Zero Ghost Tolerance Policy

The Michael J. Fox Show – “Hobbies”

Last week, I said I thought The Michael J. Fox Show was in an upswing, but after revisiting “Art,” I found most of it flat. There were aspects that worked, but the plots felt tired, and I realized that the novelty of a full-time Michael J. Fox sitcom is really starting to wear off. It hit even harder during “Hobbies.” There are still things that work, but I’m losing confidence that they’re enough to keep the show together for much longer.

Is there a family-sitcom plot as played out as the “parents disapprove of child’s hobby, but disagree over new hobby”? I’m sure there are plenty, but this one always strikes a nerve with me. Perhaps because I recently watched the Freaks & Geeks episode “Smooching and Mooching,” where Nick’s father’s disapproval of his drumming comes to head and he sells the drums behind Nick’s back, I can’t help but be annoyed by the story here. Graham plays video games a lot. This is not weird, since he a modern youth, and despite the fact that Mike and Annie pride themselves on being progressive parents, they are deeply disturbed by his gaming. Thus begins their search for a new hobby for him, which obviously is just a competition between them to see who can pick the better hobby–Mike blatantly spells it out for us in the very first scene so we’re not too shocked later when they become obsessed with their hobbies of choice instead. There’s some comedy to be found in Betsy Brandt’s attempts at pottery, but there was nothing about Mike’s dalliance into hockey that was interesting. It even verged on tasteless when Annie finally goes to the hockey practice and sees that it’s just the dads playing instead of the kids. “Wife!” one dad yells, and aw shucks, their dude fun is just ruined because an awful nagging wife showed up. Ugh. We Are Men already got canceled and Dads is still being terrible over on Fox (the network), so please, none of that. And when Mike and Annie decide to just let Graham play video games, it doesn’t feel like an earned, heartwarming moment, it feels like common sense. The fact that Fox has to spell it out for us in a talking head like Jay Pritchett on Modern Family makes it feel even more tired. While Brandt and Jack Gore get some credit for some decent comedy–Gore continues to be one of the better child actors on television–it’s still not enough to keep the story from being anything but boring and dated.

Mike’s other plot is also familiar, but not nearly as groan-worthy: his former field producer/rival, Suzie Jones (Anne Heche), has been hired by Harris as the station’s new anchor. This is an interesting development for the show, as Mike doesn’t really have anyone who really opposes him in any capacity ever, but it’s also weirdly undercooked. Obviously, Suzie is a long-term addition to the show, but her introduction here feels half-formed, and there’s no real story outside of “Everyone likes Suzie but Mike knows she’s actually crazy.” Anne Heche is a fine actress, and very good at harnessing meanness (just see her in the disastrous Save Me for proof), but that level of meanness feels grossly out of place here. In the first three episodes, Mike has typically been the “meanest” character, but that meanness has been more “smartass” than “psychopath,” and I’m not sure The Michael J. Fox Show has room for a character that genuinely just comes across as evil and insane. (That fact that she had to be an attractive, successful woman certain doesn’t help.)

But fortunately, there are things to enjoy in what I’m calling the episode’s B-plot. I was wary of another “adult being bad at social media” story, especially after Trophy Wife did a fairly great spin on it just this week, but Katie Finneran owns it, and her conclusion, where Leigh, having been in a writing dryspell, realizes that her true writing voice is “bitchy teen,” was perfect for Finneran. Eve and Ian kind of just hang out for the first half of the episode, but once the secret of Eve’s weird running comes out (Leigh: “Why do you think your butt always hurts when you run?”), both get to engage in some great physical comedy. Leigh is great when put with any of the kids, and having her with both the oldest was a smart choice. It wasn’t perfect by any means (seriously, Leigh is a freelance writer and doesn’t have her own Twitter?), but it was a bright spot in such a dull episode.

It’s disappointing to see a show I was so optimistic about fail to deliver, and if the rest of the season plays out like “Hobbies” (and yes, “Art”), it’s going to be a bumpy ride. The Michael J. Fox Show is so content to play it safe that what comes out is incredibly bland. And what really stings is how talented the adult cast here is, yet no one is being pushed. Everyone is fine, and I’d say Betsy Brandt and Katie Finneran are even doing great work here, but with such boring and tired stories, what are they supposed to do? The Michael J. Fox isn’t a disaster, nor does it seem to be heading that way, but at least a disaster can be entertaining. Indeed, boring is the real killer, because there’s no draw to boring. And when there’s no draw, why should the show even exist at all? The Michael J. Fox needs to address these issues, and much, much sooner than later.

Stray Observations

  • I’m assuming the climax of the Leigh/Eve/Ian story, where Eve is running from the bully in slow-motion then suddenly learns to run “correctly,” was a homage to Forrest Gump. That was… a little weird.
  • “It’s my Cosmo article, the one on side-boob!”
  • After Eve’s weird run is revealed, the shots of Ian and Leigh both doing their impressions of it were hilarious.
  • That vase was truly horrific.
  • “Cronkite’s ghost!”
  • Mike’s assistant was great in the pilot, why have they shoved her away to do-nothing land?
  • We need to talk about those talking heads. I don’t get them anymore, and they’re essentially warmed-over versions of Modern Family‘s. They also seem to be a fail-safe for when the show doesn’t think the audience is smart enough to remember something that happened ten minutes earlier in the episode.
  • I’ll let Tony Hale take this one:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s