OK, apologies to all the Brits reading this blog but today I’m going to talk about a show that never made it to the UK, but as I’ve kept my American iTunes account I’ve been able to see it. Launched for half a season in 2013 was the Michael J Fox show. It was America’s first comedy to feature someone with a disability in the title role.
On the surface this show had everything we’ve been looking for when we say we want to integrate disability in mainstream media. The show is about a normal dad who, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s several years ago (just like Fox himself), drove his family nuts by staying home from work. So when his beautiful wife encourages him to return to being a newscaster, the jokes are rampant, the insight is there, and we have the perfect opportunity to show just how fun disability in mainstream media can be.
Except, something isn’t right. You watch the show with enough of a critical eye and you start to notice it. The jokes just don’t land right, the cuts, seem strange, and moments which ought to be given time to settle feel rushed.
I showed my director Will Hutchinson a few episodes of the show when we were prepping for filming Assistive Devices. “They aren’t taking into account Fox’s rhythm,” Will pointed out. “As long as the directors don’t take that into account, the show’s in trouble.”
Every single person on the planet has their own rhythm, but for those of us with disabilities, particularly those of us who neurological disabilities, our rhythm of how we walk, speak, exist is far outside the standard deviation and there’s no shifting it, even with all the camera tricks in the world.
Directors, editors, writers, have to be aware of all actor’s rhythms when they are putting together a story. Integrating disability will always fail without having this understanding. The Michael J Fox show had all the star power and money and mainstream support anyone could dream of and they pulled it after less than half a season. The execs said it “wasn’t working.” This was a big part of the problem.