In a hypothetical review of “Bed Bugs,” I might suggest that The Michael J. Fox Show has not yet found a comfortable rhythm or created satisfying characters yet—“hit its stride,” as it were. Some readers might then respond that it is only eight episodes into a new series, and X series (Parks and Recreation, probably) took a whole season before it got good. And that would be true. At what point, though, do we give up on a series’ potential and call the season and the show a disappointment if not an outright failure? If this were professional sports (and I apologize for burdening you with sports metaphors if that’s not your thing), The Michael J. Fox show would be stuck in a lost season as a sub-.500 team with slim hopes for a championship and a fanbase frustrated by the management’s inability to maximize the considerable on-field talent. They would be the New York Jets of primetime network sitcoms.
In truth, “Bed Bugs” is not the worst episode of the series’ first season. It’s not close. But it’s also probably something nobody would watch willingly if not for inertia or die-hard fandom. The premise—Leigh’s apartment becomes infested with bed bugs and she has temporarily move in with Mike’s family/Ian and Eve have a prank war—is typically hackneyed and serves as a vehicle for tired sitcom antics. Annie and Leigh get wasted. Following his aunt’s lead, Graham walks around the apartment nude because, as Leigh warns, she’s a “preeeeetty naked sleeper.” Mike falls asleep while interviewing Chris Christie, who, in juxtaposition with the diminutive Canadian, looks like a giant. You get the picture. It’s pretty substance-less and unoriginal writing that does little to advance larger plot lines or endear fans.
Where this episode succeeds, and elicits a more positive review than other episodes, is in its dealing with relatively serious issues. As established previously, Mike expects Ian to find a job and pay rent. Ian approaches his job search as many deluded millennials do before having their souls crushed by reality: “Posted my resume to LinkedIn. Let the feeding frenzy begin.” Eve takes his job hunt as an opportunity to play a prank on him and sets up a fake interview via email. She intends to follow Ian to the nice restaurant where he is to have his first-round interview with the CEO (all of the red flags!) of this company, but there she realizes Ian’s dire situation; he is a failure in relation to his peers and in the eyes of his parents, and he is a 19- or 20-year-old trying to find an entry-level position that pays, all of which is intensely dispiriting. Finally understanding Ian’s despair, Eve relents and calls a truce in the prank war.
In a similar bit of sibling frustration, Mike explains to Leigh that she’s a Janice and decides to fumigate her apartment by himself to expedite her departure. Therein he discovers Leigh’s shrine to his family, which includes preschool art projects from her nephews and niece as well as a book about coping with Parkinson’s. Although the reveal isn’t necessarily creative (50/50 uses a book about disease to much greater effect), it gets the job done and proves to Mike that Leigh is not as self-centered as all her actions would dictate. It’s the type of heartwarming moment the show needed to keep itself afloat in lieu of any decent humor. That said, the series hasn’t shown enough to hint that it could turn the season or around in a significant enough way that it can compete with superior sitcoms for Emmy competition (as dubious an honor as they might be.)