Monday, September 30, 2013

Back in the Game

Back in the Game
Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe

Back in the Game is a show about a single mother coaching her son's little league team with her father. I will be covering this show weekly.

Spoilers Ahoy!

Back in the Game can be a bit tough to explain because of it's three different elements. The first part of the show has to do with the title: baseball. It's about a tough single mother and her aggressive father coaching a little league team that frankly has no ability to really play the game. The second part is the single mother trying to raise her son. The final element is trying to have a relationship with a father that struggles to show any kind of emotion outside of angry. All in all, the show is about all of these things about equally which is what makes the series difficult to define. On the one hand, it's a family comedy on two different levels. At the same time, it's the baseball that brings these two levels together while providing conflict. This creates a series with an unsound structure. How many episodes can the writers come up with about a sucky baseball team? It seems like an idea that's better suited for a movie than a long-lasting television series. Granted, the premise of the series will have to be downplayed as the series goes along. I just wonder how the writers plan to keep everything connected once they can't rely on the sport to provide the stories on a regular basis. The main problem with Back in the Game is that it ultimately is about something that appears to have a short shelf-life. That's a concern that is for later: the series has to survive these early episodes first. The long-term problem is something writers can leave for the future because first they have to know there is one. The good news for the show is that it's on the Wednesday Night Comedy Block for the network which will help it attract an audience. On the other hand, the standards for what it's expected to get is going to be higher. For this reason, the structural problems of the premise isn't sufficient for me to really be worried. What I can talk about is the show in it's current state.

The pilot for Back in the Game is a bit of a mixed bag. It was very disjointed. I think the best way to explain this is by the way it opened. The pilot introduces us to the Cannon family by showing us a member along with an action that helps define who they are. In many ways, this technique is like the show showing us it's three different elements. At the same time, the three elements don't always come together like they should. It says a lot that we don't really get to know any member of the baseball team (outside of Danny and Michael) until a huge montage scene towards the end. That's a huge part of the show that we have to be introduced to in the last act. Baseball is present throughout the pilot but the actual team isn't really all that present. The other two elements are present and they do come together but there's still a sense that they only fit together tangentially. It's going to have to be to future episodes to find a way to have them fit together in one piece. As for the comedy, the pilot is only moderately funny. There are moments where I laughed a lot and others where the comedy simply fell flat. This isn;t a completely bad thing as pilots generally struggle with comedy. Their not only busy with exposition but a team of comedy writers is usually better than a single person (or in this case, a comedy pair). There are things to like but not enough to make me fall in love with Back in the Game but the potential is there for a good comedy.

The show has three main characters. The most obvious is Terry Gannon. Terry is a tough single mother who is trying her best to raise her kid. She agrees to coach a little league team for all of the kids who couldn't make it on any other team. She might be tough but she does have a soft side when it comes to her kid. It's pretty obvious to see where her father's influence rubbed on her but also where she rejected it. She's probably the most developed character in the pilot but she's not a three-dimensional person yet. She needs to be fleshed out more so that “tough with a soft side” isn't all that there is to the character. Her father, The Cannon, is basically a really angry, assertive, angry character. That's all there is to him. While Maggie Lawson is a winning leading lady, James Caan gets a lot of mileage from his character. He could be fleshed out more but so far his stereotype is working. As for the son? He basically takes the soft side of his mother but none of the toughness. He's trying to impress a girl in the pilot: this provides the catalyst that leads to his mom coaching the little league team. He's not athletic at all and his primary move to throw his opponents off-balance is to kiss them. As bold as having two pre-teen boys kiss on national broadcast television was, it would also be nice if there as a little more to Danny. The three main characters are fine and I like how Terry is basically the mid-way point between the two but they all need to be fleshed out more.

The baseball angle allows the series to have quite an ensemble cast. The primary antagonist of the show is Dick, whose personality is in his name. Terry gains a new best friend in Lulu. Lulu is the wealthy, socialite, shallow idiot of the show. That's not a bad archetype to have because they can be funny when written well. She has a son, Michael, who is obviously gay. Add to the cast is Vanessa, the girl that Danny likes. Vanessa right now is not even a character but rather a plot device. She's the reason Danny goes out for the baseball team but she doesn't have much of a personality at this point. She's currently “dating” David, the school's bully. There is a small suggestion that David might be gay as Danny thinks he'll be scared of a kiss. The rest of the ensemble is the actual team: Michael, a fat kid, two weird fat twins, a kid who likes to play with fire, and a foreigner who doesn't understand wearing shows is not optional. There's a lot of stereotypes at play here but that's largely because the show doesn't have a lot of time to introduce any of them. That's especially true since we have to meet all of them within a single act. It's quite a Herculean feat. It makes sense some characters would stand out more than others but I hope that future episodes allow us to get to know this team a little better. After all, the team's existence is ingrained within the show's premise.

Back in the Game has a slightly complicated premise that will present problems down the road. Of course, first we have to get on the road. The pilot is a mixed bag as it felt disjointed and it was only moderately funny. The three main characters are all solid but they could be fleshed out a bit more. It was nice to see Terry having traits from both of them. The rest of the ensemble cast is made up of stereotypes but that's because of how little time we get to know them. Overall, it's a show with a lot of potential if given a chance.

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