Back in the Game: Episode 5 Review and Recap

“Will Maggie Lawson’s Terry get laid?” That’s the question at the heart* of this week’s episode of Back in the Game, the little sitcom that could that just got an order for two more scripts from ABC. So I guess I’ll be doing these reviews for a while longer.

*Heart, in this case, being loosely defined as a clump of spontaneously contracting  gray flesh that pumps a sludge-like mean-spirited toxic black goo throughout the body of the show.

That’s right, we live in a country where this amoral, unlikeable, thoroughly derivative affront to both the American Pastime and the concept of comedy not only outdraws NBC’s Parks and Recreation, but the people running it are encouraged to do more of their shitty work while the lovable underdogs of Pawnee are preempted by an SNL Halloween special and a live episode of The Voice. Fuck you, America. Freedom isn’t free, and you’re not earning yours. When we finally abandon our pretense of democracy and install a benevolent despot to rule us, he or she will make sure that those responsible for Back in the Game will all be shot, Michael Schur will get a medal for television, and an entire cable channel will be devoted to showing reruns of The Simpsons.

But back to the stupid plot for this stupid show. Despite this being a park solely devoted to Little League baseball and shirtless twenty-something body-hairless white joggers with rock hard abs who splash water from the drinking fountains in slow motion onto their chiseled pectorals, Terry is really into the mustachioed liquor distributor for the pizza place where she works. Fortunately, he happens to be at the park, helping to hang advertising for…liquor? I’m confused. It seems like he’s friends with Dick, the misogynist league president. Anyway, after some prompting, she asks him out awkwardly and he says yes. They hit it off, saying things that no real person actually says in conversation.

The Cannon is a stereotypically overprotective dad who believes that preventing his daughter from having sex is all he ever had to do to be a responsible father, and he takes up that role with gusto. He’s assisted by Dick, the misogynist league president, who doesn’t want Terry to go out with “a bad guy.” Dick, quite illegally, tries to keep Terry from going out with the liquor distributor (I thought you guys were buds!?) by trying to fire someone else so Terry has to cover his shift and then fires Terry (who refuses to be fired). He also telegraphs his interest in Terry by wearing a fake mustache, since she’s into that I guess. By the way, both The Cannon and Dick are convinced that Terry can’t have sex with a man without developing a crippling emotional attachment to him.

So, let’s review: The Cannon and Dick (A buddy cop show I would watch), who both allegedly care so much for Terry, think she is, emotionally, a child and must be protected through lying and manipulation. Worse, it turns out that they are almost right. The liquor guy has a friends with benefits who he’s not “seeing” but is “having fun” with. This is a cardinal sin when you’ve been on two dates with Terry, apparently, because people aren’t allowed to have sex outside the confines of a stable relationship or a sleazy one-nighter. The level of certainty to which this show thinks it is morally superior to the people in it and to the rest of America at large is what led to the Spanish Inquisition and witch burnings.

There’s also a subplot about The Cannon getting Danny to stand up to the kid who is cheating off his test by making his grandson think he’s a shoplifter. And it culminates with the kid not having the new sneakers his grandfather was supposed to buy for him. This is dumb and convoluted, and I don’t want to talk about it.

Here, be dumbfounded:

The Cannon’s Baseball Tips of the Week:

No. Apparently, we’ve stopped doing that.

References to real baseball:

I guess we’ve stopped this too.

Age inappropriate things kids do and say:

Gay kid: “I have a blister. It’s affecting my ‘around the world’ snap.”

Fat kid: Looks like three keys of high-grade horse to me. Just like The Wire.

Life lessons learned through baseball:

None. We’re apparently also done with baseball as a metaphor for life.

Continuity problems:

The Cannon didn’t try to sabotage Terry’s girls night out last week, even though that could have led to sex.

I thought Vanessa was going to be on this team.

Danny is supposed to get new shoes, and after The Cannon teaches him the lesson about standing up to the cheater, he returns everything he “stole” only to find that his grandfather preemptively paid for it all. So instead of keeping the shoes, Danny returns them for cash. But if he’s not going to use that money to get cheaper shoes, he’s still stuck with the original problem. (And now, goddammit, I’m talking about this part when I didn’t want to. GAAAAAAAAH!)

The verdict:

For the first time in weeks, there are moments in this show that are actually funny. The scene where James Caan interrupts Terry’s phone conversation with the liquor guy by pretending to be confused as to how his phone works is tremendous. It goes on for too long, and then it just keeps going, like Sideshow Bob on a poop deck full of rakes, and James Caan’s timing and and bumfuzzled tone are perfect. Then, there’s an extended montage sequence as The Cannon and three of the little leaguers follow the liquor guy around town in a late ‘70s sedan, taking video and gathering evidence to use against him, which is intercut with scenes of Terry getting ready for her date. Visually, it’s tremendous, and I laughed out loud until the kids started speaking (they remain, unambiguously, the worst part of this show).

Back in the Game utterly wastes all of this good will, however, by turning in yet another plot where people think the absolute worst of each other and treat their loved ones like garbage. Look, I love Arrested Development, so I can get behind a show where everyone is terrible to everyone else. But Arrested Development never asked me to sympathize with any of the Bluths except Michael and George Michael, and has gradually, carefully, worn down the appeal of those characters as well. But this show fundamentally misunderstands what was great about Mitch Hurwitz’s masterpiece, however. We wanted to be with the Bluths because they were irredeemably awful and this made them funny, and because the plots and dialogue were so inventive. Back in the Game wants us to believe that underneath all the cynicism of its central characters, there are wonderful people struggling to express themselves. Well, if they were such good people, we wouldn’t be having this problem, and if they instead choose to be shits because it’s easier it just makes them more unlikeable.

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Mike Bates used to have a stupid pseudonym. Now he doesn't because people want to pay him to write about baseball on the Internet and he's really a sell out that way. He is also a Designated Columnist at SBNation, co-founder of The Platoon Advantage, and is an American Carpetbagger on Getting Blanked, the finest in Canadian baseball-type sites. His favorite word is paradigm. Follow him on Twitter here:

4 Responses to “Back in the Game: Episode 5 Review and Recap”

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  1. Pirates Hurdles says:

    Wow, this show really outdrew Parks?!

    WTF, america?

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  2. Tim says:

    Are you covering each episode for some reason? Because I thought Notgraphs was supposed to be humorous, and this review is always quite deflating to my spirit.

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  3. On the Disney Channel (or Network or whatever the hell it’s called), there are a bunch of shows that are designed to appeal to 8-12 year olds (I presume). These shows all follow the same general format. The lead is a charismatic adolescent who has a family with some other kids who are less characters and more character types that fit a certain form (annoying older brother, pesky younger brother, nerdy little sister, cute baby sister, etc). There are different general premises for these shows, but the overriding theme of all of these shows is that kids know better than their parents. Furthermore, the parents are usually stupid, sometimes to the point of being borderline non-functioning. If you spend too much time thinking about it, you kind of wonder how these adults ever managed to get through high school, get through college, find a good paying job, and obtain a mortgage and what is usually a pretty nice house in a pretty nice neighborhood. Did the parents get stupid after they had the kids (or because the kids drain so much mental energy out of them) or were they always stupid yet somehow managed to not only muddle through but put together very successful lives?

    Insofar as the formula “works” on these Disney Channel shows, it works because the shows are focused almost completely on the children. There is little if any funny dialogue in these shows, but Disney throws a laugh track in after nearly every line. I’ve seen my children and nieces and nephews watch these shows and they don’t laugh along with the laugh track. The laugh track is there to mask how unfunny the show is, but also to distract viewers from thinking too hard about some of the issues I have brought up. When the parents or adults do appear on the show, they’re only there to support the idea that Children Know Best, and that adults are idiots who will wreck everything if given too much power.

    Back in the Game seems to have some similar themes running through it. Terry, Cannon, Dick, Gigi and the other adults on the show that we spend any time are not merely flawed characters with some decent characteristics but are rather awful, awful people. Any positive contributions that they might have to offer to society or to the children they’re supposedly mentoring are mostly or completely masked by self-interest. For all of his flaws, Cannon might be the best guy on the show, since he lets his kid and grandkid live with him with pretty much no strings attached. Everyone else is just terrible. Terry throws a baseball at a guy’s eye because he’s a complete dick. Cannon constantly manipulates people to teach them lessons. Dick loathes women and doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in developing kids.

    All of this is completely consistent with the motif as adults as terrible people on Disney Channel tween shows. The difference here is that while on those shows the children are (somewhat) fleshed out and the adults are extremely broad caricatures, here the adults are fleshed out and the children are the caricatures. Except for Danny, every kid on this show is just a type and not a person. Gay kid? Check. Twins? Check? Cute girl/love interest? Check. But there’s no there there. What we’re left with is just the awful adults that are always featured on Disney shows fleshed out. And it isn’t pretty.

    Back in the Game reminds me less of Arrested Development and more of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Mac, Dennis, Charlie, Dee, and Frank all engage in awful behavior week after week and have little if any redeeming qualities. The difference, though, is that their characters are clearly awful people and nearly every week they’re punished for their actions (usually the punishment is that they have to live in the prisons they have constructed for themselves with their horrible, horrible personalities). Back in The Game on some level wants us to root for Terry and the Cannon but they are fleshed out versions of the awful adults that we see on Disney shows. Whoever is writing this for this show is going to have to either tone down the awfulness of Terry/Cannon or take Danny and make him the focus of the show. As awful as the Disney tween formula is, turning it on its head like this has turned out to be far worse.

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  4. Leila says:

    Was anyone else appalled at how James Caan’s character deliberately timed it so his g’son walked out of the store simultaneously when the Afriacan American did!?!? The store clerk then pursued the black shopper when the shoplifting buzzer went off. I found that scene offensive and in poor taste.

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