Welcome, affluent TV watchers! The Michael J. Fox Show may not have a big audience, but it’s got a comfortable one. Nielsen reports that the average median income among its viewers is $71,600, the same as for the followers of Parenthood’s Braverman clan. This still makes MJF an aspirational show, since its average viewer couldn’t afford a Manhattan apartment that’s one-quarter the size of the Henrys’. It’s just not as pretentious as Modern Family and its $81,100 Club.
The upscale appeal of The Michael J. Fox Show is particularly relevant to this week’s episode, which has Mike complaining about the $40,000 a year he wasted sending his dropout son Ian to Cornell and a subplot about all the unused stuff cluttering up the Henry Homestead. After last week’s wackiness about bedbugs and stripper poles suddenly appearing in the Henrys’ living room, “Homecoming” does, in fact, venture onto Parenthood turf, with Mike and Annie trying to figure out the difference between guiding and controlling their two oldest children. (No workplace scenes and no Wendell Pierce this week.)
Ian has been a difficult-to-understand character so far on the show: an apparently intelligent (if spectacularly klutzy) young man who dropped out of college and is holed up in his little brother’s old bedroom, still going to high-school dances. (Ew.) He has some similarities to The Middle’s Axl, including his lanky build and curly hair, his obnoxiousness to his sister, and an overestimation of his skills as an entrepreneur. In “Homecoming,” Conor Romero gets to sharpen his character, as Ian and his father spend time alone on a road trip that proves neither one knows what a dead deer looks like—though Ian has some unexpected survival skills.
Mike’s confrontation with Ian over his son’s lack of ambition (he fled college after failing one course) is overdue on this show, and Fox continues to shine in the scenes where he subtly expresses anger and frustration, as opposed to making breezy quips about how grating his family members are (he’s right!) and about his Parkinson’s disease. Ian implies that his aimlessness has something to do with being overshadowed by his father—considered a hero for coping with, and ultimately conquering, a serious illness. The dad who isn’t there for his son is one of the biggest clichés on television, but there’s the potential for a new wrinkle here, especially if MJF explores Annie’s role in all this. (She seems too accepting of Ian’s immaturity.) This series has been trying out so many different angles that I don’t know if this storyline will go anywhere. One worrisome sign: Deer antics aside, the scenes with Mike and Ian aren’t very funny.
Annie’s attempt to bond with teenage daughter Eve (prompted by jealousy over how much Eve confides in kooky, irresponsible Aunt Leigh) is more overtly comic, which doesn’t mean it’s any funnier. Annie, Eve, and Leigh have a “girls’ night” that includes eating cookie dough and the two older women talking about their sexual histories. Betsy Brandt implying that her character has a kinky side is one of the most-used running jokes on this show, and it’s another aspect that would have seemed daring in the late 1980s but is a default trait for any fuzzy female character these days.
Eight-year-old Graham spends the episode swiping various objects of his parents’ in retaliation after they rid his bedroom of a bunch of old toys without consulting him. He puts their stuff in a box marked FREE STUFF in the building’s laundry room, which I choose to interpret as creative vindictiveness rather than stupidity. Annie apparently rescues most of the stuff, a disappointment to this below-average-income viewer who would enjoy seeing the Henrys suffer a little.
- Best Simpsons-esque gag: Graham picking up a copy of David Foster Wallace’s 1100-page Infinite Jest and blowing the dust off it before hurling it into the box of stuff no one uses (where it smashes some china).
- Mike, surveying Graham’s room: “We bought him all this stuff. Shouldn’t he love us more?”
- Ian’s still working at Today’s Man, telling his father (in front of his mother): “I’ll get you into a suit she’ll want to get you out of.”
- Mike gets lost driving to Cornell, and Ian is irritated: “Still no [cellphone] signal. Or road signs. Is it possible we’re in the past?” This sets up Mike’s line when he hits a deer: “We’ve changed the future!” There may be more Back To The Future allusions, but I foolishly neglected to watch all the films before reviewing this series.
- Ian, suddenly realizing that he and Mike aren’t headed south: “Trees? Lakes? Beautiful flowers? This isn’t New Jersey!” Is that joke any way to thank Gov. Chris Christie, who lent his star power to The Michael J. Fox Show just last week?