Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'The Michael J. Fox Show'
[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show:"The Michael J. Fox Show" (NBC)
The Pitch: NBC gave "The Michael J. Fox Show" a 22-episode commitment without a finished script or a pilot. Safe to say, then, that the title was all the pitch anybody needed.
Quick Response: Before NBC announced its fall premiere schedule, I was going to suggest that it might be a really, really, really good idea to premiere "The Michael J. Fox Show" with two episodes. Then NBC announced they were premiering "The Michael J. Fox Show" with two episodes. And rightly so! It's not that the pilot is bad, but it's basically a PSA. And its message is "It's OK to laugh." It's 22 minutes of Michael J. Fox amiably reassuring viewers not only is it OK for them to laugh at him and his medical difficulties, but since he's laughing at himself, we're actually laughing with him. And I'm not going to scoff at this as an aspiration for this particular pilot. "The Michael J. Fox Show" isn't explicitly autobiographical for Fox, but it's close enough that there's a wave of discomfort that almost every viewer is going to pass through and it's up to the beloved star to make sure that most viewers pass through that discomfort as quickly as possible. Saying that "The Michael J. Fox Show" makes a few jokes about Fox's Parkinson's would be like saying Yakov Smirnoff made a few jokes about differences between life in the USA and life in the Soviet Union. The pilot is almost nothing but jokes about Fox's tremors, his medication and the things he can and cannot do because of his Parkinson's and how that relates to the character's ability to return to a nightly newscast in New York City. You might crack a smile at some of the jokes, but the goal isn't really laughter. The goal, I hope, is to get a ton of information out of the way up-front so that subsequent episodes can begin the gradual process of making the show about a guy who has a job and a family and also has Parkinson's, rather than being A Very Important Show About Michael J. Fox's Health. Everybody involved here is talented enough that it could work, if that corner is turned. As we know from "Good Wife," Fox is actually remarkable at using his condition to turn punchlines on their heads and he still has a gift with physical comedy that's altered, but not abated. There are hints of that here, but they're buried under the well-meaning explanations and meta dialogue like "What if I'm not the guy they remember?" Freed from the shackles that bind Marie on "Breaking Bad," Betsy Brandt is loose and appealing as Fox's wife, though the distraction caused by their height disparity is unavoidable. I kinda love the casting of Wendell Pierce as a news producer and lemme just say that Katie Finneran is much better here than on FOX's "I Hate My Teenage Daughter," though she's kinda in a different, broader pilot from everybody else. And the kids aren't bad, with Juliette Goglia as the early standout.
Desire To Watch Again: The bottom line is that I understand why this pilot was something "The Michael J. Fox Show" had to get out of its system. I didn't love it, but at least they executed the "The More You Know..." side of things in a way that was light, rather than maudlin. Now? Let's see what the series looks like. I'm really eager to see a real episode.