This week "The Michael J. Fox Show" got a little worse, while "Ironside" got a little better. The two haven't quite switched places yet. The M.J. Fox Show is still a better sit-com than Ironside is a drama. But they are close to meeting in the middle. Sadly, neither show is doing well at the moment, and two of my favorite TV critics are listing both among the "walking dead" of the new fall season.
Some specifics ...
The Michael J. Fox Show - Episode 4 "Hobbies"
• The words "flop sweat" showed up a lot in early reviews of this show. At first I thought that was overstating things, but now I'm not so sure. The show feels even more rushed, desperate to make us laugh, than it was when it started a few weeks ago.
• For a show that carefully spells out its lesson for the day at the end of each episode, its lessons are awfully mixed up. Is Twitter a fun medium for snarky aspiring writers, or an appalling weapon of digital bullying? Is Mike basically wrong and paranoid about his newsroom rival, or is she the real sociopath?
• The only reference to Mike's Parkinson's Disease was when he said he was more coordinated on the ice. Actually, I'm not sure that was a Parkinson's reference. If it was supposed to be, they should have connected the dots a bit more … maybe note how it's like stutterers who don't stutter when they sing. Sometimes, you really do have to explain the joke.
• Best moment: The hockey dads have ended up playing each other while the kids watch, bored and literally sidelined. When Mike's wife Annie shows up at the rink, one of the fathers calls out, "Wife!" exactly like Wayne and Garth shouting "Car!" while playing street hockey in the "Wayne's World" movie. It was funny, yet they even let that one drop, because the other players didn't react. They should've stopped skating and gaped at her or something.
Ironside - Episode 2 "Sleeping Dogs"
• This episode was not bad. I actually got into it. They set up a couple of intertwining mysteries that keep my interest. I really wanted to find out what they were all really about. Also, the dialog and one-liners were a little better, funnier, more natural. Everyone seemed more relaxed.
• A few disturbing patterns established in the Pilot seem set to continue. For one thing, if they're going to have Ironside sleep with every sexy woman he flirts with, in every episode, it's going to get stupid and offensive, fast. Also, kind of like the "Fox" show, "Ironside" seems to be shooting for sophisticated moral ambiguity, but missing it and hitting confusion instead. It seems like we're supposed to understand the lesson Ironside learns about child abuse when observing what happened to his former partner's nephew, but I really didn't get what the lesson was supposed to be. Which would be fine, except that it didn't seem to be inviting me to ponder the lesson. We were supposed to understand it, and it wasn't understandable the way they depicted it.
• Given my squeamishness at the Pilot's celebration of police brutality, I did like the little nod in this episode to the idea of cops not shooting people as soon as they appear threatening. The cop physically disarms the suspect instead, then holsters his gun, saying, "Yup, this thing is definitely not working."
• As I hoped, we may be starting to learn about each of Ironside's team, and why he chose them. Presumably, each of these first few episodes will focus on one of them. But the face in the spaghetti moment was odd and weak, especially as a capper to the whole episode.
• As of right now, the new "Ironside" is about at a level of quality that would have made it a solid, not spectacular hit in the early '70s … the equivalent today would be one of the CSI or Law & Order spinoffs. For many reasons that's just not good enough anymore. For starters, the schedule already has enough mid-level police procedurals. However, the thought did trigger another. If "Ironside" doesn't work out, why not add the Ironside character to one of the more established procedurals? Or, have him make an occasional guest appearance? They seem to operate in roughly the same universe … just a slight fictional step back from our real world.
• Maybe I'm grasping as straws, but I just wonder whether a detective in a wheelchair is enough of thing today to base a whole show on. That would be progress, I suppose. If so, it might still be enough for an guest star collaboration with Ice-T and Mariska Hargitay.
• Best moment: "If you're going to stare, at least get the hell out of my way, alright?" -- Sgt. Ironside. Now that is a genuine disability line.