TV Review - Growing Up Fisher

It's funny to hear Jason Bateman doing voice-over narration for this sitcom when it was just last year he appeared in the fourth season of Arrested Development, which had his character operating under the voice-over narration of Ron Howard. Bateman's narration here isn't as rich or propulsive as Howard's. It's more tame. It supplements the comedy, instead of driving the comedy. It's more in line with the narration in The Wonder Years.

This series, created by DJ Nash, works at a slightly sillier level than The Wonder Years. Unlike that show with Fred Savage, the characters aren't really compelling on their own. They need the framework and the gimmicks concocted by Nash. It's probably working in a similar vein as Malcolm in the Middle, but, again Nash's series is more contingent on the central gimmick, which without it would make this show rather lifeless.

The gimmick is that this divorced family whose prepubescent son is essentially the lead character has the patriarch Mel Fisher, played by J.K. Simmons (HBO's Oz), as a blind man. Many of the jokes come from the fact that despite having the same vision ability as Steve Wonder, Mel Fisher behaves as if he can still do things for which most people would require having vision. The premiere episode has him using power tools to cut down a tree and even parallel parking an automobile.

Those moments are obviously ridiculous, but I don't know how funny they are being that I realize that Simmons actually can see. I think Simmons is a great actor who is very convincing. He's also very funny, but I'm just not impressed with those gags.

As part of the gimmick, Mel has been lying about being blind at work. Mel is a lawyer and has been in the closet about his inability to see. With the help of his co-worker, he's been able to fool his clients. What bonds Mel to his 11-year-old son Henry, played by Eli Baker, has been Mel's reliance on Henry to be his guide and help him with certain things.

Once Mel divorces his wife Joyce, played by Jenna Elfman, Mel gets his own apartment and has to get a guide dog. Mel then starts to rely on the dog to the exclusion of Henry, which upsets Henry, and the show follows how the family adjusts to this change. Eli Baker is no Fred Savage nor Frankie Muniz, but he's amiable. He's probably younger than Savage and Muniz when they started on their shows. The relationship between Mel and Henry is a sweet one though.

Elfman's character at times is interesting, but the writers are playing the card of her wanting to be her daughter's best friend, instead of an authoritative figure, a little too much. In Episode 3, a more interesting perspective from this wife of a blind man is brought up. Joyce never had to worry about how she looks because her husband got nothing out of her looks.

Now that she's dating again, she now has to worry about her looks, which she doesn't know how to do. The problem is Elfman is gorgeous with great hair and a bright personality. It makes no sense that she would have trouble meeting and attracting men, which she does, so the writers make her a bit of a neurotic mess to derail any dating prospects.

It makes me wonder if the series is merely flirting with the parents' new dating lives. I wonder if the show will find a way for the parents to fall back in love with each other. It's not clear why the two divorced and it seems as if Mel is able to move on and wants to move on, but the show might do a push-and-pull thing with Mel and Joyce.

Their daughter Katie, played by Ava Deluca-Verley, is the stereotypical teenage girl who is appalled by both of her parents. Henry is only appalled by his mother. He's more impressed with his father and his social and mobility skills despite his handicap. Yet, despite Episode 7 being named after her, Katie is more of an afterthought.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Tuesdays at 9:30PM on NBC.


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