The week before “Sochi” was not a good one for The Michael J. Fox Show. The ratings for last Thursday’s episode were worse than ever, and the news that Bill Cosby is developing a new sitcom for NBC prompted a lot of snark about MJF as one of the network’s many failed attempts to find new vehicles for old stars. (Sean Hayes’s Sean Saves The World is on equally thin ice.) The few defenders of The Michael J. Fox Show can’t say much more than “it’s not so bad.” That faint praise might have kept it on the air as late as the 1990s, hammocked between Friends and Seinfeld, but not so bad is not good enough when there’s so much else to watch.
NBC must have seen “Sochi” as one of the last chances to build an audience for the show. The network switched its time slot with Sean Saves The World, giving Fox the benefit of a lead-in from Parks And Recreation (which finishes third or fourth in its time slot). Also, the episode begins with a talking-head Fox reviewing the premise of the show—rising career in broadcast news cut short by Parkinson’s disease, now he’s back behind the camera—for the benefit of any accidental viewers.
But NBC also wanted “Sochi” to hype its coverage of the Winter Olympics (promoted during the show’s commercial breaks), and that imperative leads to one of the weakest episodes of the series. Oddly, it barely has Mike and Annie (Betsy Brandt) together, which is just throwing away the show’s most marketable asset.
Mike goes to Russia with rival Susan (Anne Heche) to cover the Olympics for NBC’s New York affiliate, and his bosses apparently don’t bother to tell him what kind of access he’ll have there or what he’s supposed to cover. (You’re a terrible boss, Wendell-Pierce-as-Harris.) The jokes are equally half-assed. A creepily cheerful Russian restricts Mike to a spartan conference room and says, “We have WiFi! But only two bars.” When Mike refers to “Olympics magic,” the guy asks, “Blood doping or bribery?”, and when Mike is about to return to the U.S., the Russian blurts, “Take me with you!”
Here is Mike’s big joke when he talks to Harris from Sochi: “I’ve only had one interview, and it was with a Serbian curler. And not a guy on the Serbian Olympic team, a guy who curls from Serbia!”
The resourceful Mike finally does some serious reporting (we don’t see any of it), and NBC offers him a role in covering the closing ceremonies. But after seeing his family during a call home on his laptop, Mike splits Sochi ahead of schedule. His epiphany, shared with us in a talking-head segment: “Parkinson’s hadn’t made me miss things. It had kept me from missing things.”
The kind of thing he’s talking about is daughter Eve participating in the Miss Outstanding Teen Manhattan beauty pageant, which she first enters to annoy Annie into letting her do any other after-school activity. (Annie was partial to co-ed camping as a teen.) Eve and Annie eventually bond over defeating the “bitches” who are also in the contest. The joke is that the women are so fiercely competitive, with Eve telling the camera, “Even if you don’t care about something, sucking at it sucks.” There’s a lot of telling, not showing, in this episode.
Finally, the slightest plot finds Leigh hearing noises and suspecting there’s a ghost in her basement apartment: an admiral who was murdered there about 100 years ago. (“Like a sexy Cap’n Crunch,” she imagines him.) Leigh feels attracted to the spirit, and I hoped he would actually show up. If The Michael J. Fox Show is doomed anyway, why not turn into a remake of The Ghost And Mrs. Muir during its last handful of episodes? Alas, there’s dull, rational explanation for everything. C’mon, guys, let us have a werewolf on your way out.
- The slowed-down circus music is especially annoying in this farce-free episode. How is it more tolerable than the laughter from a live studio audience?
- Mike, talking about Susan taking the place of another reporter who’s come down with food poisoning: “You don’t think she —“ Harris: “Poisoned Clete? (punchline-coming-up music) Almost definitely.”
- Ian helps Eve practice by pretending to be a rival beauty queen, wearing makeup and a fetching blue dress that shows off his porcelain neck and shoulders. That would be another interesting way for the show to go out.
- Also, Ian talks about his online relationship with a Swedish model: “And then she turned out to be my friend Dennis.”