COMMENTARY | Michael J. Fox finally came back to prime-time TV in “The Michael J. Fox Show,” and it is glorious. Since the days of Alex P. Keaton–the fictional character I blame for politicos who do not understand the meaning of caricature–Fox has made up huge swaths of pop culture. It’s nice to know he’s not stopping now.
The well-cast sitcom, sprinkled with quick, witty moments, also benefits from excellent casting, including “Breaking Bad’s” Betsy Brandt, who, hopefully, has lighter times ahead for this character. Fox’s chemistry with on-screen boss Wendell Pierce has you wondering if they have, in fact, been friends for years.
Here’s the most interesting part. Three paragraphs in, and I’m only now mentioning the Parkinson’s. And that’s the thing about this show: if you were worried that the idea of the disease, which is almost a character in its own right, would overshadow the “com” of this sitcom, well, then you’ve probably forgotten just how funny Fox actually is.
This show is a breakthrough of a massive kind, a culture-shifting kind. Entertainment is the realm of artificial perfection, of perceived flaws smoothed away through surgeon’s scalpels and Photoshop until there’s an unnatural uniformity. It’s a place where 20 people can have the same nose, and it’s not because they’re part of the Duggar family.
Let’s be honest. Michael J. Fox’s boyish face graced a whole lot of teenage girls’ bedrooms, and his looks translated as he got older. He’s a handsome man, but he’s not unscathed. Until now, that meant that he’d disappear into obscurity, found only in reruns, young and perfect forever.
But now, this show demonstrates that instead of discarding people like damaged goods, we can still appreciate imperfection, not only accepting it, but taking humor from it in a way that embraces it. “The Michael J. Fox Show” is the nod our culture needed, saying it’s all right to have flaws, to face obstacles. The obstacles shape us, but they do not define us.
He’s poking fun at this disease that has changed his life but has not changed who he is. He’s still every ounce as charismatic as he was portraying the kid who time-traveled in a DeLorean, he just doesn’t move as fluidly.
Maybe we’re seeing the end of faces that look like they were stamped out by cookie cutters, of the myth that the only people worth seeing are the people who appear, externally, perfectly whole. And maybe that’s a lot of weight to put on a sitcom.
Good thing it’s funny.