How Michael J. Fox is getting the last laugh
The results are in. Now halfway through the season, Michael J. Fox is proving early doubters wrong with the surprise success of “The Michael J. Fox Show.” When Fox decided to return to TV full-time, people were supportive, but no one was quite sure what to expect. But the show has just been picked up for worldwide syndication and boasts some big upcoming guest stars, such as Sting, who will play himself in the show’s holiday special.
The show is loosely based on Michael’s real life – he plays a family man with Parkinson’s who decides to return to work – but beyond the premise, it has its own storyline separate from the actor’s life. “The story of our first season is that after everything he’s been through, Michael J. Fox is still one of the funniest men in America,” creator Sam Laybourne tells Metro.
On the show, it’s Fox’s character Mike’s wife who pushes him to go back to work, but Fox says in real life, he pushed himself. “I was enjoying my guest appearances [on ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’] so much that I thought, ‘Why can’t I do this? What is the unwritten rule that I can’t go back to work full time?’ The more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘Why can’t I do a show?’ I couldn’t find a reason not to,” Fox says.
“Being a guy with Parkinson’s, there’s a whole new set of tools for him,” Laybourne says. “There was this sort of fear going into it that Michael is somewhat limited. He’s not limited. He’s using different tools, which are equally if not more funny. He’s up for anything.”
The show doesn’t shy away from joking about Parkinson’s, a tactic that is meant to help the audience feel more comfortable with it as the season goes on. Laybourne explains that early in the season, viewers may have felt uncomfortable laughing at Parkinson’s jokes, but people that have stuck with the show laugh about it, just as the characters on the shows do.
“We make a lot of Parkinson’s jokes on set,” Betsy Brandt, who plays Fox’s wife on the show, tells Metro. “Michael always says, ‘Everybody’s always got their own bag of hammers.’ It’s a little shaking, it’s not the end of the world. … For everybody, there’s going to be something – maybe not a chronic disease, but something – that you struggle with.”
“My view of life is colored by humor and looking at the best in any situation,” Fox says. “One of the things I love about the show is that it gives me the opportunity to tell people who have disabilities or different challenges that they deal with that you can step back into life. You can be apart of life. You just have to allow for the facts of your situation. Instead of hiding that or being in denial about it, put it out there, and that’s what I’m doing with the show.”
Co-creator Sam Laybourne credits the show’s family-friendliness for its success. “My favorite tweet ever I’ve seen about the show is, ‘Watching with my family. We were cracking up like maniacs,’” Laybourne says. Family comedy night is back. And so is Fox.