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Back In the Game: Episode Review and Recap

Once upon a time, I made you a promise. As I am a man of my word and glad not to have to think of anything creative to write about today, I plan to make good on that promise. I watched and reviewed the pilot episode of ABC’s new Little League sitcom, Back In the Game, so you didn’t have to see it and wonder if you’re missing anything. I will be doing every Friday between now and when it is canceled, or I am politely asked to stop, which will probably be soon.

Anyway, Back in the Game revolves around Terry, a down-on-her-luck, newly single mom with a 10 year old son, Danny, who has just moved back home to her father, “The Cannon” (no, I’m not making that up), a former minor league baseball player. Her son wants to play baseball to impress some girl who only dates ballplayers. Again, these kids are 10. Anyway, he sucks, and doesn’t make any of the Little League teams, and this being a pretty horrible Little League organization, he’s told he’s not allowed to play. Hijinx ensue when Terry and another single mom, whose movie producer husband died and left her a fortune (we are told in tortured exposition) band together to offer to coach and fund, respectively, another team for the misfits.

Here, for everybody who has forgotten, is the trailer for the series:

That actually makes this show seem far worse than it actually is. The setup, while tortured, is actually fairly funny. Maggie Lawson, for all her inherent hotness, actually conveys her world-weariness really well. And her character, a former high school baseball player and All-American softball player in college, is far more formidable than in the trailer above, especially in her dealings with the douchebag who runs the league and never played high school ball. James Caan is far better than I would have expected, and makes what should seem like a horrible and grating character actually sympathetic.

What doesn’t work?

A lot of other stuff. The kids, for one thing, are all pretty bad. We don’t get a lot of names yet, so for now they are:


Vanessa (the baseball annie)

The league president’s douchey son

And making up the rest of Danny’s team:

Dong (“I am the one they call Dong.”)

The identical twin gingers (“We come from the same egg.”)

The pyromaniac (“Fire is the only thing that loves me.”)

The Mexican (“Hola! Quiero jugar a la…”)

The black one (“I suck.”)

The gay kid (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”)

The fat kid (“Are you a lesbian? You look like a lesbian.”)

The horndog (“I like your boobs.”)

And the kid with the turban (“I would like to stick it up their butts.”)

That’s a lot of kids, and none of them are at all believable or bearable. And the actual baseball scenes are terrible, even for scenes in which they’re supposed to look terrible. Worse, whenever an adult interacts with a kid, it’s pretty treacly and excruciating, with the exception of whenever James Caan talks to his grandson. Only about a third of the jokes land, and most of those are concentrated early in the episode. Some of the humor is downright mean (one coach wishes to be 12 again so he could punch these kids). And we’ve seen a lot of these stock characters before in far better shows and films.

Finally, the league president, the film’s ostensible villain is an incredible douchebag. He does get his comeuppance, but the problem is, from what I understand, he becomes a love interest for Lawson’s character as the show progresses. This is bad because right now I want to light him on fire. That doesn’t bode well for me wanting him to hook up with the hot single mom in the near future.

Ok, now to weekly categories:

The Cannon’s baseball tip of the week: “When you get the shot to pitch, fire it as hard as you can and hit that first kid right in the face. You’ll scare the crap out of all of them.”

References to real baseball: “I once batted against Vida Blue with my Johnson hanging out. He walked me on four straight pitches.”

Age inappropriate things 10 year olds do:

Danny tells his mom that The Cannon’s house “smells like a hot van of monkey ass.”

Danny, to the schoolyard bully (the league president’s son): “Did you know that bullying at our age is linked to a small penis.”

Danny then kisses said bully full on the mouth for, like, 5 seconds: “That kid’s scared of me now, but he doesn’t know why.”

What is baseball?

“You wanna know what baseball really is? Baseball is a little blonde girl who loses her mother, and then has to go to Mexico with her father to watch him coach and then disappears so that she has to live with the parrot mascot, never knowing if he was coming back for her. And baseball is never going to the prom, because the boy you like mysteriously gets hit by a car on the way to pick you up. And baseball is getting married to a man who cheats with a dental hygienist and blames it on you because you wouldn’t get a boob-job.”

“I like your boobs.”

“Thank you, Owen.”

What’s the verdict?

It’s bad, but not so bad that I hated it. More like a C/C-. It’s occasionally funny, and it wants to have a heart. But it’s also the Bad News Bears update and remake nobody wanted after the last Bad News Bears update and remake, and every part of it is derivative. It’s often mean-spirited and tries to get by on the crutch of having kids say the darnedest things. I could see this getting better on the strength of Lawson and Caan’s dynamic, and if it can actually flesh out some of the ancillary characters and coax good performances out of the kids. I’ll let you know how they do next week.