This week Betsy Brandt, in a Breaking Bad purple dress, defends her husband’s honor by throwing a lobster at a (legally) blind man. Now will America pay attention to The Michael J. Fox Show?
What if we throw in Fox cheating at golf and acting like a dick because someone else with a disability is getting attention?
“Golf” is the closest MJF has come yet to the obnoxious turns Fox has taken that play off his Parkinson’s disease on The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm. But it’s still got Fox in a sincere voice-over giving us the moral of the story at the end (as if that’s worth copying from Modern Family), which is especially jarring in an episode that feels as if Larry David or Ricky Gervais were called in to punch up the script.
We’ve got Annie enticing Mike into a couples massage by asking, “Ready to make eye contact while another man touches me?” And their son and daughter repeatedly being mistaken for a romantic couple. (“You could do worse,” Ian says defensively to sister Eve.) Plus the obnoxious blind guy, who can identify shapes, complimenting Annie on her breasts. It’s hard to cap all of this off with insisting there’s a lesson about “not letting roles define you.” The theme here is obviously attempted edginess with an odor of desperation.
The best thing about “Golf” is that it has some continuity with last week’s episode establishing Annie as someone who thrives on confrontation. The show is leaning into our desire to see Brandt play another character who gets fiercely protective of her family, and it’s fun when Mike and Annie team up in a spirit of awful competitiveness against the rest of the world. (Modern Family is usually more fun when the couples work together instead of bickering, and MJF is sticking to that rule.)
In “Golf,” their foe is Chaz, a hacky jazz musician in dark glasses who’s playing with Mike in a charity golf tournament. He grabs the hotel’s last suite with a view (Mike points out that this is a waste) and pushes Mike and Annie back to the garden level. He treats his silent personal assistant like, well, a dog. After a swing, he plays to the crowd: “Oh, wow! That sounded good. Hey, how far did that go? I couldn’t see it!”
The physically challenged jerk is an HBO comedy staple by now (Hello Ladies currently has an antagonist in a wheelchair), and Chaz is a heavy-handed example of the type. But he serves as a plot device and a way to bring out Mike’s jealousy of someone else being admired for overcoming “obstacles.” Dismissing the caddies on the golf course, he grabs his own and Chaz’s bags, boasting, “I’m carrying this burden on my own.”
The shame of losing to someone who’s (legally) blind prompts Mike to distract Chaz by tipping over a golf bag just as the jazzman takes a swing, and then blame a child for it. Chaz accuses Mike of cheating, Annie takes offense, and there’s a showdown of barbed speeches at the charity event’s banquet. (Annie: “I think the, uh, jingle writer made a good point.”) Mike finally admits to Annie, “I just want to be the inspirational guy,” which makes him at least a self-aware jerk. In the end, there’s an attempt at nuance here, and the theme of wanting recognition for overcoming a disability without taking advantage of people’s sympathies is a natural for this show—if it can figure out better stories in which to explore the idea.
- The dreaded B-plot involves Ian and Eve renting out the family’s home (FYI, “four-bedroom, two-bath in Manhattan”) while their parents are away. It’s timely, given the recent crackdown on the AirBnB apartment-sharing site in New York. But most of the story is a showcase for Ian’s clumsiness (however long this show lasts, Conor Romero will end up with a nice highlight reel of him dropping things) rather than the particulars of letting strangers touch all your stuff.
- The C-plot has Mike’s sister Leigh babysitting Graham and treating the evening as if it’s yet another date with a cad who just wants to get into her panties.
- Mike on the hotel room he and Annie got the weekend he proposed to her: “They called it ‘garden view,’ but the only thing we viewed was a bunch of golfers peeing.” Annie: “We were right between the front nine and the back nine.” Mike: “Actually saw a guy’s front nine.”
- Mike, dismissively: “It’s 1961, and jazz musicians are celebrities again.” I wish it weren’t so, but his sarcasm is warranted.
- “Golf” confirms that NBC still pixelates an extended middle finger. Maybe that will change when it finally shows up in a presidential debate.