Fall 2013 has begun and that means new television show on the networks. Once a beloved powerhouse network, the fates have sadly fallen, for the time being, for NBC. As a child of the ’80s, I remember the days of the iconic Thursday night lineup, featuring “The Cosby Show” and how perfect it was. I also remember how perfect Michael J. Fox was in “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future.” Even a Fox movie like “Teen Wolf” is a classic, from the basketball transformation scene to the moment the cheesy best friend “surfs” on the top of an ugly van. Michael J. Fox, despite or because of his small stature, was effortlessly cool and intelligent. Is he cool enough to bring back must-see Thursday night TV? NBC is hoping that he is.
Somehow, his film career didn’t quite live up to my expectations. He didn’t quite fit in the adult dramas he made after “Back to the Future,” although I did like “Doc Hollywood.” Maybe his straightforward coolness didn’t work as well in the uncertain ’90s. Maybe his audience couldn’t accept him as anything else but a teenager, much like another not-so-tall actor, Mickey Rooney. Later, the world learned that “Mickey Rooney syndrome” did not explain Fox’s career so much as his struggle with Parkinson’s disease. It is hard not to wonder what could have been, or is Fox at fault for taking himself out of the game and not trusting his audience to deal with his condition?
It is hard to understand how someone so boyish, athletic, and smart could suffer from a disease that can make normal functioning difficult. We take for granted how complex and fragile are the workings of normal functioning and how easily the train can be derailed. Perhaps I am luckier than Fox in that, with treatment, my leg lymphedema can be disguised. I appear as a “normal,” if overweight, woman. I know that, should I stop biking every day, watching my diet, wearing compression stockings, and getting massaged, that my left leg will again grow to gigantic proportions in as little as a few weeks. Unlike my disease, which I can hide with the right pair of pants, Parkinson’s is a public ailment. In a society where any of us can be ostracized for the shallowest of reasons, a public ailment is not easy, especially for someone who makes their living as an actor. Michael J. Fox is a fantastically blessed man, but also dealing with a horrible disease. I have a tremendous respect for him.
So, is how good is “The Michael J. Fox Show?” I did enjoy it, but it does have kinks. I think my problem with the show is that the kids seem a bit bratty, but I’m curious to see the show evolve. It is a bit refreshing because TV has been void of anyone with disabilities for a long time. As a fan of “Highway to Heaven,” an ’80s drama featuring an angel on a mission to help others, I’ve seen that when disabled actors are given the chance that they can succeed on television on their own merit. In fact, James Troesh, a quadriplegic actor, played one of my favorite recurring characters, and was a far better actor than most of the non-disabled cast of “Highway to Heaven,” excluding the two leads, of course. I hope “The Michael J. Fox Show” will open the doors to a more interesting and human TV world. I think TV has stagnated and choked on the wooden, Barbie and Ken-like physical perfection of its actors and that it is about time for a more relatable TV world.