Betsy Brandt gets to play the embarrassing spouse in this week’s Michael J. Fox Show, and there’s finally an interesting conflict in a cast of characters that are usually too nice to each other to be funny.
No, Annie is not a kleptomaniac like Brandt’s Breaking Bad character. She enforces rules of politeness to the point of being aggressively rude herself. At the beginning of “Teammates,” a neighbor pushes aside Annie and Mike to board an elevator before they have a chance to get off. Annie exchanges words with the guy and ends up getting back on the elevator just to nag him all the way to his apartment.
What’s funny is Mike’s apology to the neighbor the next day, when he cheerily lies that Annie is “going through a rough patch” because she’s “off her meds.” There’s no reminder that Mike has Parkinson’s disease in this scene (or in the episode at all), but his eagerness to use a medical condition to excuse away his wife’s behavior leaves the impression that he’s often used this trick to get himself out of jams. It’s one of Fox’s best scenes on the series so far, as Mike uses his irresistible charm to win over the neighbor while saddling his wife with a reputation as the Crazy Lady of their apartment building. He’s fazed only for a second when the neighbor turns out to be a psychiatrist (“oh, so we don’t have to talk about this anymore”). And when Annie discovers that her neighbor thinks she’s bipolar, Mike has a nice cut-to-commercial line: “We can get a second opinion.”
“Teammates” doesn’t deliver on the potential of this opening. First, there’s still a hesitancy to show any real discord between Mike and Annie. She’s annoyed that Mike apologized for her, and he reveals that he’s been doing it for years. “We’re supposed to be a team,” she protests. (Title explanation!) But they don’t come close to piercing each other's skin, and Annie never addresses Mike’s revealing strategy of giving her “meds” to get her some sympathy from the neighbor. Has he done this before? Have they ever, as a team, used Mike’s “meds” to get out of an awkward social situation? We get a hint of tension between them, which is overdue for a show that’s supposed to be funny, but it’s dropped in the second half of the episode, when Annie gets her revenge by letting daughter Eve go to a concert and by singing karaoke. See, she’s always pretended to hate karaoke because Mike did, but if he doesn’t want to be a team… Oh, it’s not worth explaining.
The main plot also loses steam because of the interruptions by less interesting storylines. Mike’s sister Leigh gets a dog to meet men—she names him Icebreaker—and she’s so irresponsible and slutty that Eve ends up caring for the animal. Anne Heche is not in this episode, so Leigh has to be the Mean Female Character as well as her usual Dumb Female Character. Meanwhile, college graduate Ian wants to swap bedrooms with younger brother Graham, so he tries to convince Graham there’s a monster in the closet. I’d hate to think that a scene of Mike and Annie bickering in bed was cut for this stuff.
- “Let me explain to you how elevators work. Ding! Elevator doors open. The people inside exit, and then the new passengers come in. It’s been that way for thousands of years.”
- The neighbor’s idea of making up with Annie: “By the way, I’m a psychiatrist. If you have any questions about your meds, I’m upstairs in 15B.” I know this was just a clumsy way to have Annie discover Mike’s lie, but I’m intrigued by the possibility of the most tactless psychiatrist in the world appearing again on the series.
- Mike to Annie: “I was just trying to clean up your m—” Annie: “My mess! You were about to say, ‘my mess.’” Mike, indignantly: “I was gonna just trail off.”
- Harris (Wendell Pierce) hosts the karaoke night as Kenny Rogers, complete with blond beard. Poor, underused Wendell Pierce.
- Last week I complained about the establishment shots on The Michael J. Fox Show. Then I watched an episode of Parks and Recreation that was full of them. Somehow, the shots of Pawnee City Hall (in real-life Pasadena) seem ironic (and quicker) than the Fun, Safe, Boring New York shots on MJF. But we didn’t get any establishment shots (or scenes) at WNBC-TV this week, and those are the most grating, in a WE’RE GOING TO HAVE FUN way.