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Scott D. Pierce: C'mon, who doesn't love Michael J. Fox?

Published September 20, 2013 9:35 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

How do you not love Michael J. Fox? Isn't that a little like not loving apple pie and the American flag?

Yes. And Fox was born in Canada.

From 1982-89, Fox won over tens of millions of fans as everybody's favorite Young Republican, Alex P. Keaton, on the hit sitcom "Family Ties." He cemented his place in pop culture — and in our hearts — as Marty McFly in the "Back to the Future" movie trilogy.

He returned to TV in 1996 as the star of "Spin City," a role that won him an Emmy (to add to the three he won on "Family Ties").

Americans were shocked when Fox announced in 1999 that he has Parkinson's disease. He retired from "Spin City" a year later, spending time with his family and becoming an activist in the fight to find a cure.

Thirteen years later, he's back in a new sitcom — the cleverly titled "Michael J. Fox Show" — playing, well, pretty much himself. Mike Henry is a New York news anchor who retired when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's. Several years later, his family is tired of him spending so much time with them, so they're thrilled when his old boss (Wendell Pierce) persuades Mike to come back to work.

(The cast includes Betsy Brandt as Mike's wife, Annie; Connor Romero as his slacker son, Ian; Juliette Goglia as his teenage daughter, Eve; Jack Gore as his preteen son, Graham; and Katie Finneran as his loopy sister, Leigh.)

In his real-life semi-retirement, Fox spent a lot of time with his family "driving them nuts in a similar way," he said. "I really got a good piece of their formative years where they were the focus of my attention, and it was beautiful.

"For them it may have been a different experience."

Because it's based on truth, the show rings true. It's not a laugh-a-minute sitcom, but it's smart and funny.

The Parkinson's is a major storyline in the premiere (Thursday, 8 p.m., NBC/Ch.5). It's there in the next couple of episodes because, well, it's part of the character.

"It becomes absorbed as the normal course of the family's life, as it has with mine," Fox said. "It is what I deal with. It is my reality and my life, but it's not horrible. I don't think it's Gothic nastiness."

And the way Fox and his character deal with it makes you admire him even more.

"The way I look at life, the way I look at the reality of Parkinson's, is that sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes it's funny," Fox said. "I need to look at it that way, and I think other people will look at it that way.

"But beyond that, I think we all get our own bag of hammers. We all get our own Parkinson's. We'll look at this through the filter of that experience, and we'll say, 'Yeah, I need to laugh at my stuff, too.' "

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.