Michael J. Fox plays a beloved TV personality who has Parkinson’s disease on his new NBC comedy. The show reflects the realities in the actor’s own life. You do see him shake and wobble occasionally when he plays out a scene, but Fox insists his Parkinson’s “will not be a major storyline for the show.” It will just be part of his life as he deals with many humorous situations that happen to everyone.
After viewing a couple of episodes of The Michael J. Fox Show, it seems that the show is shaping up to be more of a family comedy, although it will have Fox in the work place. And there’s a great supporting cast that includes Betsy Brandt as his wife, Wendell Pierce as his boss and best friend, Juliette Goglia, Conor Romero and Jack Gore as his kids, and Katie Finneran as his meddlesome sister.
The show has him playing Mike Henry, an ultra-likable news anchor in New York, who puts his career on hold to spend more time with his family when he’s diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But after too much “family time” it’s time for Mike to get back to work — just like Fox.
Fox took an interesting journey to return to the sitcom world that launched his career with Family Ties in 1982. On that classic show he won three Emmys for his role as the ultra-conservative kid Alex Keaton. As Marty McFly he starred in the Back to the Future film trilogy. He also did the sitcom Spin City, but retired from it after he announced he had Parkinson’s in 2000. Afterwards he did some guest starring roles, most notably in the dramas Boston Legal, Rescue Me, and The Good Wife. It was after he did multiple episodes of The Good Wife that Fox determined he had the stamina to return to series television.
This fall after filming several episodes Fox reports he’s comfortable with his schedule every day. “And I’m really happy with how it feels to be back at work, rebuilding the [acting]muscles.” His wife Tracy Pollan (who recently guest-starred on the show) and his real life kids are also glad he’s out of the house and back at work. “My kids, they’re happy that I’m going back to work, from a pure sense of being happy for me, but I think also there’s a kind of a scrutiny of their stuff that won’t exist if I’m occupied doing something else. So they’re cool with it,” he says.
When asked what he liked about the time off he’s had over the past years, Fox reveals, “Hanging out with my family and driving them nuts in a similar way to Mike Henry on the show. Just being there for my sons, 23 and 24, and my daughters, 18 and 11. So I really got a good piece of their lives, a good piece of their formative years where they were the focus of my attention, and it was beautiful. It was so great. Um, for them, it may have been a different experience,” he jokes.
Sometimes the 52-year-old actor admits he gets tired, “but I say to Tracy all the time, that’s not the Parkinson’s, that’s just being old. So I do pace myself a little differently. I enjoy getting the scripts that have been fantastic, and the cast is such a joy to work with, because they’ve really captured this unique perspective of this family.”
There’s a fine line of doing humor on the show that deals with disabilities, and Fox talked about that. “It’s about perception. A lot of times when you have a disability, one of the things you deal with is other people’s projections of what your experience is, and their fear about it, and not seeing the experience you’re having. It is what I deal with, my reality, but there’s nothing horrible about someone with a shaky hand.” Fox says, “The way I look at life and the reality of Parkinson’s — sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes it’s funny. I need to look at it that way and I think other people will look at it that way.”
After doing a couple of guest spots on various shows, he realized he was able to continue acting. “It brought me to a place of ‘this is what I want to do. This is what I was programmed to do and I wanted to do it. It’s what I loved to do, and why not? There’s no reason not to do it.”