News Column

The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va., Casey Gillis column

September 27, 2013


Sept. 27--Has anyone else felt some serious dej... vu since the fall shows began airing?

I'm not sure there has been one pilot that wasn't completely spoiled for me in the trailers networks released back when they announced their schedules last spring.

Perhaps the biggest offender is NBC's "The Michael J. Fox Show," which premieres at 9 p.m. tonight. I didn't laugh at the pilot once, but that's simply because I'd already seen every single joke play out in those preview clips.

Still, it is a funny episode, and a good introduction to the series, which stars Fox as Mike Henry, a popular New York news anchor who left his job after being diagnosed with Parkinson's and, when the show begins, decides to return to the news desk.

His wife Annie (Betsy Brandt) and three kids couldn't be happier; when Mike decided to quit his job, he refocused his intensity onto the family and basically drove them all crazy.

There are a lot of jokes made about Fox's Parkinson's, some better than others, but the show actually felt snappier when it focused less on his illness and more on the interactions of his family.

Brandt, last seen as the tortured Marie on "Breaking Bad," is great, and the actors playing the couple's older kids -- Conor Romero as college dropout Ian, and Juliette Goglia as snarky high schooler Eve -- got a couple of one-liners in. I also really enjoyed Katie Finneran as Mike's flighty younger sister Leigh.

The series' second episode, which follows at 9:30 p.m., was just as amusing, especially a subplot that finds Eve going out of her way to be politically correct around a new schoolmate.

Fox isn't the only TV comedy veteran returning to TV tonight.

Over on CBS, Robin Williams stars as a legendary advertising exec in "The Crazy Ones," which premieres at 9 p.m.

I could not have been less excited about this one going in, thanks to trailers that highlighted far too much of Williams' tired schtick.

There are a lot of his signature voices and riffing when the pilot begins, but he seems to calm down as the episode progresses -- so much so that I found myself laughing out loud by the time he and costar James Wolk came up with a spontaneous McDonald's jingle for guest star Kelly Clarkson to sing.

Wolk was a great surprise here, especially considering that most of the work he's known for has been dramatic ("Mad Men" and Fox's short-lived "Lonestar"). As Williams' caddish employee Zach, who likes to get "conjugal on occasion, sometimes for the benefit of the agency," he's very funny.

Sarah Michelle Gellar -- a longtime favorite of mine, from her "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" days -- is perfectly serviceable as Williams' uptight daughter, but I wish she had more to do than just play the straight woman to his antics. A coworker of mine recently pointed out how good she is with quippy one-liners, which are sadly missing here.

She mostly just bugs her eyes out at whatever crazy thing Williams has done, and she deserves better than that. We all do, really.


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