The Michael J. Fox Show sucks.
There. I said it. I wasn't stricken down by lightning. An angry mob didn't carry me away. Not even a stern phone call.
It has to be said that it hurts me a lot more to actually admit that fact. I, like anyone with a pulse, expected to love anything involving Michael J. Fox returning to television on a weekly, 22-episode-a-year basis. Then they added the superbly subtle Betsy Brandt as his wife and my excitement for the series reached the ceiling. Add in two fun supporting actors in Wendell Pierce and Katie Finneran and it seemed like this was the show to watch in 2013. NBC even gave it a 22 episode pick-up before the premiere even aired.
How confident were they?!
It's difficult to name the exact reason why the show is failing. And I'm trying to be an optimist by using the word "failing" rather than label it an absolute failure on every level. With a few generous tweaks, the show could be great. The talent is there. But even the talent is affecting the overall product.
But let's get right to what is definitely not working, and the first thing is the kids. Modern Family has spoiled me by making me think all child actors are cute, funny and in possession of impeccable comedic timing. The kids of The Michael J. Fox Show prove every bit of that wrong and revert us back to a time when the kids were the weak links of a show. Only the daughter has any potential, but she's portraying every weird, offbeat, nerd character ever created on television.
Which leads me into my next problem: did the writers simply watch some of the best sitcoms on TV in the last few years to create The Michael J. Fox Show? It feels like aliens came to Earth, watched Modern Family, The Office and The Big Bang Theory, said to themselves "Earthlings like this, let's take their best components and create our very own version!" and went on to build a cheap, third-rate imitation. It feels like the slogan should be "Watch The Michael J. Fox Show if you like Modern Family but don't want all the charm, chemistry and hilarity!" or "Watch The Michael J. Fox Show if you like The Big Bang Theory but think its humor isn't quite broad enough!"
The comedy isn't just broad. It's so tired and recycled, it's painful. What makes certain shows stand the test of time is that, despite being a product of their era (All in the Family feels like the 70s, Seinfeld feels like the 90s), they have a unique, interesting voice that demands to be heard and appreciated. There's nothing unique about The Michael J. Fox Show. And even worse, they're not even trying. Characters talk to a camera between scenes, and I have no idea why. In the pilot, it has something to do with the daughter doing a school project. Is this an ongoing school project? It's forced and unnecessary.
And maybe worst of all, these talented actors are not elevating the material. There are numerous examples of subpar content getting a major boost from top-level talent on screen. Perhaps the best current example is The Crazy Ones, a series obsessed with firing off as many jokes in a single scene, creating too many hit and miss moments. Thankfully, it's helped tremendously by a solid cast. The Michael J. Fox Show operates on a similar, joke-a-second format. Unfortunately, there are rarely any hit laughs and the actors feel like they're doing a rehearsal for each episode rather than performing the final take. Betsy Brandt took a few seasons to shine on Breaking Bad, as did most of the supporting cast. Here, front and center, I expected the very best but have gotten very little to convince me that she's good. I know she is, but if this were my first exposure to her, I wouldn't be impressed.
And then there's Michael. He's a national treasure in Canada. Everyone loves him. But he's disappointing me here. In some scenes, you can feel how much he loves working again. He's been dying for this ever since announcing his struggle with Parkinson's. In other scenes, it feels like he's on auto-pilot. I know his illness is a severe anchor tied to his body every single day, I acknowledge that. He's earned the right to not always be on his A-game. But when the star, for whom the show is named, doesn't feel like he's giving 100%, it's problematic.
There are a few lone bright spots. There are cute moments when things look like they might finally click. And Wendell Pierce is a professional. He squeezes laughs out of minimal material, with a deadpan, monotone delivery. One might say his professionalism makes him drastically overqualified to be on this show, but again, the collective experience of all involved should have been enough to give us a solid sitcom. It hasn't. Not yet anyway. And unfortunately for NBC, ratings are falling. The people have spoken. It will continue for now, but no way does it survive. NBC has found a few unexpected hits lately and no longer needs abysmal ratings. Case-in-point: NBC has pulled Parks & Recreation from its schedule temporarily. One can assume this will also be the final season of everyone's favorite ratings-challenged comedy, Community.
Miracles can happen. Maybe Michael working on television again is a miracle. But for this show to succeed, it will now need the miracle of all miracles. It started with a fizzle (that pilot was dreadful, but the next three episodes thankfully were a tad better) and now audiences have turned away. It's probably too late. Maybe "probably" is unnecessary in that sentence. It's optimistic to think something will change in enough time.
The realist in me says it's done.