You know that a network has stopped taking risks when they start billing Michael J. Fox as their biggest, buzziest star. Yes, the artist formerly known as Alex P. Keaton (and currently know as an Emmy-magnet guest star) will return to NBC this fall, right back where he started with Family Ties, to star in his new sitcom, The Michael J. Fox Show, which kicks off a whole new family-themed Thursday night. That means no more witty, career-minded single ladies and cult-movie-referencing twentysomethings on Must-See TV. (Parks and Recreation is still around, but it’s been moved to the 8:00 PM sudden-death time slot, opposite The Big Bang Theory.) Instead, we get Fox, alongside the blended-family comedy Welcome to the Family, and Sean Hayes starring as a divorced gay dad on Sean Saves the World, all capped off with an hour of Parenthood. Aiming squarely down the middle of American brows this year, NBC is also bringing back some recognizable faces from decades past (Fox! Blair Underwood for Ironside! James Spader for The Blacklist!), along with a certain brand of comedy that hasn’t changed much since that time. You want jokes about parents tricking their kids into eating vegetables? You’ve got it! You want something a little edgier? Go watch AMC.
THE MICHAEL J FOX SHOW
The good news? Michael J. Fox’s new show comes from writer/executive producer Sam Laybourne (Cougar Town) and co-stars the great Betsy Brandt, who brings such sad and funny suffering-wife pathos to the role of Marie on Breaking Bad. The bad news? Despite the fact that it was inspired by Fox’s real-life battle with Parkinson’s, it looks like any other bland, what-is-this-family-coming-to-if-we-can’t-sit-down-to-eat-dinner-together? comedy, and the teaser clip just isn’t that funny. Be warned: there will be kale jokes.
SEAN SAVES THE WORLD
It’s a little strange that right after canceling The New Normal, NBC is taking on another gay-dad comedy, one that’s way less nuanced. But if anyone’s willing to spruce up an old trope with jazz hands, it’s Sean Hayes. He delivers his best Broadway-star repartee as a divorced father who’s trying to explain his complicated background to his teenage daughter. (“Gay. Tried not to be. Was. Was Again… There wasn’t a lot of was-ing. Although, one was-ing was with a bear who had no hair, so it wasn’t a very fuzzy was-ing, was it?”) And the rest of the casting is strong, with Linda Lavin (Alice) as the pushy mother and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911) as the moody boss. But the show’s all about Hayes, who brings the razzle-dazzle so hard, he conjures up memories of Jack McFarland on Will & Grace. The only problem? That’s pretty much the role that he’s still playing here — and might be doomed to play forever.
Why do psychopaths always get to pick their own FBI case workers? Shouldn’t criminals have limited freedom? Well, apparently not: first, a serial killer brings an agent back from retirement on The Following, and now, in this new drama, most-wanted fugitive Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) surrenders to the bureau with one caveat: he will help them catch a ”blacklist” of mobsters, spies and terrorists, but only if he works directly with agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). TV is already overrun with this type of cat-and-mouse procedural, and the dialogue in this trailer is ridiculously expository (“What does he want?” “He wants REVENGE!”) But Spader was made to play this villain, a guy who’s arrogant and amused all at once. Just listen to him unleash his evil laugh for five long seconds in the trailer, and tell me you won’t at least check it out.
Real-life vampire Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing pretend vampire Dracula? Lots of Victorian repression and violent bodice-ripping? Top hats worn unironically? Blood-curdling screams followed by EVEN LOUDER BLOOD-CURDLING SCREAMS? The words “from the producers of Downton Abbey”? Yes, please! If you need me, I’ll be down in the catacombs, lighting 20,000 red candles and counting down the daylight hours until this is on.
WELCOME TO THE FAMILY
Just your classic story: boy meets girl. Boy gets girl pregnant right after graduation. Boy and girl must defer their college plans, get married, and blend together their two families, who are Mexican and white, respectively. Cute cast, including Joseph Haro and Ella Rae Peck as the young couple, and Ricardo Chavira, Justina Machado, Mike O’Malley, and Mary McCormack as the parents. But now that so many comedies take non-traditional families as a given, the idea that this situation would create such a massive culture clash feels old-fashioned. And the fact that NBC’s description of this show includes the phrase “OMG/Dios Mio” doesn’t help.
In this remake of the Raymond Burr classic, corrupt cop Blair Underwood proves his bad-assery by dangling bad guys off tall buildings, delivering tough-guy catch phrases (“Did I stutter?”), and talking in a voice that’s twenty octaves deeper than yours. Once in a while, he works up his partner so much that he needs to be reminded of The Rules. (“There are procedures, damnit, and they need to be followed!”) The only real difference between him and every other hardened cop on TV is that he’s in a wheelchair. That might not seem like a big deal, especially since he’s able-bodied enough to dangle bad guys off tall buildings. But according to the trailer, it gives him a “unique perspective.” ”Got a different view of the world from down here,” he growls. There are eye-rolling cues, and they need to be followed.
Follow Melissa Maerz on Twitter: @MsMelissaMaerz