On “Bed Bugs,” we don’t get any jokes specific to bed bugs. We do get a cameo by Chris Christie, unconvincingly playing himself as someone who wouldn’t rip the head off a TV reporter who falls asleep during an interview with the New Jersey governor. The moral of the episode, told to the camera by Mike, is something about how family members “can still surprise” you. If only The Michael J. Fox Show weren’t so surprising in its capacity to disappoint.
There’s nothing in the main plot as memorable as 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy being ostracized and having to seek help from strangers on the subway (“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Jack Donaghy, and I have bed bugs. I’m not a drug addict, I’m a high-ranking executive at the General Electric Corporation, and I'm just getting my medicine”), so let’s go right to Chris Christie.
The political cameo is kind of an NBC Thursday tradition: Cheers had Tip O’Neill and Mike Dukakis, Seinfeld had Rudy Giuliani, and Parks And Recreation has had a bunch of them. I hate the gimmick of cameos by non-actors. The Good Wife has thankfully tapered off on them, and Veep is all the better for creating a universe of fictional Washington pols to fill even the smallest roles. “Surprising” is the last thing you can say about politicians’ appearances on TV comedies—except for California Sen. Barbara Boxer on Curb Your Enthusiasm, lecturing Larry David that it’s proper to keep other people’s clothing that your dry cleaner has accidentally given you, and former senator and astronaut John Glenn revealing alien encounters on Frasier.
On The Michael J. Fox Show, Mike interviews Christie after not getting much sleep the night before (that’s it, no drug mix-up or anything), and he dozes off after one question. The gag is that Christie rambles on the air about being ready to make some kind of big announcement (i.e., that he’s running for president), and Mike is too tired to notice. The meta gag is that Christie is known for having a hot temper, and making a jovial appearance on a sitcom is a way of softening his image before a national audience as he really does consider a run for president. He must have taped his scene weeks ago, secure that he would win re-election this past Tuesday. I wonder if anyone dared to tell him that The Michael J. Fox Show has now sunk even below weak lead-in Sean Saves The World in the Nielsen ratings. Christie should have figured out some way to dance with Margo Martindale on The Millers instead.
So back to the bed bugs story, which is an example of MJF squandering its New York City locale. Mike’s sister Leigh buys a new couch, immediately discovers it’s infested, and moves upstairs with Mike and his family. No one is concerned about her spreading the bugs (I guess she wears Annie’s clothes after sprinting up to the Henrys’ in just a towel?), and no one starts looking for bugs everywhere, which is what everyone in New York does when learning that an acquaintance has them. The bed bugs are just an excuse, like a leaky ceiling, to have Leigh move in with the Henrys and disrupt the household. When she finally leaves, there’s even the obligatory punch line about her finding them too much to take.
The B-plot has Eve playing a prank on Ian, duping him into thinking he has a job interview with a non-existent CEO. (As Ian, Conor Romero looks good in a suit and continues to work on his charming but pointless physical comedy.) When Eve feels bad about stringing her big brother along, she sends him a fake e-mail to the effect that the business executive has relocated to Poughkeepsie. This leads to a visually interesting scene in Grand Central Station, where Ian gets on a train to head upstate and … walk the streets looking for someone who looks like a CEO?
- Ian finally gets a job as a suit salesman for Today’s Man, which Wikipedia tells me went out of business in 2003. Too bad. That store would have gone in my Pro column for moving back to New York.
- Eve is mortified to ride the subway in a sailor suit after Ian switches it with her regular clothes while she’s in swim class. So why does she wear the sailor hat?
- Leigh steals Mike’s umbrella, so he arrives at work soaked to the skin. Because it’s impossible to find a place that sells umbrellas in Manhattan. This show is quite fond of lame sight gags that don’t stand up to scrutiny.
- Leigh’s writing career is so pathetic that she writes recaps of a reality show for some lame website. I know it’s lame because the website lets her write them the next morning.
- Betsy Brandt gets to play drunk in this episode. But her line of the week is her sober explanation of her teaching style: “By lunch on the first day, five kids are dead to me.”
- Wendell Pierce gets to do a riff on his nightmare experience of “going to a play with a flat-chested woman.”
- Eight-year-old Jack Gore gets a pixelated nude scene, as Graham walks around in the buff because he saw his Aunt Leigh do it. The kids’ levels of intelligence from episode to episode is one surprising thing about The Michael J. Fox Show.
- Fox has a nice silent moment when his character immediately regrets telling his sister that she’s “infesting” his house just by her presence. It’s more emotionally resonant than just about anything since the pilot episode, and it shows that Fox can do more than the wacky-music light comedy he’s been limited to here.