March 5, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Growing Up Fisher”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on GROWING UP FISHER:  When Henry Fisher (Eli Baker) is 12 years old, his parents Mel (J.K. Simmons) and Joyce (Jenna Elfman) decide to divorce, but with little effect on the family’s camaraderie, which has also barely been touched by the challenge of Mel’s blindness, a disability that Mel, a lawyer, all but ignores.  Henry and sister Katie (Ava DeLuca-Verley) bounce cheerfully enough from Joyce’s house to Mel’s new apartment, and Henry also has best friend Runyen (Lance Lim).

Episode 2:  Each episode of Growing Up Fisher begins with a title advising that this is based on a true story, and although the series is set in the present day, Henry is essentially the young DJ Nash, who would grow up to create this show (his Wonder Years/How I Met Your Mother-ish retrospective narration is provided by Executive Producer Jason Bateman).  Nash apparently had a very happy childhood, and more power to him, but the show’s second episode (written by Co-Executive Producer Emily Cutler and directed by Eric Appel) is once again pleasant to the point of blandness.

The script sets up a trio of stories offering variations of the lesson that honesty is the best policy, as Mel, who’d managed to hide his blindness from all his clients throughout his career, decides to “come out” now that he’s had to get a guide dog because he lives alone; Henry pretends to be blind himself to impress an older woman who’s all of 14; and Joyce contorts herself to seem hip and cool so she can bond with Katie.  By the end of the half-hour, the lessons have neatly been learned:  Mel’s retained his big client despite his confession (barring his hitting the guy’s sports car with his cane), Henry may have lost the 14-year old, but his honesty has won the good graces of the cute girl who lives across from his dad’s apartment, and Joyce has to admit she’s a mom and not a buddy, but Katie still loves her (and now listens to Bruce Springsteen).  Sure, one might wonder how much credibility Mel has as an advocate of honesty when he’s been lying to almost everyone he knows for 20 years, but the point is made.

It’s all very sweet, and not much more.  A family comedy doesn’t have to be The Goldbergs or Dads–please god, no–but without any tension or stress at all, Growing Up Fisher evaporates while you’re watching it.  There’s no failure of craft here to point at.  The script tells its stories efficiently to their neatly buttoned-up conclusions, Simmons is as enjoyable to watch as any actor around, Elfman manages to make Joyce not quite insufferable, and the kids are fine.  All of it, though, is in the service of wispy anecdote.  Tolstoy famously wrote that all happy families are alike, and while that may not be quite true of one where the father is a blind man pretending to be sighted, it doesn’t change the fact that the unhappy families are the more interesting ones.

Growing Up Fisher had unmemorable ratings with a post-Olympics closing ceremony run and then a repeat of its pilot after last week’s The Voice, and while it’s competing with two other sitcoms, neither Trophy Wife nor Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had much impact in the ratings (unfortunately so, in the latter case).  Fisher‘s appeal will test the willingness of viewers to be content with a mild old-fashioned chuckle from time to time and little else.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else is On…

PILOT + 1:  Even the DVR Might Forget To Tape It


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."