Tweaked from the pilot NBC bought, “Growing Up Fisher” bears all the hallmarks of a show the network has sought to “fix” on the fly, with the attendant baggage that entails. Anchored by the ever-reliable J.K. Simmons as a blind dad as seen through the eyes of his young son, it’s a show that labors to locate heart and laughs, despite the “Dad won’t let his impairment stop him” underpinnings. Although there’s an opening note saying the series is inspired by a true story — specifically, the life of series creator DJ Nash — there’s not much creative inspiration to be found.
Originally titled “The Family Guide,” beyond its premise the show resembles ABC’s frosh comedy “The Goldbergs” by having an adult narration (by exec producer Jason Bateman) that here feels slightly off given the contemporary setting. The show’s ostensible focus is Henry (Eli Baker), the 12-year-old son who his dad Mel (Simmons), a successful lawyer, frequently uses as a visual surrogate to hide the fact he’s blind.
In what doesn’t really seem all that funny, Henry discovers dad and mom (Jenna Elfman, a post-pilot replacement) are getting a divorce when dad brings home a seeing-eye dog, something he had previously avoided because of mom’s allergies.
While divorce is supposed to be hardest on the kids, in this case, it deals something of a blow to the more genial aspects of the series, and forces the parents to be so friendly toward each other one wonders why they’re splitting, beyond the fact mom suddenly has an interest in wearing tight-fitting skinny jeans just like her teenage daughter (Ava Deluca-Verley).
The premise, in other words, lacks heft, which leaves not much more than admiring Simmons — a highly versatile actor — as he does what he can with gags about his character’s insistence on doing things like driving and cutting down trees. (A second episode promises more of the same, with Mel and an associate seeking to get through a client dinner without giving away his secret.)
Nor does it help that “Growing Up Fisher” — after the by-now obligatory ad-free push during the Olympics — will be regularly paired with the infinitely more appealing “About a Boy,” which also centers on a man-kid dynamic, albeit in a much more organic and amusing way.
Thanks to that scheduling, the fate of this sitcom (created by Nash, with a pilot directed by David Schwimmer) will likely hinge pretty heavily on whether NBC can bring an audience to its lead-in. Either way, and by whatever name one chooses to use, it’s hard to see “Growing Up Fisher” having much of a future.