Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pilot Review: Back in the Game


Back in the Game (Wednesdays at 8:30 on ABC; Premieres September 25)

I'm ready to christen 2013 as the Fall of Backward Comedies. We have The Goldbergs mining the 80s for comedic material; NBC's upcoming Welcome to the Family relying on a 1970s-ish setup and old stereotypes for humor; The Crazy Ones attempting to bank on Robin Williams's tried-and-true mania, if only because that made Mork & Mindy successful forty years ago; the "He-Man Woman Haters Club" mentality of We Are Men; and now Back in the Game, which is just a small screen translation of the 1976 film The Bad News Bears. And it's a bad one at that.

Maggie Lawson (Psych) is Terry, a former all-state softball player, daughter of infamous minor league pitcher Terry "The Cannon" Gannon, Sr (James Caan). Terry once had promise for a career in sports, but that came to a halt when she gave birth to a son, Danny (Griffin Gluck), and lost her college scholarship. Now she's single and living with her father, whose career was similarly cut short. When Danny gets cut from his Little League team, Terry finds out that the only way her son and all the other cut kids can play is if they form their own team with her as the coach. So original! So fresh! So new!

Yes, that is the exact same plot as The Bad News Bears. Creators Mark & Robb Cullen (Las Vegas, Lucky) haven't even tried to disguise the fact that they are shamelessly recycling the film's plot for Back in the Game. That's also not necessarily a bad thing, because the ongoing tribulations of a team of misfits, matched in their insecurities by their coach, provide lots of possibilities for comedy and plotlines. (Never mind that this idea was tried already in an unsuccessful 1979 series based on the film.) But the Cullens, who made their directorial debuts with this pilot (and it shows), along with writers John Requa and Glenn Ficcara (who wrote the freaking remake of Bad News Bears in 2005), have just reused the same jokes that a 1970s audience would have found funny.

Everything about Back in the Game is just lazy. As if it's not enough to take the concept of The Bad News Bears and just rename it, the same writers who have already rewritten that story are doing the same thing again. Why? Was it really that funny the first time around? Yes, back in the 1970s, it was. But there's a reason the 2005 film remake bombed, and there's a reason Back in the Game will likely bomb as well. Modern audiences simply can't hear the same jokes repeated over and over and still find them funny. Misogyny isn't funny anymore. Homophobia isn't funny anymore. Learning disabilities aren't funny anymore. Yet these concepts form the core of Back in the Game's humor. Whereas the group of misfits in 1974 would have been endearing in their broadly-drawn stereotypes, now they're tired. Every child is identifiable only by one characteristic: Asian, Black, Latino, Gay, etc. And that's offensive in its own way, as if to say, "Of course these kids didn't make the team! Look how diverse they are! Diversity is bad and immediately makes us social outcasts!" Even the adults play into this, with Cannon being a total woman-hater, and Terry feeding into the horrible misogyny of an uppity parent appropriately named Dick, who is obviously being set up as a potential love interest for Terry, despite making jokes at her expense like, "I'm gonna take you so deep, you're gonna be making me breakfast, baby!" (Oh, yeah, by the way... this isn't very family friendly, despite its early timeslot. There are other jokes about Terry getting her period, characters naming their genitalia, and foul-mouthed children. So progressive!)

Honestly, there's nothing here to recommend. Not even Maggie Lawson, so charming on Psych and the short-lived Crumbs, can elevate the low-brow, unfunny script. Caan is just playing another crotchety old man, reminiscent of almost every character Walter Matthau ever played, who doesn't know how to connect with his daughter (because she has, y'know... lady parts). Ben Koldyke (late of the 2012 ABC abortion Work It!) is probably the most fun as Dick, but his character is too reprehensible to root for or care about. The Cullens direction is merely adequate; they don't really know how to draw comedy out of the child actors, and they seem to have just told Caan, "YELL! A LOT! KEEP YELLING!" Add on top of that the dated jokes and the too-familiar story, and you have a recipe for one uninteresting, unfunny, groaner of a series.

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