Tonight, Michael J. Fox returns to television. In his first starring role since he left Spin City over a decade ago, Fox is now the center of The Michael J. Fox Show on NBC. In this Modern Family-style mockumentary, Fox plays a variation of himself, a former NBC news anchor named Mike Henry whose Parkinson's diseases has forced him to retire. Along with his wife, played by Breaking Bad's Betsy Brandt, Henry's sister and his three children attempt to get him back to work. And his condition is never forgotten in the storyline. "We're not making fun of Parkinson's," Fox has said about the show. "We're examining a life that has Parkinson's and just how one guy deals with it,"
Whether that makes for good television, and whether it can help revive NBC's credibility, remains to be seen. In a bit of network self-deprecation, Henry's former colleague Harris, played by The Wire's Wendall Pierce, complains to him, "“No one’s watching the news anymore. We got beat by a show called Color Splash last night. That’s literally watching paint dry.” If only NBC's recent lineup were even that good.
Reviews of the show are mixed, and it currently holds a rating of 63 Metacritic. "In the context of all this flailing," writes Slate's Willa Paskin about NBC's struggle to find a winning sitcom, "The Michael J. Fox Show is a kind of victory: a show with broad appeal led by a still sparkly and high-strung Fox that is pretty good, a shade too predictable and manipulative to be excellent, but neither excruciating nor embarrassing. It seems like a hit."
Mike Hale at the New York Times, however, is not so optimistic about the show's likability. "Everything about his return to sitcom stardom is mild, tucked in, determined not to offend," he writes. "The problem is the feeling that you’re watching a long and expensive public service announcement."
The Washington Post's Hank Stuever was even less generous. "It wants to be funny, it wants to be urbane, it wants to be human and it wants to nail every line. Where it fails miserably is in premise and character," he writes. "The disease is the bad guy and the butt of all the jokes; its symptoms are presented as an entertaining set of quirks."
But will audiences will be able to look past that or just see through it?