There are a lot of problems with The Michael J. Fox Show—there's the blatant product placement for NBC, the milking of Fox's Parkinson's for laughs, an annoying "documentary" style—but one of the most pervasive problems is the treatment of women.
NBC gave the show a straight-to-series order with the hope that the familiar face of Fox would bring viewers to their Thursday night comedy lineup, recreating the old days of Must-See TV. Unfortunately, reclaiming their old success means, in the case of this show, an old-fashioned take on the female characters. The show follows Mike Henry, who bears little differentiation from Michael J. Fox, a former newscaster who quit because of his Parkinson's, but gets lured back to work. Boiled down it's just trying to be a wacky family/workplace comedy. The show may be successful among audiences, especially since easy to root for Fox, but that's what makes its treatment of women especially disappointing. This isn't blatantly offensive like Dads, but it's quieter, and therefore more insidious.
The most standout example of its woman problem comes in the pilot when Mike comes back to work and is met by his new segment producer, Kay (Ana Nogueira). She almost immediately starts crying. Fox asks his boss Harris (played by Wendell Price) if she is indeed weeping. Harris responds, "If you don't like her I can drop her with a stone." Mike responds, "No, I like that she's shorter than me. It's a nice touch." Yup, female segment producers are overly emotional and only have value because of their appearance.
Later, when they go cover breaking news, she starts freaking out, crying and then puking. Even though Mike works at NBC New York, the former home of legendary awesome lady Sue Simmons, women are either inexperienced and shallow (like Kay or the intern Harris who creepily hits on in the pilot) or bitchy, like Susan, a competitor of Mike's played by Anne Heche. Sure, Mike's supposed to have his flaws in the Heche plot line—mainly being an uncool dad—but he's still the good-guy hero of this story.
And it's not just the woman at Mike's workplace that have issues. Take, for instance, his sister Leigh, played by Katie Finneran, who deserves a better role. Leigh is a ball of unflattering tropes. A middle aged woman trying to look younger who constantly complains. She's a writer, who comes off as not very good at her job. In one episode she complains about having to write a 200-word story for Us Weekly, in another she's writing a bad Twilight knockoff. Mike's daughter meanwhile is falsely deep, trying to get away with making a documentary about her family in lieu of a project about The Grapes of Wrath and in the second episode becoming friends with another girl just because she thinks it would be cool to have a lesbian friend. (Cue the stale Melissa Etheridge jokes.) Even his wife Annie, played by Breaking Bad's Betsy Brandt, seems to exist to support her husband, even though she's a teacher herself. The second episode revolves around Mike's crush on a sexy neighbor played by Fox's real-life wife, Tracy Pollan. Her attraction to Mike validates him and that's the whole reason any of these women are there, to prop up the men.
What makes Michael J. Fox's issues with its female characters so egregious is that it's coming after Parks and Recreation in NBC's lineup. As of now Parks is the only holdover from NBC's poorly rated but ambitious comedy lineup which formerly featured The Office and 30 Rock. In the premiere of Parks the gang goes to London so that Leslie Knope, perhaps TV's most outspoken feminist, can accept an award for women in government. On the Michael J. Fox show the women are crying, complaining, undermining, and being sexy. You know, women stuff. It's nice to see Michael J. Fox on screen again, but this show makes him seem like he's behind the times.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.