Let’s talk about The Michael J. Fox show for a second (and broader problems with NBC)

NBC Thursday nights used to be the thing now it’s kind of a train wreck. They had a show called Welcome to the Family, with people you might remember from Yes, Dear and Desperate Housewives and West Wing; they cancelled it. The Michael J. Fox Show has some seminal TV stars: Alex P. Keaton, Marie Schrader and Bunk Moreland are all on it. It might get cancelled soon too. (Although, it did just hit a five-week high and is up 18% in the 18-49 demo.) They got Chris Christie to cameo last night.

The show has gotten better — no one is going to confuse it with Family Ties, Breaking Bad or The Wire — but as noted here, the earliest episodes were borderline unwatchable. Most of the characters seem a little too generic — cocky son, daughter as foil for cocky son, young clueless son, total mess of an aunt, etc. — as do the storylines (Mike plays golf and becomes rivals with a blind guy; Mike competes for his daughter’s affection with rival newscaster). If you can’t tell, I do watch the show periodically.

The show came from a good place: Fox had left TV because of his condition, but was returning periodically on shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good Wife and Scrubs. His daughter was a big fan of Easy A, so he got connected with Will Gluck, who brought in Sam Laybourne, a former writer for Arrested Development; they created the show, pitched it, and networks jumped big. (I mean, the dude was Marty McFly.) Audiences haven’t jumped as big; neither have critics. It has a generally favorable rundown on Metacritic, but with everything else changing on NBC Thursdays, finding the audience has been tough.

Here’s an example of some generally not-that-funny gags from the show:

It does have a few good lines here and there, such as this one (well, made me laugh):

Admittedly, when I watched the first couple of episodes — which were not that funny — and was a little taken aback by seeing 23 minutes of Parkinson’s movements (sometimes mocked by other characters) in a sitcom, I had this attitude as well:


I think the charisma of Fox (or at least the fact that he’s well-known) will carry it through a first season, but I’m not sure it can return for a second one. Betsy Brandt was poorly used at the end of Breaking Bad — she didn’t even get to do a lot in “Ozymandias,” where (SPOILER) Hank dies — but here she often seems like fodder, as does Wendell Pierce. I know the focus is supposed to be on Fox, but those two could be doing more. The kids and aunt are fine for what they are, if mostly cut-out characters. The bigger issue here might be NBC as a whole; they have Sunday Night Football, which is great — but also only about four months of the year. They just got in bed with Susan Sarandon (great actress, but why does she need a sitcom?) and are likely to reboot Murder, She WroteNow, The Blacklist is a good show — although they’re probably going to draw out the central idea that Spader is her father for far too long, killing it — but aside from that and a few base staples (Parks and Recreation), NBC has nada. Vince Gilligan was a mid-level guy on X-Files; I have to believe that some mid-level guy on Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Walking Deadetc. has a script sitting in his desk drawer that could revolutionize the one-hour network format — and I have to believe someone at NBC is smart enough to listen. Or, ya know, just develop something for Sudelkis:

Ted Bauer