoms surrounding it today. But salaciousness still snakes its way around the story, making his a show your family might not want to permanently tie itself to.
Mike is attracted to his upstairs neighbor (played by Fox's real-life wife Tracy Pollan), who flirts with him. He refuses to admit said attraction to his wife—despite her hearing him murmur the neighbor's name during a sensual dream. Meanwhile, Eve tries to become a friend with another girl from school just because she thinks the classmate is a lesbian. (She likes "collecting" alternative-minded friends.) A string of mild "gay" jokes follow before the girl is seen kissing Ian, much to Eve's disappointment. (The supposed lesbian says she only kissed a girl at a party because guys think it's "hot.")
Ian, it should be noted, gets it right when he says you really shouldn't make friends with people just because they're gay or straight.
Mike and Annie get frisky and talk about a sexual position in bed while trying to fend off interruptions from their kids. We hear about a cocktail waitress who might have turned out to be a man. Mike's boss talks about having sex on a first date. Quantities of cleavage get screen time, especially Mike's sister Leigh's, who makes a show of holding her breasts as they bounce while she runs. (That happens after she takes Graham to the park so she can pretend to be a single mom and get sympathy.) Leigh also winds up smooching someone in a photo booth.
Characters drink wine, say "h‑‑‑" (once) and misuse God's name (twice). Eve jabs at Chick-fil-A for being "hateful." Ian jabs back with a defense.