Last night The Michael J. Fox Show premiered its first two episodes on NBC. It was just as likeable as the star it was named after, and that’s pretty darn likeable. What I found most appealing was that it didn’t feel like the first time I’d watched the show. I don’t mean that to say it was derivative or boring, but rather that it had the ease and familiarity of a show that had already been on the air for a couple of seasons. This could be because we’ve been seeing non-stop advertisements for the show for what feels like a decade, but I think it was really because the cast seemed so comfortable with each other from the get-go. It didn’t feel like these characters had just been created, but rather that they’d been living in that apartment for years and we just happened to drop in and spy on them that day.
The show’s familiarity is also undoubtedly due to its star Michael J. Fox. He has such a wonderful, natural presence that it seems like he should have had a show named after him years ago. In this case the show’s plot parallels his own experience. His character Mike Henry left his job as a news anchor when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he’s now decided to return to work. To top it all off, both Fox and Henry are returning to NBC. Fortunately the show isn’t so self-conscious about these similarities that the references become tiresome. It’s gets the meta premise out of the way early and then just allows the stories to play out on their own without constantly winking at us.
I was also a little uncertain going into the show about how the Parkinson’s jokes would go over. I really admire that Fox is willing to joke about himself, but I was worried that it would be referenced so much that it would get exhausting. However, I think it’s good that NBC aired a second episode after the pilot, because it showed that this won’t be “The Parkinson’s Show.” The plot of the second episode, which focused on Mike’s attraction to the new upstairs neighbor, had nothing to do with his condition. The Parkinson’s jokes were used sparingly and naturally enough that it wasn’t a problem. For instance, Mike’s wife (Betsy Brandt) hears him talking in his sleep about their neighbor. When she calls him out on it, he pretends to be dreaming about her. She knows he’s faking because he doesn’t shake when he’s asleep. If the show does things right, Parkinson’s will be used as a character trait that comes up every so often like any other character trait would. It doesn’t have to always drive the plot or form the basis for every joke, but if it was avoided completely it wouldn’t be realistic.
It also helps that the show allows the supporting cast to shine. Brandt and Fox have great chemistry. Katie Finneran, whom I adored on short-lived series like Wonderfalls and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, is ditzy but lovable as Mike’s sister, and she’s a great foil to Brandt. Mike’s relationship with his boss (Wendall Pierce) will be fun to watch. And the plots involving Mike’s three kids promise plenty of awkwardness and relatability.
Oh, and of course it’s funny. It might not be the quotable kind of funny that show like 30 Rock were, but it made me smile throughout and I even laughed out loud a few times. Above all, it was a feel-good show, and we just don’t have enough of those these days.
(Image: NBC via IMDB)