Welcome back, Alex P. Keaton.
When news broke yesterday that Michael J. Fox was shopping around a based-on-his-life sitcom helmed by Arrested Development writer Sam Laybourne and Easy A director Will Gluck, the entertainment world went a little bit nuts. And I got an e-mail from a friend of mine, a fellow entertainment writer, that asked, "What's the big deal?"
So, my friends, here's three reasons why Michael J. Fox returning to television is a gigantic moment, and why the networks are fighting over him—and why you should be excited.
1. A lot has changed since Spin City.
When Mr. Fox left the ABC sitcom in 2000, several years after his Parkinson's diagnosis, we were treated to the advent of Charlie Sheen on network television...and we all know how that turned out. Fox has had guest turns on Scrubs, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and recently The Good Wife. And, while it's clear his condition has progressed (more on this below), it's also evident that Fox is still very much everything we used to love about him, with an eye on self-parody and changing with the times.
2. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.
Fox represents an era of TV that doesn't quite exist anymore, and that we all sort of yearn for, a little bit. Remember, friends, Alex Keaton on Family Ties represented a big shift in TV, both because he pretty much invented the smartypants-suburban-teen stereotype that became a staple of the 80s, and also because he flipped the relationship between parents and teens. A young Republican with liberal parents was a conversation starter, and it led to a whole bunch of other pop culture moments and television shows further down the line.
(At some point, dear reader, remind me to talk about how Bradley Whitford's portrayal of Josh Lyman on The West Wing would've been impossible without Fox's Alex.)
But anyway, we love and miss what Fox represented in the 80s. And some of that is Alex Keaton. And a lot of that is Marty McFly. And mostly, we know he's spent the last decade and a half wrestling with a life-altering illness, and we're now afforded an opportunity to see that he's well enough at work, and the vibe and energy he represented in the 80s is alive and well.
3. It's both potentially controversial and familiar.
A television show with a leading man with Parkinson's is immediately a story. It's not something you can ignore; it's front and center and it becomes a crucial part of the conversation about disability and progressive illness in this country, even as it entertains and enlightens.
And this is why I'm excited for this show; it's rare that entertainment can be funny, and smart, and culturally important all at once. And the pedigree of the talent involved, coupled with the Fox's story of the last several years, speaks to the possibilities of this.
Networks are reportedly fighting over the show. NBC was the home of Family Ties, and ABC presented Spin City, and the "Fox on Fox" promos almost write themselves. Let's not talk about CBS.
Anyway—what do you think? What do you miss most about Michael J. Fox right now? What do you hope this show contains? Will you watch?
See you in seven, friends. Leave your thoughts below!
Jonathan Elliott is a writer, arts futurist, pop omnivore, journalist, marketer, and troublemaker. He’s worked in arts marketing and management for the past twelve years, for organizations including Grounds for Sculpture, Princeton Summer Theater at Princeton University, Washington National Opera, The Contemporary American Theater Festival, Sycamore Rouge, McCarter Theatre Center, and ArtPride NJ.
Jonathan writes pop culture and TV pieces for Cinema Blend and Pop Break. His play, Forward Motion, is published via Playscripts, Inc., and he is the co-creator of the made-for-web series NeverLanding.