February 24, 2014

THE SKED Pilot Review: “Growing Up Fisher”


GROWING UP FISHER:  Tuesday 9:30PM on NBC – If Nothing Else Is On…

We reviewed GROWING UP FISHER last summer based on the pilot that was originally shot, but after the series was ordered, one of the lead performers, Parker Posey, was replaced by Jenna Elfman, which required some reshooting.  But not, as it turned out, rewriting, and while Elfman is just fine, Fisher remains the unexceptional half-hour that it was to start with.  It’s so mild-mannered and gentle a family comedy that it’s downright bland, even forgettable.  (It’s as if someone watched ABC’s disagreeable yell-fest The Goldbergs and overreacted.)   The show’s pale impact is particularly odd, given how specific and studiously eccentric the story is.  Set in the present but inspired (again like The Goldbergs) by creator DJ Nash’s own childhood, its focal point and narrator is 11 1/2-year old Henry (Eli Baker), who lives happily in LA with parents Mel and Joyce (J.K. Simmons and Elfman) and older sister Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley).  The life of the Fishers is mostly notable because Mel is blind–but he’s a very particular brand of cheerful, won’t-let-disability-stop-me blind, which leads him to enthusiastically perform such tasks as using a chainsaw to cut down a tree and giving his daughter driving lessons, not to mention employing trickery so as not to tell his law firm clients that he’s lost his sight.  Mom, too, has her peccadilloes, like smoking a Sherlock Holmesian pipe.

It comes as a shock to Henry when Mel and Joyce inform him (Katie already knows) that they’re getting a divorce.  It’s a surprise to the viewer, too, because  there’s not a hint of hostility or even disengagement between them–it’s the most civilized break-up in the history of television.  Henry, for his part, while unhappy about the divorce, is so well-mannered that he never even asks why they’re splitting.  Instead, the pilot explores Henry’s feeling that he’s been supplanted by his father’s new guide dog, because up till now he’d been in charge of leading Mel around.  It’s an odd slant on the situation–and of course resolved by the end credits, because we couldn’t have Henry as a dog-hater–and it leaves very little in the way of conflict.  No one in the show betrays any anger beyond mild exasperation, or for that matter any other serious emotion.  They’re a resilient, cheerful bunch–and a little bit dull.

Growing Up Fisher is likable, and it has J.K. Simmons, who’s one of the great American “that guy” character actors (this is, at least, far better than his failed sitcom from last season, Family Tools).  Simmons knows exactly how to combine wisdom, wry humor and kookiness when giving advice to his son.  Deluca-Verley supplies the teen eye-rolling as she watches her mom smoke an e-cigarette and start buying clothes where Katie shops in an effort to seem younger, while Baker is a cute kid.  The pilot, directed by David Schwimmer, moves smoothly and capably establishes the mutual affection shared by the family.

There’s nothing wrong with a comedy about a family that likes each other, and Growing Up Fisher feels warmer and more heartfelt than NBC’s failed trio of cardboard fall family sitcoms, Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show, as well as companion comedy About A Boy.  In the Tuesday 9:30PM timeslot, it’ll be competing with the good-and-getting-better Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the not-as-bad-as-you’d-think Trophy Wife, although it’ll have the advantage of The Voice leading into its hour.  Mere eccentricity, though, isn’t going to be enough to make this group of characters compelling, and the network and series creator need to figure out quickly how to make us care enough to keep tuning in.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."