The Michael J. Fox Show finally started telling some good jokes this week, including, but not limited to:
•“Your sitcom is so old, it lifted its central plot from an episode of Fresh Prince that still had the first Aunt Viv.”
•“Your sitcom is so old, it thinks video games are evil.”
•“Your sitcom is so old, it referenced Johnnie Cochran and Ghost.”
•“Your sitcom is so old, it cast Anne Heche in a recurring role.”
If it wasn’t apparent from my co-opting of Aunt Leigh’s “bitchy teen” writing voice—the episode’s lone point of character development—The Michael J. Fox Show continues to flounder in such intense staleness that this trait threatens to surpass the series’ stellar cast as its defining quality. Despite all the half-hearted swings and misses, the writers didn’t quite pitch a no-hitter. The best gag of the episode, despite originating from Eve’s Twitter war (generic social media humor is super topical), was the introduction of Eve’s self-butt-kicking running style. Eschewing concerns about a teenager’s fragile self-image, Ian and Leigh both imitate her awkward gait in a manner that approaches Arrested Development Chicken Dance transcendency. Annie caps the sequence with a gleeful “Oh, you guys doin’ Eve’s run?”
Aside: It is interesting that Mike and Annie show almost exclusively contempt for their children. It’s not overt, but it is certainly apparent. In “Art,” Annie describes Eve as a “judgemental skinny enemy,” and in the pilot, Mike leaves his children unattended in the middle of Manhattan to talk to Harris. In “Hobbies,” both Mike and Annie use Graham’s hobby time as their own, leaving him to zone into the hypnotic glow of his PSP. It’s unclear whether this is a byproduct of the show’s desire to not engage in anything remotely controversial (or parenting!), or if the writers want us to know that Mike and Annie hate their kids as much as we do.
Back to Eve’s Twitter war, though, it’s also interesting that both she and Ian have had relationships ruined by Twitter in back-to-back episodes. In “Art,” Ian explains that he’s breaking up with Reese because they argue about the correct use of hashtags, and in “Hobbies,” Leigh-as-Eve furthers the latter’s Twitter war with a particularly vicious high-school bully. This could just be writer laziness, or it could be the seed of a Sorkinian crusade against things that aren’t the way they used to be.
In that vein, Mike and Annie spend most of the episode trying to enroll Graham in extracurricular hobbies—Mike picks hockey, which he still plays so well that he claims he’d be emperor of an ice planet (CANADA! CA. NA. DA.), and Annie picks pottery, hence the Ghost reference. They are most concerned because Graham spends a lot of time playing games on his PSP, and, of course, according to all old people (apparently), video games are a totally unacceptable and antisocial form of entertainment. Mike and Annie ultimately realize that they are bored with their own lives and pursue those hobbies for themselves. Graham, after his Ashley Banks “I don’t like the violin or the drums” moment, opts for go-kart racing for his parent-approved, outside activity.
Mike’s curricular activity resumes as well, this episode, as he returns to the newsroom. Harris introduces a new anchor, Susan Rodriguez Jones, played by Anne Heche. Her character is a stock “devil woman,” who puts on a saccharine exterior to hide her cutthroat nature. The entire series of events would fall short of noteworthiness if not for Harris’ explanation: “That’s the kind of cold-blooded crazy that’s gonna push this station back to the top.” Harris’ media cynicism doesn’t quite single-handedly redeem the episode (or the series, for that matter), but it does contribute a significant boost.
The series continues to show how it can be great. The cast is still the cast, and the series isn’t being written entirely by sitcom robots. But the good jokes keep drowning in wave after wave of tedious humor (the duplicate take-out dinner running gag comes to mind) such that the series feels like it’s increasingly not worth the time (or DVR space, if that’s your thing) in a crowded TV lineup.