4 things to know about Fox’s new baseball drama ‘Pitch’

Fox PR promised to make the second and third episodes of Pitch available to critics in advance of tonight's premiere, but something fell through and they're not coming until next week. Since I prefer having more material to judge before writing a review when possible, I'm going to hold off on a more elaborate piece on the show, and instead tell you four things about the pilot of a show about the first woman (Kylie Bunbury) to play Major League Baseball:

1. It's probably the best broadcast network pilot of this fall. The only other contenders are either Speechless or Pitch co-creator Dan Fogelman's other new series, This Is Us. The pilot, which begins on the morning of Ginny Baker's first start in the majors, moves briskly and confidently, with great direction from Emmy winner Paris Barclay. Between the show's partnership with MLB and Fox's own TV sports properties, the game action all looks and feels convincing. Fogelman and co-creator Rick Singer efficiently fill in Ginny's backstory and motivations, along with acknowledging the physical challenges that any woman would have competing with men on this level of the sport, as well as the way the media, the fans, the front office, and the team itself might all react to this moment that some compare to Jackie Robinson, while others treat it as the second coming of Eddie Gaedel.

2. Bunbury is everything the show needs. The premise places such a burden on the  actress playing Ginny, who has to be convincing athletically (no Tim Robbins Bull Durham delivery), young enough to look like an MLB rookie, yet charismatic enough to carry a show set on such a big stage, with such a large ensemble. She pulls it all off.

3. It's a strong, and deep, supporting cast. Bunbury is a relative unknown, but she's been surrounded by familiar actors doing strong work. Mark-Paul Gosselaar, unrecognizable under a thick beard and some extra pounds of muscle, is the best I've seen him since NYPD Blue as the team's cocky, wisecracking star catcher, who can't decide if Ginny is worth all the distractions she brings. And there are other fine performances from Bob Balaban (the Padres owner), Dan Lauria (the manager), Ali Larter (Ginny's agent), and Michael Beach (Ginny's father Bill), to name just a few.

4. Fogelman had fathers on his mind this year. The This Is Us pilot spends a lot of its time on the matter of fathers who are either very present or entirely absent from their children's lives, and most of Ginny's backstory involves Bill – a former pitching prospect never good enough to get past the minor leagues – pushing her past all reason to live out the dream that he couldn't. Demanding parents are a familiar story from pro sports, but the overlap between this and some of what happened on This Is Us will link the shows more than they otherwise would be, given their very different subject matters. 

Hopefully, I'll have more to say in a week or two, but tonight's episode (it airs at 9) is really promising. The show knows its premise will feel like a gimmick to some – including many of its own characters – and does everything possible to feel both plausible and compelling.