So I reluctantly watched the first two episodes of the new Michael J. Fox Show that aired last week. I say reluctantly because although I’ve always been a huge fan of his, I just had a bad feeling that the entire show was going to be exploitative of its star’s Parkinson’s and our desire to see him as his good, old fashioned hilarious self again.
But the thing is, he’s not his good, old-fashioned self that we all fell in love with from Back to the Future and Family Ties and Spin City from decades ago.
And believe me, it pains me to say that because I get that this is a very personal thing for him and it’s been a personal struggle for a long time now, but as I watched his new show, I must admit that I cringed as exactly what I was concerned about unfolded before my very eyes.
I mean, seriously – the first episode’s writing process basically started and ended at “let’s make a show about Michael J. Fox!” Even the name is uninspired! I couldn’t believe what I was watching, as if they were purposefully parodying themselves – a show about a star coming back onto TV after getting Parkinson’s and the network being more excited about the potential ratings than his actual return … it was so blatantly EXACTLY WHAT NBC DID that it didn’t even feel like comedy.
It just felt wrong.
Some of the jokes were funny, but not really funny, to the point where a lot of them felt more like pity laughs than actual enjoyment. It’s probably in the network’s interest that they ordered the entire first season upfront simply because that way they don’t have to be the ones looking bad for pulling it off the air after only a few episodes.
Even the reviews I’ve read are very light handed, as if they feel the need to cut the guy a break after all that he’s been through. And maybe Michael J. Fox does deserve that – the man is no doubt a legend in his own right. If The Michael J. Fox Show is intended to be his gateway back into entertainment* and maybe also help bring awareness for Parkinson’s to the mainstream, then so be it … but the show has to be a lot better than its first two episodes because so far it’s been about 90% pity / 10% comedy … at least for me.
And the sad thing is, I actually think it raises the question of whether we the people can actually handle a “comedy” with his disease at the forefront because if we’re being honest, the majority of us likely tuned in to the premiere episodes out of curiosity, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to keep us coming back. Nobody’s going to watch a 30-minute comedy each week consistently just because they feel bad and they’re nostalgic for the old Michael J. Fox. And I would hope that Michael himself doesn’t want that to be the reason why people are watching, either, but they’ve got a long ways to go to get past all of that because the first two episodes were very lazily “written” and certainly didn’t do him any favors.
I get that the idea was to write Parkinson’s into the show so that his symptoms look natural for the character, just as they’ve apparently done with some of his other guest appearances on shows, but I don’t think that it really works. The laughter feels forced when the jokes are about his disease, and when they’re not actively being addressed by comedy, the symptoms are still there and just make me feel uncomfortable.
Maybe that’s my fault for not being able to look past the disease – I don’t know. For what it’s worth, I could never see the humor in the Retarded Policeman webseries, either, and a lot of people loved that … though it’s still hard to discern why they loved it.
I guess we’ve got 20 more episodes to see if anything changes.
*And for the record, I’ve got to say that I was actually surprised to read over his IMDB page and see that he’s guest starred on a handful of shows over the years since his disease took its turn. Aside from his appearance on Curb, which I totally forgot about, too, I haven’t really seen anything with him except for the occasional interview, which was always really hard for me to watch. I do sincerely hope that this show turns around because he’s still an amazing guy, but I was very not impressed by what I’ve seen so far…