There is a point in the Harry Potter series (bear with me here, this has a point) where Harry transitions from the adorable boy wizard with a humble upbringing to inarguably one of the least likable protagonists in fiction history. He becomes angsty and bitter and develops a troublesome sense of self-importance. In short, he becomes a teenager. This is essentially what is happening on The Michael J. Fox Show. Most viewers (myself included) came into the series expecting to be dazzled by Fox’s once-boundless charm but are now confronted by a boring, jealous 52-year-old, a grown-up Peter Pan. That’s not to say Fox’s character, Mike Henry, is entirely despicable; he simply has episodes of unpleasantness. And this was one of them.
In “Teammates,” Annie verbally accosts a neighbor for not adhering to proper elevator etiquette, and Mike later patches things up with the brute by explaining that Annie is bipolar. The problem, of course, is that Annie is not bipolar (although, as Mike notes, they can always get a second opinion), and she eventually finds out, which naturally leads to Mike’s verbal miscue and the episode’s main premise. Antics! In a futile attempt to win the argument, Mike temporarily destroys the sacred Unified Front, thereby creating a Purge-like situation in terms of both parenting and social engagements. The latter of these, a karaoke costume party (Annie dresses as Pat Benatar, which, in an odd coincidence makes two Benatars in one week counting Marcia Gay Harden on Trophy Wife), results in Mike’s worst moment to date. In an effort to rescue Annie, whose interpretation of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” he believes is about to be interrupted, Mike physically swoops in and stops Doug the intern from singing the “jambo part” and publicly humiliates him. Obviously nobody wants to go to his improv show, but it’s rude to say that to his face while simultaneously mocking his career. It’s an ugly moment that simply doesn’t work. Awkward and uncomfortable made Michael Scott a sympathetic character on occasion because his tone-deafness was always just on the edge of reality. With Mike Henry, it’s just foolish verbal slapstick.
All that said, however, the rest of “Teammates” did not commit such fatal blunders. Leigh continues her ascent up the Michael J. Fox Show power rankings, and she may very well be at the top. ([Calculating.] Yes. At the top). Her family-friendly Jenna Maroney continues firing delightfully off-beat one-liners (“Eve, you can’t just sneak into someone’s apartment like that. I’ve been shot at!”) and blunt honesty. She also provides the best euphemism for going commando since, well, “Going Commando” with “working without a net,” and even though it’s bizarre to consider that a sitcom would need a source of comic relief, she certainly qualifies as one. The episode was also accented by various moments of relatable humor (“Graham doesn’t need all that space. He’s in there pretending the floor is lava!”) that early episodes lacked. Even Mike, for all his flaws, managed a few sly comments and, more importantly, his first major act of parenting. In getting Ian to quit freeloading and use his considerable talent and intelligence for a reasonable endeavor (i.e. not creating a better Google), he introduces the first unforced tension, which is welcome in a show that had been coasting by on hijinks.
Many of the series’ earliest problems still persist, but the show is showing marked improvement in the incisiveness of its writing and development of characters. Unfortunately all that can still be tarnished by a charmless protagonist. With any luck, as the series progresses Mike’s petulance will be replaced with whatever intangible, indescribable thing made us love him in the first place.