The setup of Michael J. Fox’s eponymous new sitcom closely mirrors the veteran actor’s real life, with Fox playing Mike Henry, a beloved former New York TV anchor who’s lured back to the news desk by his boss, Harris (Wendell Pierce), a slick operator with a fondness for the ladies and general debauchery, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years earlier. Co-created by Will Gluck, whose feature directing credits include Easy A and Friends with Benefits, the series is also more than a little derivative of Modern Family. Mike and his wife, Annie (Betsy Brandt), live in a spacious apartment that manages to feel cramped thanks to their college-dropout eldest son, Ian (Conor Romero), a teenage daughter, Eve (Juliette Goglia), a precocious eight year-old, Graham (Jack Gore), and Mike’s interloping middle-aged sister, Leigh (Katie Finneran), who’s trying to eke out a living as a freelance writer.
Thankfully, the dialogue is snappy and the humor is playful and smart, if not exactly envelope-pushing. The plots, on the other hand, are often stale and contrived. An early episode sees Mike and Annie dealing with a noisy upstairs neighbor who turns out to be an attractive woman (played by Fox’s real-life wife Tracy Pollan, in an inspired bit of casting) and predictably hinges on Mike keeping her beauty a secret from his wife. The expected jokes related to Mike’s Parkinson’s are handled delicately enough to match the show’s conservative approach and often revolve around those around him being overly sympathetic to his condition, as when Eve complains of the random strangers who insist on sharing their own experiences with the illness: “Alcoholism is a disease. Do people go up to David Hasselhoff and tell him about their crazy uncles?”
The choice to use the popular mockumentary format feels tired, dubiously justified in the series premiere as footage from Eve’s school video project, but then continuing as if it’s an assignment with an extremely open-ended deadline. It helps, though, that there are no weak links among the cast. Between Leigh’s sexually graphic ventures into young-adult lit and Ian’s misguided search for an intern for his practically nonexistent web startup, it seems like many of the subplots are going to prove more interesting, if not more adventurous, than the main story arc.