[In case you’ve Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all “These are reviews.” If you’ve read me, you’ve read my reviews and you know this isn’t what they look like.]
Show:“Back in the Game” (ABC)
Airs:Wednesdays at 8:30
The Pitch: It’s “Bad News Bears,” only with a father-daughter story at the core.
Quick Response: There are five or six new network comedies that I like because I have immediate warmth for the characters and the overall worlds. There are zero new network comedies that I find genuinely and consistently funny. But “Back in the Game” is certainly in that high-ish tier of amiable-but-maybe-not-yet-hilarious pilots. It all starts with Maggie Lawson, who is tremendously appealing as a former softball star forced by circumstance to move back in with the hyper-competitive father who maybe pushed her too hard. Lawson anchors the show entirely and more than anything, she deserves credit for holding her own against James Caan, who is playing his gruff-and-boorish character at a very high volume. Rarely an actor to hold back, Caan has gone big here, but Mark and Robb Cullen’s script gives him just enough humanity that he avoids entirely seeming like a sitcom character. The same can’t necessarily be said for Ben Koldyke, who sometimes favors punchlines over looking like an actual person. Since Koldyke’s last ABC comedy was “Work It,” though, I’m definitely willing to give the guy credit for improvement. Koldyke isn’t the only one just a bit confused on how broadly to be treating the script. Directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra give “Back in the Game” ample zip, but somebody down the road will have to help this show settle on a more consistent tone. It’s not oppressive or anything. You just have naturalistic kids acting with mugging sitcom kids and underplaying adults acting with overplaying adults and it’s a mish-mash. Griffin Gluck, playing Lawson’s son, is among the better young actors on ABC’s kid-heavy slate and I think that he, Lawson and Caan work well together. That’s the core of a decent show and, by the time Lawson gives an obligatory inspirational speech to the rag-tag Little League team she ends up coaching, I was willing to sign on for a while. How is “Back in the Game” going to handle the many months of the year in which nobody plays Little League? Dunno, but they can easily decide that Caan’s character used to push his daughter in youth basketball as well, but nobody felt the need to immediately mention it. “Back in the Game” is a solid match with “The Middle” and also could have paired reasonably well with “Modern Family.” It’s one of at least three ABC comedies that would have been better after “Modern Family” than the one ABC programmed there.
Desire To Watch Again: This is a bad time slot for me and it’s going to take an effort to figure out which shows get DVR space and which have to be Hulued later. I’ll definitely give “Back in the Game” a few more episodes, but I’m not sure when/where/how. With a little mellowing, Caan and Lawson could settle into one of TV’s better father-daughter dynamics, which would be worth seeing.
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