Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Michael J. Fox Show: “Party”

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Happy new year, all. Did you spend the holidays dreaming of Michael J. Fox’s return to The Good Wife? Or Betsy Brandt showing up to get revenge on the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul? Or Wendell Pierce dropping in on Brooklyn Nine Nine — or, in a more comedic turn, reacting with disbelief to everything that happens on The Following? Sorry, The Michael J. Fox Show is back for the second half of its inaugural season.

Okay, that’s a bit harsh. But the episode “Party” invites mockery (much the way that Ian invites Graham’s friends to whale on him with Wiffle bats when he’s trapped in a sleeping bag) by showing such desperation. It ends with a midseason twist, pairing Mike’s sister Leigh and his boss Harris in a kind of lifeboat romance that’s bound to conclude if The Michael J. Fox Show ever finds land. He’s a shameless horndog, she’s an attractive woman who acts like one of the boys. Maybe they can become more believable as a couple than Barney and Robin on How I Met Your Mother, but I don’t think they’ll get much time to meet the challenge.

The hook-up is the culmination of a farcical plot in which Mike throws a party to celebrate Harris getting an award. When it seems that no one will show up (some friends!), Mike lets everyone think it’s an engagement party, telling Harris at the last minute to pretend he’s got a girlfriend named Pam. This is reminiscent of Frasier at its peak, especially when Mike tries to maintain his deception by doubling down and claiming to cheat on his wife, but there’s a reason Frasier was a live-audience sitcom shot in more-or-less real time. Escalating madness doesn’t work as well on a single-camera, quick-cut sitcom like The Michael J. Fox Show, which aims for its maximum level of wackiness almost from the start of every episode.

“Party” is probably as close as we’ll get to a showcase episode for Wendell Pierce as Harris, and it comes with guest appearances by Malcolm Jamal-Warner (The Cosby Show, Community) and Domenick Lombardozzi, who played “Herc” alongside Pierce on The Wire. Harris looks stricken as his pals talk up married life and reveal their disapproval of his aimless womanizing, and Pierce looks relieved to get an emotion to play other than smugness. He stops short of belting “Being Alive” from Company, which is probably a good thing. But I think I would have enjoyed that more than the forced cuteness—putting together Ikea furniture is harder than it looks!—of Harris and Leigh as a couple.

There’s a second party in the episode, a sleepover for Graham and his friends that Annie threatens to ruin by childproofing the house (she wants them to use safety scissors!). Ian tries to liven things up with the Wiffle bat game mentioned above, while sister Eve distracts their mom by announcing her plans to have sex with her new boyfriend. It’s another example of the show trying to prove it can be as adult as the other sitcoms on the current NBC block while trying to get in some some old-fashioned, Family Ties sweetness. The Michael J. Fox Show has occasionally come close to pulling this off when its star is at the center of a scene, but he’s stuck at the other party in this episode. Bad planning all around.

Stray observations:

  • Mike’s plan to save Harris from his lie: “Pam’s going to realize she’s a lesbian in six months.”
  • Not Theo Huxtable: “We were getting kind of worried about you.” Harris: “Worried?” Not Herc: “Not ‘worried.’ Just concerned that your life would be empty and without purpose, and you’d be alone forever.”
  • Eve keeping Annie away from the slumber party: “All this time, I thought it was ‘all intensive purposes.’ What a rube.” Annie: “Well, I’m glad I could clear that up for you. I didn’t know that you cared so much about grammar.” Eve: “Yeah, well, I just want to do good on my SATs.”
  • Not Theo: “Mike, your wife is so chill she’s practically a guy.” Mike: “Until the doors close, and then she’s all woman. And not in a good way, either.” This seems to be Mike’s catchphrase. From the Christmas episode: “Are you sure you’re ready? Because [my gift] is going to make you cry. And not in a good way.”
  • It looked as if Graham’s sugar-high friends were about to push Sleeping Bag Ian out the conveniently large apartment window. That would have been an interesting turn for the series.