The Night I Tried Network TV – Reviews of The MJF Show, The Crazy Ones, The Goldbergs and Back in the Game

With few exceptions over the past decade, Modern Family and Burn Notice most prominently, if the show’s not on Sunday night I don’t watch it. The biggest difference from NBC’s Thursday night lineup in the 80’s and 90’s being the DVR. My only live TV watching consists of sports and news, except later night replays of cable news (don’t get me started). This month three longtime favorites, Dexter, Burn Notice and Breaking Bad are moving on to that great channel in the sky, or syndication, whichever comes first. So I thought I would mozy on over to network and check out some of this season’s new offerings.

Utilizing my DISH Hopper I sampled four new sitcoms premiering this week, The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC), The Crazy Ones (CBS), and Back in the Game (ABC) and The Goldbergs (ABC) and can’t say I’m giving up my Sunday night shows anytime soon.

The Michael J. Fox Show features not only the return to TV of Family Ties’ Alex Keaton and Spin City’s Mike Flaherty, but the first full time acting gig for Fox since 2002. Fox plays, “One of NY’s most beloved news anchors … put his career on hold to spend more time with his family and focus on his health after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But now five years later, with the kids busy growing up and Mike growing restless, it just might be time for him to get back to work.” Thus goes this family, life imitating art imitating life, comedy.

I’ve always enjoyed Fox’s comedic timing and chagrined demeanor. Most recently, his hysterical role in Season 8 of Curb Your Enthusiasm earned an Emmy nomination.  This show, featuring his wife Tracy Pollan as the attractive, undersexed, divorced neighbor, is based on Fox’s own battle with Parkinson’s as well as the sagas of his real-life family. It directly, honestly and refreshingly contends with the disease without sanctimony or pity.  Though amusing, the pilot episode sets the tone and confines but provides few real laughs. And with a slight nod to cable comedies, it teaches life lessons on the down low.

Bottom line, will I continue to watch? Sure, but probably just on occasion.  A check in to see where it things go, if it can transcend Fox’s Parkinson’s to become a comedy that captures a family’s unintended comedic response to a bad hand.

I should note my bias against sitcoms with life lessons. Maybe it’s too much Seinfeld, Curb, Entourage or Californication, but wrapping up serious issues within the 23 minute seems passé.  Or maybe I’m just jaded.

Robin Williams also returns to television, for the first time since his hysterical hyperactive alien routine in Mork and Mindy, as the burned out genius owner of a Chicago advertising agency in The Crazy Ones. Co-starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as his, “I may not be as naturally gifted but still successful” daughter and agency partner, the pilot portrays the agency’s attempt to retain McDonald’s as a client.  Any kid growing up in the 70’s can’t forget just how dynamically funny was Williams in his Mork role, which launched him towards status as one of America’s most successful entertainers. His new character, Simon Roberts, provides an outlet to exercise Mork-like soliloquies, minus all the jumping, and combines a little Don Draper last minute saves, Hawkeye Pierce laugh instead of cry with Charlie Harper I know I’ve done bad things. Overall, mildly funny though a little annoying at points. If veteran TV producer and writer David E. Kelly, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, can figure out how to incorporate William’s style into interesting and funny storylines, the show will have some legs. If not, could end up as a stranded imitation of both Williams and Kelly.

With pretty low expectations I watched Back in the Game, starring Maggie Lawson, Psych, as a recently single mother who moves back in with her uncouth and ill-tempered father, played by James Caan, following a failed marriage. Apparently, grown children moving back in with their parents is the “hot” theme this fall season and this one revolves around baseball. Caan’s character played pro ball at some point followed by a challenging career as a scout, or something. Regardless, the daughter grew up raised on baseball and hard luck to become an All-American softball player at the University of Michigan. Despite her success, he hates the game due to her dad’s over-the-top, aggressive coaching style and his occasional parental abandonment.  To her displeasure, however, not only does her 10 year old son want to play in the area’s baseball league, but she becomes the team’s manager when it’s discovered the league cut her ridiculously unathletic son and a band of merry misfits.  The show features some truly brutal overacting by the nemesis and his cronies not to mention one of the most overdone themes found in shows and movies about sports.  Lawson’s easy on the screen appeal coupled with some occasional entertaining banter with Caan nonetheless lifted the pilot above expectations but not enough to keep me coming back. My guess is you better catch it quick.

I didn’t know what to think before hitting play on my DVR to view The Goldbergs featuring Curb’s Jeff Garlin as the married father of three living in the early 1980’s. One of a few shows in the last year to revisit America under Reagan and Cosby, check out Season One of The Americans, it’s possibly one of the worst sitcoms I’ve ever endured. Not worthy of further discussion; I hit “stop” even before learning if the 16 year old son would be allowed to drive. Can’t imagine this going long unless there’s a guaranteed run.

Interestingly, while some of these new network shows incorporate a little of cable TV’s more open and direct relationship with its intended audience, many feature stars from some of cable’s best shows. In addition to Garlin, Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt plays Fox’s TV wife, The Wire’s Wendell Pierce plays his best friend/boss and Mad Men’s James Wolk stars on The Crazy Ones.


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