Familiar faces may get your attention. But can they sustain it? That's the test in front of two new sitcoms debuting tonight, "The Crazy Ones" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) and "The Michael J. Fox Show" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
Of the two, "Fox" is both genial and initially engaging. It immediately dispenses with the potentially maudlin elephant in the room.
Michael J. Fox's real-life Parkinson's is noted early and often, and frequently for laughs.
Beloved news anchor Mike Henry (Fox) returns to his old TV spot at the insistence of his friend and producer Harris Green (Wendell Pierce, "The Wire"). Betsy Brandt ("Breaking Bad") plays his good-natured wife, and Katie Finneran is his needy, trash-journalist sister, a comic foil who makes every scene about her.
As much as viewers will welcome Fox back to the small screen, subplots about his family and work are weak, and the show has a throwback feel to it, as if it were a reunion special for some other series. The references to NBC seem overly self-serving, and a second episode, (9:30 p.m.) about Mike's attraction to a neighbor (played by Fox's real life wife, and "Family Ties" co-star Tracy Pollan), seems overly dependent on the inside joke. The producers who thought that casting actors (Pierce and Brandt) from critically acclaimed cable series might lend "edge" to a safe sitcom have
obviously forgotten Drea De
Matteo's ("The Sopranos") unfortunate stint on "Joey."
Beyond the novelty and sympathy factor, it's uncertain if this show can gain traction. One thing remains in its favor: The ratings bar for NBC comedies has been set very low.
---As its generic title may imply, "The Crazy Ones" seems less than well-thought-out. Robin Williams returns to sitcoms to star as Simon Roberts, the undisciplined genius in charge of his own advertising agency, where his daughter Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar) toils as the creative director when she's not doing her real job, acting as dad's minder.
Produced by David E. Kelley, "Crazy" lurches from one Williams "bit" to the next. He's first seen boxing and trash-talking with a giant plastic robot, then he shambles to a meeting to save the account of a hostile client (McDonald's) and then riffs endlessly as he tries to cajole "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson to save his bacon by reprising that chain's memorable 1971 jingle, "You Deserve a Break Today."
Shot in single-camera fashion, "Crazy" can occasionally look like something you'd see on cable. But style alone can't impart warmth, story or character development to a pilot that seems like a vanity project for Williams and a product placement for McDonald's and Clarkson.
"Crazy" has a chilly, charmless feel to it. It's worth watching once. I've seen it twice, and I still can't imagine why Sydney Roberts hasn't long since abandoned her father. Or even murdered him, if only to shut him up.
---On two episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS, TV-14): Sheldon and Penny bond (8 p.m.), much to Leonard's chagrin (8:30 p.m.).
---Leslie travels to London on "Parks and Recreation" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---The Beatles get the "Glee" (9 p.m. Fox, TV-14) treatment.
---Mudslide victims fill the wards on "Grey's Anatomy" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
---Charlie's adult daughter returns on "Two and a Half Men" (9:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Sherlock returns to London on "Elementary" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---The cradle will rock on
"Parenthood" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---The Rams host the 49ers in NFL action (8:25 p.m., NFL Network).
---Auditions continue on "The X-Factor" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---Youth inspires on "Project Runway" (9 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).
A suicidal toy manufacturer (Mel Gibson) takes advice from a hand puppet in the 2011 drama "The Beaver" (8:30 p.m., Showtime Showcase) directed by Jodie Foster, who also co-stars.
---Robin Williams is scheduled on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (11 p.m., Comedy Central).
---Andy Samberg and Slash appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).
---Cat Cora, Jeff Wild, Fortune Feimster and Ross Mathews are booked on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).
---Big Freedia appears on
"Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell" (11 p.m., FXX).
---Chris Fischer sits down on "The Colbert Report" (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central).
---Johnny Galecki, Stupid Human Tricks and Kings of Leon appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" (11:35 p.m., CBS).
---Jay Leno welcomes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ron Paul and Little Big Town on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC).
---Rebel Wilson, Anthony Bourdain and Avril Lavigne appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC).
---Tina Fey, Goldfrapp and Thundercat visit "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC).
---Craig Ferguson hosts Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Maggie Grace on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at email@example.com.