Scott D. Pierce: 'Growing Up Fisher' sounds unreal but isn't
The premise of the perfectly charming NBC comedy "Growing Up Fisher" (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., Channel 5) seems positively preposterous.
Mel Fisher (J.K. Simmons) is a great dad and a successful lawyer who has always hidden the fact that he's blind. Until, that is, Mel and his wife, Joyce (Jenna Elfman), decide to divorce, and he comes out as sightless and gets a guide dog.
That's sort of a tough pill for his young son, Henry (Eli Baker) who has been Mel's de facto guide offspring to take.
Hard to believe? Sure. But truth is stranger than fiction.
"It's based on my childhood," said creator/executive producer DJ Nash. "My dad went blind when he was 11 and hid his blindness from pretty much everyone outside the family for a long, long time. And then when my parents were getting divorced, he got a guide dog so he could be the dad he wanted to be even though he didn't have the help he had before. And so we went from sort of helping him hide this secret to him becoming a poster child for the blind."
Even that scene in the first episode in which the sightless father cuts down a tree with a chainsaw was mined from Nash's childhood.
"I laugh when I think of when my dad was cutting down a tree with a chainsaw," Nash said. "I mean, that happened, and it's really funny. And I think the distance of telling it as a flashback lets us laugh."
While Nash lived through all of this in the 1980s, "Fisher" is set in the present day. And Jason Bateman, providing the voice of the grown Henry, narrates the show from the future, much as in "How I Met Your Mother."
What's more unexpected than the blindness is that "Fisher" deals with divorcing parents in a way that seems real and idealized at the same time.
Mel and Joyce are far from perfect, but they are really great parents to Henry and his older sister, Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley).
"What is true of my parents and what is true of these parents is that they never let the fact that they're getting divorced keep them from being amazing parents," Nash said.
There's no arguing that, while it's based on real life, the hook for "Growing Up Fisher" is unusual. But it doesn't overwhelm a surprisingly sweet, funny show about regular folks.
"It's a universal story," Nash said. "It's a story about a family who in times of great need are selfless for the sake of family."
It's not just for blind, um, viewers or blind writers, either.
"Disappointingly, as a writer on the show, my parents stayed together, and my dad can see," joked executive producer Tucker Cawley. "But I've been able to overcome those obstacles and contribute because what we're really doing is bringing stories of being parents and being kids and then telling them through this, kind of, just very specific original viewpoint."
Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.