October 2, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Back In the Game”


BACK IN THE GAME:  Wednesday 8:30PM on ABC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on BACK IN THE GAME:  Newly divorced Terry Gannon, Jr (Maggie Lawson), with her son Danny (Griffin Gluck), has little choice but to move back home with her father Terry Sr, better known as “The Cannon” (James Caan).  The Cannon was a baseball player and coach when Terry was growing up, and her childhood memories aren’t fond.  But by the time the pilot was over, she wasn’t just cohabiting with The Cannon, she was–with the help of funds from new, rich friend Gigi (Lenora Crichlow)–organizing and coaching a woeful Little League team for Danny, Gigi’s son and the town’s other outcasts, with Dad as her “assistant.”  Coaching the league’s good team:  obnoxious Dick Slingbaugh (Ben Koldyke).

Episode 2:  That sound you heard during the first regular episode of Back in the Game was the series moving some furniture into place, as Terry spent most of the episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Warren Lieberstein and directed by Eric Appel, looking for a job so that she wouldn’t have to be completely dependent on her father.  After her conscience wouldn’t allow her to be a shark at a used car lot (which might have been too bad–Lawson was good in the brief glimpse we got of Ruthless Terry, and it could have been an interesting environment for the character), she took a job at a local pizza joint, which–contrivance alert!–turned out to be owned by Dick Slingbaugh.

The Cannon, for his part, was mostly in charge of the team during the episode.  Their immediate problem was a terror of staying in the batters box, lest they get hit by a pitch.  The Cannon’s over-the-top solution was to bring them to a nearby prison for a “Scared Straight” session, which had some good moments (“Why is Silent Pete talking?” one of the kids asked), but amped up the silliness quotient on the series by quite a bit.  The funniest parts of this storyline were actually in the tag under the end credits, when we saw various members of the team trying to teach an inmate to read (asked to identify a letter, he guesses “a pair of pants?”), unwittingly giving a prisoner a potential shiv, and scratching the bellies of the previously fearsome guard dogs.

With their largely separate storylines, Lawson and Caan didn’t have very much screen time together, and while their chemistry remained appealing, their shared scenes were the weakest part of the episode, because it was so obvious from the start that the locked master bedroom that The Cannon wouldn’t let Terry use even when she and Danny desperately needed its bathroom wasn’t going to be the mess he described, but a lovingly preserved tribute to his deceased wife.  After Danny told his grandpa that he had to be brave just like the kids in the batters box, father and daughter had a predictably sentimental moment, although it was saved by Lawson’s incredulousness that The Cannon was waiting to fix up the bathroom until there was a sale on toilet seats.

Back In the Game incorporates so many cliches (the adult daughter forced to live with her cantankerous parent, the struggles of single momhood, the Bad News Bears baseball team) that it really needs to stay a step off the beat.  When it hits a gag from an unexpected angle, it can be surprisingly engaging, but it’s going to be all too easy for the show to fall into the familiar.  This episode was a mix of both, and that threatened to bury its distinctive moments under the obvious ones.  The show had an unexciting 2.2 rating in its premiere last week, holding most of its The Middle lead-in but not showing much pop, and being predictable won’t get it very far.  There are some genuinely good elements here, from the rapport between Lawson and Caan to the moments where the scripts relax and step off the trail, and the series itself needs the courage to stand in its figurative batters box with that identity and risk getting hit by the Nielsen pitch.


PILOT + 1:  Can’t Keep Bunting


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."