PD in Prime Time

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Originally published on October 21, 2013

This fall, as the TV networks roll out their latest wares, I confess I had at least one show on my must-watch list. This September, Michael J Fox would be returning to NBC starring in a weekly comedy show called “The Michael J Fox Show”. My interest does not originate from his earlier acting career when he starred in syndicated shows such as Family Ties or Spin City nor from his many successful films including the Back to the Future series. While I admired his success, particularly as a fellow Canadian, these movies and TV programs were of little interest to me – just not my cup of tea.

Nonetheless, when Fox walked away from a very successful acting career in 2000, he did so in a dramatic and bold way. He publicly acknowledged that he had Parkinson’s Disease, informed a largely unaware public about how PD had affected his working life, and dedicated himself to spending more time with his family. Perhaps most dramatically, he took on the challenge of working towards a cure for PD within a decade. I have a tremendous respect for what he has done since “coming out” with Parkinson’s. Raising awareness of PD, establishing the MJF Foundation to fast-track research, lending his voice and support to the cause, and I’m sure sacrificing much of his personal and family life. For all of this and more he should be lauded.

In recent years, Fox has been making a gradual return to network television through guest appearances on programs such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good Wife and Rescue Me. Now, in 2013, he returns with this new self-titled sitcom. I was so looking forward to seeing how PD would be presented in a respectful way but also infused with a good shot of humour. The pilot episode showed Fox had the ability to do this in spades. He is very talented and has a sharp wit. Regrettably, however, as the weeks have gone on, each show has featured less and less of this and more of the somewhat trite stories of odd characters ensconced in weak story lines. I don’t think I’ve laughed out loud since the 2nd episode. Fox is the clear star in this show – I hope he (and his PD) get to shine a little more brightly in the weeks ahead. If not, I fear there won’t be many weeks ahead.

And, perhaps it’s selfish, but as a person with PD, I’d like to see a little more of Michael dealing with the daily challenges of PD – at home, with the family, around town and at work. Not doing so presents a less than realistic view of life with PD and in a sense risks belittling PD symptoms and treatments. I know it’s a comedy, and some of these things can be less than comedic I suppose, but to ignore them does a disservice.

Finally, thanks to friends in Victoria and Chicago for sending me some links to what others are saying about the Michael J Fox show. Think you’ll find them of interest. If you find any more, send them my way and I’d be happy to add.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19381-parkinsons-and-disability-have-an-image-problem-and-michel-j-fox-isnt-helping

http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/22942028-423/what-someone-with-parkinsons-disease-thinks-of-new-michael-j-fox-show.html

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