Checking in with NBC’s ‘Growing Up Fisher’

Growing Up Fisher (Photo: NBC)
Growing Up Fisher (Photo: NBC)

NBC’s Growing Up Fisher has had some good moments and some trouble spots in its first three episodes. The show has potential, but will too much network interference be its undoing?

We’re now three episodes in to NBC’s comedy Growing Up Fisher. J.K. Simmons plays Hal Fisher, a man who is forced to accept his blindness after he and his wife Joyce (Jenna Elfman) split up. Their son Henry (Eli Baker) is the child version of the story’s narrator (producer Jason Bateman) who helps Hal with the transition. His sister Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley) is also a character on this show.

My original optimism about this program was the fact that Simmons was involved at all. Despite the terrible promo job NBC did during the Olympics, I had a difficult time imagining the veteran character actor signing on to a bad idea. Although we are still in the “finding your sea legs” phase, there is more to like the show than dislike. In the first two episodes, Hal struggles with coming to terms with the disability he managed to con his way out of revealing. With assistance Henry and a few close associates, Hal was able to use tricks to distract others from realizing they were speaking with someone who was sightless. Now that he is living on his own, Hal requires the use of a guide dog and other markers of his disability. This doesn’t stop Hal from maintain a level of self-sufficiency that goes beyond what many sighted people are capable of achieving. Not to bring too much queer theory into this, but this kind of “coming out” storytelling has been missing on television recently and I welcome its return. Simmons does a phenomenal job bringing humor to a character who could easily become saccharine if the network had its way.

Unfortunately, where NBC gets its way is where the show struggles. Joyce is your stereotypical Jenna Elfman character, where flightiness to the nth degree is supposed to be considered funny. It’s baffling to think these two characters were not only married, but that Hal was the one forced out of the relationship. If she were a recurring instead of a regular character, Joyce’s presence would make a little more sense. Instead, her focus is to become her daughter’s best friend, with Katie’s only function in the story is to be put upon by her mother. It feels as if NBC had half a show in development and decided to fuse it with Growing Up Fisher so they could hang on to Elfman. Who are we to question NBC’s business decisions at this point?

My concern moving forward involves which path the show will choose. The more resonant storylines with genuine humor come from Hal and Henry, but the show insists on pushing Joyce’s story cycle. It troubles me that there is this unnecessary gender divide, highlighted by the only interactions between Hal and Katie involving her disastrous driver’s education practice.1 I fear the network will insist on going with the safe, unfunny antics of Jenna Elfman over the subtle, charming and sometimes poignant moments we get from Simmons.

We’ll check in again after episode six, which is when the show should make its decision.

  1. Because lady-drivers are a menace to society, amiright fellas? UP TOP!  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv