A Christian Review of The Michael J. Fox Show
It’s not every day that you get to see a semi-retired award-winning Hollywood icon—the affable Michael J. Fox himself—go back to the future and take another shot at television success. He’s done it twice before with Family Ties in the ’80s and Spin City in the ’90s, and now he’s hoping for a hat trick with a third successful show. Many have been surprised to hear of his return to a major acting role considering how his battle with Parkinson’s disease has sidelined his career since 1999.
And, to make this unexpected comeback as evident as possible to the public, the NBC execs have given it a rather subtle title: The Michael J. Fox Show.
When I first heard of it, I mistakenly assumed that it was a talk show: “We’ve already got Leno, Conan, Fallon, and now Arsenio (again!),” I thought, “do we really need another?”
Fox’s return to a major TV role, however, is far more intriguing (and entertaining) than what I imagined; and it is certainly not a talk show. It is a thoughtful, light-hearted sitcom that nimbly walks the fine line between reality and fiction. Fox plays retired news anchorman Mike Henry who attempts to launch a comeback as an anchor despite having Parkinson’s disease, the ailment that ended his career years earlier. As he faces an uphill battle to succeed, his loved ones—a straight-talking wife, three quirky kids, and his trouble-making sister—support him wholeheartedly without letting him take himself too seriously or indulge in self-pity about his condition.
However, Fox’s character Mike Henry is not the only one facing an uphill battle. The Michael J. Fox Show has been placed in an unforgiving time slot in NBC’s Thursday night line-up. Bringing up the rear at 9:30pm, it faces stiff competition from Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Crazy Ones, which sees the return of legendary comic Robin Williams to the small screen.
If Fox’s show does manage to beat the odds and find an audience, it will be because of its likeability and quirky charm. It’s not laugh-out-loud for most of its jokes (though a couple of them were hilarious); but it’s winsome, and it draws you into the life and struggles of Mike Henry, who displays very visible physical symptoms of Parkinson’s throughout the episodes. Its comedic moments include such self-effacing zingers as Fox riding in the back of a news van getting tossed about on a violently bumpy road, and he turns to his co-worker and says, “For me, this is perfectly still.”
Probably its most interesting comedic touch is its irreverent but not offensive treatment of Mike’s Parkinson’s disease. Fox uses the disease and its effects on his body to provide much of the comedy in a tasteful way that is self-deprecating. If those jokes had a moral, that message would be, “Don’t wallow in self-pity or live like a victim if you have this disease; keep a positive attitude and have a sense of humor.”
Michael J. Fox is a father of four and has been married to the same woman for twenty-five years. He is a devoted family man, and this trait shines brightly in the show. In the first episode, he nags his family about eating dinner at the table together instead of having “standing dinners.” Like the end of a Duck Dynasty episode, he finally gets his way and gathers the family for quality time at the dinner table. In the second episode, he and his wife overcome a tension in their relationship in a way that honors marriage and emphasizes faithfulness.
From a Christian perspective, however, the show isn’t something that a family of all ages could sit down and watch. Despite its mild TV-PG rating, most Christian parents would not feel comfortable watching it with their children. It contains some mild profanity (the wife likes saying the b-word for some reason) and some sexually overt dialogue, such as a single man walking away with a woman to her apartment, describing how he plans to make love to her. The show also bears NBC’s typical rubberstamp support for various social agendas. In the second episode, Mike’s daughter believes she has befriended a lesbian, and from there the show expresses a warm approval of lesbianism among teenagers, placing the lifestyle on equal footing with other harmless personality traits, such as being a jock or a band geek. It’s an oversimplified, eager to please treatment of a very divisive issue.
The objectionable material is disappointing. Those problems aside, you have to give Fox some credit. His courage in even trying something so unprecedented in television is inspiring. Such visible displays of vulnerability bring comfort and inspiration to people stricken with life-changing diseases. My grandmother died from Parkinson’s, so Fox’s courage to deal with the subject on such a personal level hits close to home.
Whether or not The Michael J. Fox Show survives past the first season, Fox’s effort will go down in history as something truly unique. It is intriguing and inspiring to watch—though the overt sex jokes and one-sided presentation of divisive social issues are disappointing. NBC should have brought it down to TV-G and marketed it to America as a funny, unique show safe for the whole family. Millions more could have benefited from Fox’s inspirational example, and, as Duck Dynasty has proven, NBC would have tapped into a huge demographic across the country.