Dad’s piccolo is gonna be huge

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The Michael J. Fox Show – “Art”

Until The Michael J. Fox Show, I never thought about what it’d be like to have Katie Finneran and Wendell Pierce together in the same show, but now that I’ve seen it, I want more. Honestly, I would watch this collective cast in just about anything, that’s how much I love the individuals and the way they work together. But when you’ve got such a knockout ensemble, you really want the show around them to deliver. After a solid pilot but disappointing second episode, I was anxious about the direction The Michael J. Fox Show would take, and “Art” fell somewhere in between, mostly funny, with the occasional groan-worthy moment. The show is still working within tried and true tropes, but there was a refreshing new element to the palate: self-awareness.

We begin at the Henry dinner table, where the whole family (including Leigh and Harris) have gathered. The episode’s threads revolved around the three children: Eve’s been taking photography classes, which have brightened her mood, but her photos are all of nude men; Ian can’t stop texting or fighting with his girlfriend Reese, and looks to Harris for advice; Graham learns the “You’re right, I’m wrong, I’m sorry” trick from Mike to use on the ladies after using the wrong soap in the dishwasher.

After learning about the subject of Eve’s photos, and that she’s presenting them in an upcoming show, Mike and Annie both try their hand at convincing her to expand to other, less nude areas. Both are disastrous. Mike tries to relate, telling her about when his parents took away his guitar (and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t listen to a Michael J. Fox-led metal band) and forced him to play the piccolo, which only results in Eve dedicating her installation to him, even entitling it “Dad’s Piccolo.” (“Don’t call it that!” Mike exclaims, with a genuine look of terror on his face.) Annie tries to scare her with a trumped-up story about a girl who chopped her hair off during a performance piece and shot heroin in the bald spot on her head. Eve barely listens, instead opting to capture her mom in the perfect light, and even convincing her to pose topless. (This was one of those groan-worthy moments I mentioned above.) Realizing how hard they failed, Mike and Annie choose the next logical option: art heist. But when even that plan fails (in hilarious fashion), they sit down Eve and tell her she can’t shoot nudes anymore because they said so, proving that even progressive parents have to resort to the old standbys sometimes.

After asking Harris for advice, Ian is exposed to the world of car-related metaphors for dating, with Harris telling him to shop around for other models. Ian breaks up with Reese, but still isn’t happy. After receiving a faked wrong text from Reese to his best friend (brilliantly orchestrated by Leigh, who can’t help but empathize with the teary girl), Ian returns to Harris for more advice, none of which does him any good. Ian becomes increasingly more depressed, and when Leigh tries to get to the heart of it, she discovers a trail of destruction leading back to Harris. Dragging Ian with her, Leigh confronts Harris outside his apartment, and the tensions of a history come to the surface, Leigh deriding Harris for his womanizing ways, and Harris chiding her for her “jilted woman” techniques. (This sounds much ickier than it comes across, thanks to Pierce and Finneran’s performances.) Ian sees the mess these tactics make, and gets back together with Reese on his own terms.

Graham is relegated to the C-plot, but his scenes weave in and out of the other stories, keeping him connected to the episode. Realizing that “You’re right, I’m wrong, I’m sorry.” is essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card, especially for a young child, he performs more and more ludicrous acts, including building “the world’s biggest crazy straw,” a creation that actually looks pretty badass. His new trick works on his sister and aunt, but when he fills the kitchen with suds from using the wrong soap in the dishwasher again, he tries it on Annie, who recognizes it immediately, and shuts the whole operation down.

“Art” was a decent enough episode of television, and if this is the level The Michael J. Fox Show is going to be playing at the whole season, it’ll be a passable show. But I can’t help but see the glimmers of something truly great in here. Pierce and Finneran are on fire in scenes together, and the history between them is played perfectly by both actors. It could also be a strong well for the show to draw from for B-stories, or ever larger arcs, depending on how the show evolves. Fox and Brandt are still great, though Brandt definitely gets in more laughs this episode. I hope to see these two split up more in the future, but for now I’m content watching them scheme. And I’ll even throw the younger cast members some props, because I wasn’t annoyed with any of them during this episode. Even Jack Gore, whose story could have been run into the ground so easily, plays his short scenes with confidence and enough “cute kid” to make them work. Juliette Goglia and Conor Romero haven’t done as much to stand out, but they do just fine, and even get off some good jokes. (One of the best lines in the episode was from Ian, during a talking head: “Harris was right, I had to put Reese in my rearvie–God, dating really lends itself to car metaphors!”)

I’m remaining optimistic about The Michael J. Fox Show, and I’m hoping that “Art” is the beginning of an upswing. The show still has time to prove itself, I just want something with so many great elements to achieve that greatness right off the bat. The ingredients are all here, we just haven’t quite made it past 3-star dining yet. But that’s a little insane, since few shows begin at their best, so I’m more than happy to see where we go from here. Hey, I’m laughing, and that’s more than I can say about Dads.

Stray Observations:

  • Seriously, Graham’s crazy straw was insane, and probably wouldn’t work in the real world, but man was it cool.

  • Ian’s extended car metaphors were some just-okay cringe humor, but they were totally validated by his talking-head exclamation later in the episode.

  • Ian getting dressed to go out, then seeing Reese’s name in the pants and immediately slumping back into his funk was a bit too familiar. Sorry, I think there’s something in my eye…

  • “She said I would be in shadow, but I don’t know man, it seemed really light in there.”

  • “Reese wants her skinny jeans back.” “I don’t know where they are.” “You’re using them as a blanket!”

  • The talking heads are still around, but I didn’t mind them so much. Less descriptive, more jokes, which is the best way to use them.

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