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 co-founded The Platoon Advantage, and has written for many other baseball websites, including NotGraphs (rest in peace) and The Score. Currently, he writes for MLB Daily Dish on SB Nation. He currently cohosts the podcast This Week In Baseball History. His favorite word is paradigm. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBatesSBN.

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Pirates Hurdles
Pirates Hurdles

Wow, this show really outdrew Parks?!

WTF, america?