With “Art,” The Michael J. Fox Show comes into sharper focus. The show is settling into a template: a less malicious version of the Modern Family mix of schemes and mind games, involving people who genuinely like each other too much to follow through on their worst impulses (and with fun music segues instead of the awkward pauses that end many MF scenes). Like most episodes of Modern Family, “Art” ends with a talking head that sums it all up, as Fox explains the need for “boundaries” that give us something to “rebel against.”
It’s a forced lesson, as the main conflict in “Art” is remarkably stupid and dated. High-school daughter Eve is taking a photography course, and she innocently shows her parents her work, which includes shots of the naked men who modeled for the class. Mike and Annie freak out, in the manner of sitcom parents from the ’60s and ’70s. (I think the Cosby Show’s Huxtables would be have been less bothered by the photos in the ’80s.) They each try to talk her into dropping the class, even though they agree she has talent and has been in a much better mood since taking it. Sidetracked by Eve’s flattery, Annie ends up posing topless for her daughter, which would be an interesting twist if the episode didn’t advance to a Dick Van Dyke Show–vintage plot about Mike and Annie breaking into an art gallery to steal the photo before it goes on public view.
“Art” ends with Mike and Annie forcing Eve to drop the class “because we said so” (which is really reminiscent of the Huxtables), something that Mike tries to rationalize to the viewers at home with that “we all need boundaries” crap. It doesn’t make any sense, given Mike and Annie’s otherwise New York cosmopolitan behavior, but maybe NBC thought it made for good counterprogramming against CBS’s raunchy Two And A Half Men. Even though “Art” is full of penis jokes (Annie waving around a bratwurst on a fork as she talks about how uncomfortable she is with make nudity) and gives poor Wendell Pierce more lines about his character, Harris, being a slut (with Sam Malone’s black book updated to a smart phone that includes ratings for each of his conquests).
The most promising aspect of “Art” is that it represents The Michael J. Fox Show evolving into more of an ensemble piece, giving Fox some nice moments of reacting to other characters and making the Parkinson’s disease–related joke an occasional surprise instead of an overdone gimmick.
Older son Ian (Conor Romero) gets a routine subplot about his indecision over breaking up with a girlfriend and his mistake in following Harris’s “test-drive as many as you can” advice about women. The best thing about this storyline is that it gives Romero, Pierce, and Katie Finneran as Mike’s brash sister some time to play with their characters without being overshadowed by Fox. We should see in the coming weeks what the show’s writers think the actors came up with.
- Mike’s advises Ian, “When it comes to women, there are six words you gotta remember: ‘You’re right, I’m wrong, I’m sorry.’” How Huxtable can you get?
- After Mike tells a childhood story about being forced to give up the guitar and take piccolo lessons instead, Eve says she’ll call her nude-men art project “Dad’s Piccolo.” I choose to see that as a dig instead of an innocent innuendo, partly because that’s funnier and partly because Juliette Goglia is just not selling her character as that stupid. Good for you, Juliette.
- Eve: “I saw this plastic bag just dancing in the breeze. So I moved it out of the way and took a picture of the building.” Good for you, Eve.
- “Will you be a cog in my sex machine?” I bet there are outtakes of Pierce saying this about 30 times.
- “Male nudes. Fully naked nude men, naked nude men.” And Fox stammering this line about 50 times.
- Running gag alert: The security guard at the art gallery doesn’t recognize Mike from TV. Then again, I don’t think we’ve seen his character on the air since he got bumped from The Today Show in the pilot episode.
- I need a better TV. I can’t tell whether Betsy Brandt is wearing Breaking Bad purple when she tries to commit burglary, or just dark blue.