The past two episodes of The Michael J. Fox Show, spread across six weeks, placed the series on a bleak downward trajectory. Both “Thanksgiving” (5.5) and “Christmas” (5.0) were brutal exercises in sitcom futility. Fortunately, the brief hiatus ended the series’ holiday season reign of terrible, and with “Party,” it manages to reinsert itself among TV’s watchable comedies.
Although the series continues to rely heavily on bad Parkinson’s jokes and Mike Henry’s penchant for making an ass of himself, “Party” introduces a subtlety in story development that previous episodes have not displayed. The title refers to two parties—Graham’s first slumber party and one for a professional achievement of Harris’—the planning, execution and failures of which comprise the majority of the episode. For the former, Annie is determined to shed her “bad parent” reputation that she developed with Ian’s and Eve’s friends’ parents because of her penchant for hosting unsafe and exceedingly fun slumber parties. Her elder children, on the other hand, don’t want to see their little brother deprived of such formative experiences and put aside their sibling rivalry to ensure his first time is special. To do so, Eve distracts Annie while Ian entertains the litter of youths in the living room. As Eve reaches the end of her mother-approved filibuster material, she accidentally blurts out that she intends to lose her virginity this coming weekend. What follows isn’t exactly earth-shattering, and perhaps it is a bit 7th Heaven-y, but it’s nice to see the show letting Mike and Annie occasionally dip their toes in the waters of parenting every now and then. This arc grounds an otherwise useless plotline and builds Eve and Annie’s relationship and characters better than in previous episodes.
At the same time as Graham’s sleepover, Mike hosts a party to celebrate Harris’ award with all the old gang. To pry each of them away from their familial duties, however, Mike lies and tells them the eternally promiscuous Harris has gotten engaged because, as Leigh explains, nobody wants to celebrate a single person’s achievements (further Leigh Henry truths: “Ugh, married people are the worst.”). The party goes alright until the old gang (which includes Wendell Pierce’s The Wire costar Domenick Lombardozzi) starts trashing what they believe to be Harris’ former womanizing ways. Mike attempts to soften the blows of these unintended insults, but ultimately, and in typical Mike Henry fashion, the lie spirals out of control and, rather than simply telling the truth and enjoying the night, he continues to dig a deeper and deeper hole for himself. This is one of Mike’s most common tendencies, and it is not appealing or interesting. Fortunately for all parties involved, Leigh, who absconded with Harris’ rented limousine (but only after being flattered that the driver thought she was a prostitute), returns and poses as Harris’ fiancée and encourages everyone to go to a strip club. Leigh, as always, is the best. The episode ends with the reveal that Leigh and Harris spent the night together, making sweet, sweet IKEA storage solutions. In reality, we should have been shipping them much harder from the beginning as they seemed an obvious pairing. As the two best characters in the series by a fairly wide margin, Leigh and Harris’ relationship can go a long way toward making the show more enjoyable.
In all, “Party” was not particularly special, but it did introduce what might very well be The Michael J. Fox Show’s saving grace in the budding relationship between Leigh and Harris. The romance could very easily disintegrate into a one-night stand, but that would likely be a mistake given the characters’ obvious chemistry and how significantly the show would benefit from greater screentime given to the two of them.