Given his enduring popularity as a TV star, Michael J. Fox would really have had to make a mess of his new NBC sitcom in order for it to be anything but a hit.
And he hasn't. The Michael J. Fox Show isn't exactly a laugh riot, but it's the kind of TV comedy whose well-written and deftly delivered combination of smarts, sweetness and gentle humour could carry it a long way.
The Michael J. Fox Show takes a semi-autobiographical approach to bringing the Canadian-born actor back to prime time.
Fox plays Mike Henry, a popular local TV news anchor in New York City who has been away from his job for five years, having taken time off after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His old boss, Harris Green (Wendell Pierce), approaches him with the idea of returning to work.
With his health stabilized and his kids sufficiently grown that they don't require daily doting, Mike says he'll consider the option. When he breaks the news to the family, the reaction isn't quite what he expected -- rather than expressing sadness that Dad might be spending long days at the office, wife Annie (Betsy Brandt) and the three young'uns are thrilled by the notion that their every move won't be Mike-ro-managed by an overenthusiastic spouse/parent.
The series premi®re does a good job of setting up the show's premise (though, given Fox's enduring appeal, not much explanation is necessary), and it quickly establishes Pierce and Brandt as his equals when it comes to carrying the show's comedic load.
Wisely, two subsequent episodes provided for preview focus much less on Fox/Henry's medical condition and more on the dual-focused family/workplace narrative. Episode 2 features an appearance by Fox's real-life wife, Tracy Pollan, as an attractive new upstairs neighbour who seems to develop a crush on Mike, and Episode 3 introduces Anne Heche as Henry's newsroom nemesis, Susan Rodriguez-Jones, who becomes extra-competitive when Mike's daughter, Eve (Juliette Goglia) begins an internship at the TV station.
As mentioned earlier, The Michael J. Fox Show doesn't fall into the laugh-out-loud-hilarious comedy category; rather, it's an old-style, warm-hearted sitcom about family love and friends/co-workers support. Think The Cosby Show, or perhaps Fox's first TV hit, Family Ties, and you're on the right track.
It isn't cloying. It doesn't go for the cheap laugh. And it doesn't play to a lowest common denominator. It's a thoughtful, intelligent comedy filled with instantly likable characters and that -- along with the fact everybody loves Michael J. Fox -- should be enough to make it a ratings winner.
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Batting for average: It's the year of the cranky grandpa in new prime-time comedies, and it's entirely possible that James Caan could be bringing the crankiest, crustiest of all the old-timers to the rookie roster.
Caan co-stars in the new ABC comedy Back in the Game, which premi®res tonight at 8:30 in a comfortable time slot between two established sitcoms, The Middle and Modern Family.
He portrays Terry (The Cannon) Gannon, a washed-up former baseball player who never quite had the stuff to be a major-league star and certainly didn't have what it took to be a first-class parent. He's basically frittering away his twilight years, guzzling beer and complaining about his life's failings, when his daughter, Terry Gannon Jr. -- that's right, his daughter, played by Maggie Lawson -- returns home with a hard-luck story more depressing than his own.
A former all-star softball player who lost her college scholarship and had her no-account husband walk out, leaving her scrambling to re-start her life as a single mom, Terry Jr. has no other options apparent, so she moves in with the Cannon and tries her best to keep her son, Danny (Griffin Gluck), from falling under his layabout granddad's influence.
Of course, she can't succeed, particularly after Danny expresses an interest in Little League and Terry Jr. is forced to coach a team of outcasts cut from the A-team so Danny will have a place to play. She can't do it alone, so the Cannon is called out of the late-in-life bullpen to help.
Back in the Game is more than a bit rough around the edges; it has some serious flaws, including Caan's apparent desire to scenery-chew his way through every on-screen moment. Thankfully, however, Lawson brings a level of believable heart that counteracts Caan's excess.
It won't rate as a home run on anybody's scorecard, but the series premi®re does just enough to get Back in the Game to first. After that, it'll be up to viewers to decide if this one advances or gets tagged out on the basepaths.
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