Five weeks into The Michael J Fox Show’s premiere season a lot has been inconsistent in quality. The traditional sitcom values work but not in comparison to how most modern sitcoms handle these situations. The most consistent aspect of the show is two leads who work very well both together and separately. This week’s episode “Teammates” displayed exactly that providing a solid dose of chemistry as well as showing the standalone capabilities of both Michael J. Fox and Betsy Brandt.
Mike and Annie have established what has become a rather traditional structure for sitcom couples. They squabble over parenting and minor flaws but never over the big picture. This week Mike has a go at keeping the peace with his neighbors after Annie chews out one of them for being rude in an elevator. The Solution: explaining to the neighbor that Annie is bipolar and is currently off her medication something that backfires when she meets her psychiatrist neighbor and he spills the beans. Mike has no place to run and hide on this one and the rest of the episode is spent with Annie going against the teamwork they have established.
A lot of what works here comes down to the chemistry between Fox and Brandt which while not the strongest it’s rather convincing. For once we see Mike in a very uncomfortable situation not willing to admit he is wrong and being very flawed. He even gets a real jerk moment when he lashes out at one of his co workers while attending the new station’s karaoke night. For awhile I feared that the show was playing it safe with Mike choosing not to show a bigger flaw than just judgment issues. Between his refusal to cave to his wife and this particular action we get to see a crack in a rather squeaky clean character. He also openly admits that he uses illness as a way to get around certain obstacles in the city which sounds far more vindictive than it actually is.
The winner of this particular half hour though is Brandt distancing herself even further from her days as Marie Schrader (on Breaking Bad). Saddled with being the crazy wife for the week she holds her own very well and comes off far more in control of the situation and is the stronger player of the two. Her karaoke moment of singing Pat Benatar complete with matching spandex was great and one of the highlights of the episode. The resolution is obvious and Mike soon realizes he should have apologized sooner. It’s rather formulaic and if anything this is the fundamental flaw of the show is it plays every situation safe. In 2013 this is a tough sell on a network sitcom compared to 20 years ago. If this is the most these two have to disagree on other than parenting it’s going to get old pretty quick.
Most of this keeps the episode consistent but the sub plots really bury the chances of it being a solid episode. Any storyline involving Aunt Leigh feels like a throwaway and here you have Eve playing babysitter to her dog Icebreaker (you know, to break the ice with men…ha). Eve as a teenage daughter on TV is still far more respectable than some but she is always sidelined with stories like this and usually it’s at Leigh’s expense. The other storyline here involving Ian trying to scare Graham into switching rooms with him is rather dull as well. I’m not too sure why he is given the traditional Gen Y mentality of starting a business and living at home but it does nothing for the eldest son of the Henry clan.
“Teammates” was by and large a much better episode than expected despite being thrown off balance by some rather poor subplots. Six episodes in I still don’t know what to think of The Michael J Fox show. This is becoming an unsettling pattern because the audience is not defined by the wishy washy nature of the show. It survives at the moment solely on Fox, Brandt, and NBC’s need to have fresh new sitcoms but the throwback nature of the show keeps it far from fresh by today’s standards.