In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, Fox
While my general antipathy to TV shows based around the music industry is well known and formalised enough that I can claim to be “tough on music TV, tough on the causes of music TV”, another general genre dislike I have is for TV shows based around sport. This is less well known because there aren’t generally that many sports shows on TV – a Ballers here, a Barracuda there, a Necessary Roughness over there, a Back In the Game at the back, but that’s about it, fortunately.
But I do, even when it’s a sport in which I’m interested, such as MMA. Sorry, Kingdom.
A show about baseball like Pitch? That would normally stand no great a chance of my watching it than that a whelk has of surviving a supernova. But thanks to a bit of recasting back in March that saw Elisabeth Shue replaced, Pitch managed to make me slightly interested in the fact it even existed by hiring a certain someone special.
Yep, after being unceremoniously dumped in the Legends season 2 reboot last year, TMINE’s first TV love, Ali Larter, is back on our screens, this time playing a baseball agent. Fingers crossed this isn’t another sporting event she’s going to be edited out of, too.
Big yawns so far on the plot, but Pitch is all about what happens when baseball team the San Diego Padres recruits the world’s first ever female Major League baseball player (Kylie Bunbury). She may not be as strong as the other pitchers, but she does have a secret weapon taught to her by her father (Michael Beach) – a surprising ‘screwball pitch’ that enables her to fox the batters.
Can she cope with the pressure, the expectations, the adulation of little girls everywhere, the demands of her dad, the misogyny of the Internet and sports commentators, and the dickery of her team-mates, including the now slightly aging captain Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved By The Bell, Truth Be Told, Franklin and Bash, Raising the Bar)?
To be honest, I didn’t really care, probably because baseball is a sport that’s basically as dull as rounders but which you need to drink beer during to make remotely tolerable. But Pitch also makes the entire first episode play out like every other ‘underdog against the odds’ sports drama you’ve ever seen, from the initial failure that makes our heroine think she’s never going to make it all the way to her triumphant – but not too triumphant, because that wouldn’t be realistic – breakthrough at the end. Gosselaar even has to deliver a powerful motivational speech near the end when Bunbury’s at her lowest and so aware of the formula is he that he actually says before it, “If this were a movie, this is the point where I would give you a powerful motivational speech that would help you win.”
There is a little variety, with Gosselaar and Bunbury’s former teammate Mo McRae turning in surprisingly amusing performances. ‘Character actor Bob Balaban’, to give him his full title, is marvellous as the Padres’ owner. And there’s also a whole bunch of people, none of whom I recognised or even came to close to recognising, who I’m pretty sure either play baseball professionally or talk about it on TV. If you like baseball, that might appeal to you for a reason almost as unfathomable as your liking baseball.
There’s also a very big revelation towards the end of the episode that’s actually pretty clever. However, that can only be pulled off once, leaving subsequent episodes to fend for themselves with the show’s standard foundations instead.
But apart from Gosselaar, Larter (of course) and just generally wanting to root for the first female anything, even something as pointless as Major League pitcher, there’s not much in Pitch for anyone who doesn’t like a sport where you spend as much time plugging data into Excel spreadsheets and using the AVERAGE() formula as you do watching players standing around with big wooden sticks.
“Tough on sports TV, tough on the causes of sports TV” – I wonder if it’ll catch on?