Nothing happens in this episode. Well, almost nothing. It is quickly becoming apparent that The Michael J. Fox Show is content to act as a vehicle for mostly tired jokes and wacky plot lines that all magically resolve themselves within 22 minutes. This is not simply the formula employed by the vast majority of sitcoms, most of which devote at least a tiny fraction of each episode to the forward progress of both story and character. To this point in the series, however, The Michael J. Fox Show has inhabited the same distant region of plotless extremism as Family Guy except with bathed-in-Purell humor. This is not an inherently bad approach; it just places the impetus squarely on the jokes and social commentary.
Fortunately, “Art” shows significant improvement to the former. Although there are still bounteous jokes excavated from the ruins of The Canned Laughter Era, the writers manage to squeeze in a healthy number of belly laughs. This is due in large part again to the charisma of Betsy Brandt and Wendell Pierce and less to Fox himself, who, despite playing electric guitar in this episode, is clearly more George McFly than Marty. There is a delightful cynicism to Brandt’s Annie (“I hated it when my parents said ‘Because I said so.’ That is exactly what I’m gonna say when I put them in a home.”) and Pierce’s Harris that gives the series a jolt of energy and realism that it desperately needs to lift itself from the muddy swamp of plotlessness.
The largely irrelevant storylines include:
•Eve begins taking photography lessons, but all her subjects are nude men. Mike and Annie are suitably anxious. Intensely mediocre penis jokes ensue.
•Ian decides to break up with Reese despite having started dating at the end of the last episode because they disagree on the proper use of hashtags.
•Graham discovers that saying “You’re right. I’m wrong. I’m sorry.” allows him live in an 8-year-old’s version of The Purge. It also results in Leigh exclaiming, “This isn’t Double Dare!” despite the show last airing five years prior to Graham’s birth.
The best you can say about any of these arcs is that they are less uncomfortable than those featured in “Neighbor.” But the fact remains that Mike and Annie’s kids are pretty lame. It’s not the kids’ fault—they’re kids!—but the episodes should focus on the characters whose lives are actually interesting.
This, perhaps, is more to the point. Nowhere in “Neighbor” or “Art” does Mike do any actual work, his return to which is supposedly the premise of the series. The lack of plot is not simply troubling because most of the jokes are not very good, but because the show could be so much more. Audiences were excited for this show because it marked the (hopefully) triumphant return of ’80s America’s golden boy Michael J. Fox, but none of that has been reflected yet in the show. Instead of continuing to make bad jokes about Parkinson’s, the series should be reflecting Fox’s life through Henry’s struggles to return to work. Comedies can be sad and messy and still be very funny, and viewers won’t begrudge a little unhappiness if it pays off in better laughs and more compelling characters.