Growing Up Fisher: TV Review
Sunday night after the Olympics on NBC
J.K. Simmons, Jenna Elfman, Eli Baker, Ava Deluca-Verley
After the sentimental "About a Boy," NBC adds a second feel-good comedy, which hugs you a little too tight and a little too long for comfort (or laughs).
It’s hard to figure out what NBC was thinking when it plotted out its Tuesday sitcoms. From 9 to 10 p.m. it’s a pretty tough field already, at least quality-wise. Fox has New Girl and this season’s hit comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. ABC counters with its own hit in The Goldbergs and the underappreciated Trophy Wife. NBC? Apparently it’s launching the Saccharine Offensive.
With About a Boy (which had an excellent pilot) getting a sneak peek on Saturday night after the Olympics, now Growing Up Fisher comes out as the Olympics close. Will that help launch it? Only if people really, really love those overly sentimental Olympic features. No, desperately, weepily love them. And the second episode of About a Boy is extremely sugary on the emotional end. Watching these two shows together is like going into a sugar coma.
Growing Up Fisher is about Henry, a boy coming of age with a blind father. Well, the father has always been blind — he's just hiding it from the rest of the world until he and his wife separate. In any case, that’s not entirely important or all that the show is about. It’s the kid. And the coming of age. OK, and the blind thing. And a dog named Elvis. And the soft goo of life lessons (really obvious ones) encasing you like a caramel hug.
The series is narrated by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), who provides the grown-up voice of Henry (he's also executive producer).
Created by DJ Nash (Up All Night, Bent) and inspired by his own life story, Growing Up Fisher is about 12-year-old Henry (Eli Baker) and his two parents: blind father Mel (J.K. Simmons, The Closer), who’s an attorney; and Joyce (Jenna Elfman, 1600 Penn, Dharma & Greg), who is something I can’t recall because I was flossing so I wouldn’t get a cavity. Or three. Well, she's a mom for sure. Although she kind of wants to be best friends with her daughter, Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley).
When we meet Henry, he’s like a “wingman” to his dad. Once the separation/divorce news hits, Dad has to get a dog named Elvis and Henry feels useless. This allows for 22 minutes of story about how Henry really isn’t useless, but Elvis will help his dad through this new phase and everybody will be happy. I’m not sure that’s what I took from it, but I did watch the second episode as well. And what I took from that was that I’d never watch the third one. You might. I mean, these kinds of soft, sentimental comedies with little learning lessons are all the rage (well, sure, they used to be … now, like The Goldbergs, they come with more palatable doses of snark to leaven the sweetness and provide a whole lot more laughs).
But as a strategy, I get what NBC is trying to do. Both About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher are feel-good comedies. Compared with what Fox and ABC are offering, maybe the thinking is that people need less sarcasm and negativity in their lives. It’s like a candy-gram bit of counterprogramming.
Actually, that can’t be completely true because About a Boy, when it’s good — meaning when it’s not trying to be super fuzzy sweater — has its caustic elements. And, to its credit, there are funny jokes in the three episodes I watched (whereas I didn’t laugh once in two episodes of Growing Up Fisher). But I’m also very wary of About a Boy, given that the second episode is from the same Fisher DNA. If that tendency is increased, you’ve definitely got a huggy pair of sitcoms on your hands.
Simmons does his usual solid work in this role, and he's got all the physical comedy in the playing blind (and faking sight) bits. Elfman makes another solid statement that she should be in something much better (this coming off her fine work in 1600 Penn; she hasn't lost any of her comedy chops). Together, they're just undermined by, well, syrup.
If you like very obvious, very simple lessons in your family comedies, then by all means embrace Growing Up Fisher and its BFF, About a Boy. No doubt they will hug you back, earnestly.