Back to the Future (For Real)

A promo for the new "Michael J. Fox" show got right to the point.

"It's time to talk about the elephant in the room," Fox says to the camera, and the shot switches to a literal elephant. "Are we really going to do this?," Fox asks to someone purportedly off camera.

The best thing you can do if you're going to build a show around a TV and movie veteran who has Parkinson's Disease, is to not ignore that the dude has Parkinson's Disease. Anything else is untoward and just plain uncomfortable.

Fox, 52, is back on television as a series star after a 12-year hiatus, since his run on "Spin City" ended. Obviously most of, if not all of that hiatus from being in front of the camera was due to his battle with Parkinson's. But his issues with the disease hasn't kept Fox from doing voice work in many films and commercials.

Now, we get to see Fox as well as hear him, as he plays Mike Henry, a former newsman for NBC who got out of the game due to---you guessed it---a battle with Parkinson's. The exodus from TV reporting---he was an investigative journalist---meant that he spends more time with his family, sometimes much to the chagrin of...his family.

It's a comedy, and it's filmed without a live audience, which I prefer. Sometimes the hoots and laughter from audience members can be distracting. I prefer those to come from my family in our front room.

The show confronts Fox's real-life Parkinson's symptoms head on, by incorporating them into the Mike Henry character's mannerisms. The writers (and Fox) are having fun with it, which is not uncomfortable if the star himself is on board with it.

It's refreshing for a show to poke fun at something that is serious in a very disarming, cute way. We need to laugh in today's world, you know?

Mike Henry is a loving husband and sometimes overbearing father to a teenaged daughter, a slightly older son and a much younger son. Henry's sister-in-law lives in the home, as well. You can't re-invent the situation comedy, so these living arrangements are nothing we haven't seen before. But this is different, because never before has a lead character been played by an actor afflicted with Parkinson's, that I'm aware of.

Fox with his new TV wife, Betsy Brandt

I won't lie, and I won't ignore the elephant, either: Fox's "condition" is very prevalent and I suppose could be considered distracting, especially because so many of us remember him from his days on "Family Ties" and in the "Back to the Future" franchise on the big screen.

But kudos to NBC, and Fox himself, for not trying to ignore it. That wouldn't have worked at all. In that scenario, Fox just becomes pathetic and pitiful, as someone who isn't what he once was.

Instead, this series isn't about what Fox used to be, but who he is now and that it's OK to poke fun at it. It also reminds us that, granted in maybe a cornball manner, Parkinson's (or any other neuro-muscular-debilitating disease) doesn't mean one's life has come to an end.

I can't imagine what courage it must take for an actor to put himself back out there, in full display, when he knows darn well that people are going to automatically compare the Michael J. Fox of today to the completely healthy one they fell in love with some 30 years ago.

Besides the elephant in the room, "The Michael J. Fox Show" is just plain funny. It's warm-hearted at its core. I am eager to see more of Mike Henry's foray back into TV reporting, which was touched on in the pilot episode. There should be ample opportunities for comedic scenes there.

Michael J. Fox isn't what he was 30 years ago, when "Family Ties" and "Back to the Future" made him a mega star.

He's better.


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