THE SHOW "The Michael J. Fox Show"
WHEN|WHERE Thursday night at 9 and 9:30 on NBC/4; moves to its regular 9:30 p.m. time slot next Thursday
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Mike Henry (Michael J. Fox) was a much-adored anchor at WNBC/4, until his Parkinson's finally derailed his career. Now he's at home as manny to his kids -- son Ian (Conor Romero), a Cornell dropout, teen daughter Eve (Juliette Goglia), very young son Graham (Jack Gore) -- and husband to Annie ("Breaking Bad's" Betsy Brandt). His flighty sister, Leigh, (Katie Finneran) lives nearby. Mike's getting a little edgy, too, so when his former boss at Ch. 4, Harris (Wendell Pierce), asks him to return, he jumps. Meanwhile, (Woodbury's own) Tracy Pollan -- Fox's real- life wife -- guests in tonight's second episode at 9:30.
MY SAY Few shows ever arrive with as much goodwill as this one. Even TV critics with desiccated hearts want to see a beloved star with Parkinson's return in triumph. Over a stretch in the '80s, Fox gave more viewers more pleasure than just about anyone else on TV, with the exception of Bill Cosby, so now in the hour of his need, they'll probably want to return the favor. That's human nature.
But TV comedy is all about what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. Thanks for the memories -- now make me laugh. Instead, too cloying, too sentimental, too heavy on the NBC News tie-ins -- as clumsily handled as they possibly could be -- "Fox" doesn't merely squander the goodwill but may go as far as reminding some hardened viewers what bugged them about most network TV comedies in the first place.
"Fox" isn't an unredeemable flop. Get past the mawkishness (if you can) and there's a sweetness here, and geniality. "The Michael J. Fox Show" needs to be much more, but love is hard to shake. Fox and his reputation will survive this. Maybe the show, too.
BOTTOM LINE Must-watch because you have to have an opinion about Michael J. Fox's return. Just don't be too surprised -- or sad -- if it's a negative one.