First, the obvious: This one-hour ABC special featuring Michael J. Fox comes in conjunction with the actor’s latest book, “Always Looking Up,” from sister Disney unit Hyperion. Yet in keeping with the title, Fox largely erases any cynicism by virtue of the actor’s innate likability and good cheer despite his ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease. It’s easy to second-guess the mix of interview subjects, but hard to find fault with the messenger or the message. And if this special doesn’t cure the blues, at least it’s a balm against them.
Having become an activist for Parkinson’s research and funding, Fox goes about the unwieldy task of finding and speaking with other optimists, from cancer-surviving Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong to ordinary farmers to other celebrities, among them Chicago Cubs fan Bonnie Hunt and golf buddy Bill Murray. Fox takes his son to the Obama inauguration and chats with his wife, actress Tracy Pollan, who admits to being not quite as optimistic as he is.
The road also leads to Bhutan and a chat with that nation’s prime minister about its civic commitment to “positive well-being,” and separate powwows with film students in New York and New Delhi. (Fox theorizes that actors are inherently optimistic, a premise tested by their guild’s year-long contract negotiations.)
Other interludes include meetings with researchers and Fox’s doctor, with whom he discusses how the effects of the disease have “slowed me down a lot, but it hasn’t stopped me.” The tone is relentlessly inspirational, even if the hour would have benefited from additional focus — and perhaps a little less optimism regarding how much to incorporate, in what at times becomes an elaborate homemovie.
Such complaints, however, feel like quibbles in the larger scheme of things. Because while Fox’s good humor in the face of adversity isn’t contagious, after spending this modest amount of time with him, you sort of wish it were.