Wednesday, September 21, 2016

TV REVIEW: FOX's 'Pitch'

FOX will premiere its new original drama series Pitch on Thursday, September 22 at 9/8c. The drama stars Kylie Bunbury, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Mark Consuelos, Mo McRae, Meagan Holder, Tim Jo, Dan Lauria and Ali Larter. 

Read on for my thoughts on the new drama after screening its premiere episode.

FOX's new sports drama Pitch is the second new show from Dan Fogelman to debut this week. The first was NBC's This Is Us which opened to rave reviews and strong ratings last night. It's also the second series to take inspiration from a former Jason Katims show. This Is Us drew comparisons to Parenthood and the connection between Pitch and Friday Night Lights can be made as well. Yes, Pitch is a show about major league baseball. The actual sport is a core part of the show and the character journeys throughout the premiere episode. But there's so much more at play within the series as well. Baseball unites all of these characters together. But their lives are so much greater than the sport. The national spotlight is on them. And now, it's their time to step into the history books to see if they can handle it.

Kylie Bunbury's lead character, Ginny Baker, is the first female to play in a major league baseball game. It's an imaginative but inspirational future for the show to depict. It centers on one woman coming in to break up the boys' club that is professional sports. It's essentially an underdog story - like so many of the sports-themed movies and TV shows are. Some believe Ginny was brought in to help sell tickets - including many of her teammates and the team manager, Al (Dan Lauria). Some are truly inspired by their connection to history and are determined to make it last - like general manager Oscar (Mark Consuelos) and Ginny's agent Amelia (Ali Larter). This is something Ginny has been working towards for her entire life. It was a dream almost beaten into her by her dad (Michael Beach), a former player himself who never made it out of the minors. What makes Ginny so special is a unique pitch - a screwball. It can be debated whether or not that's all it takes to make her so special. Her pitches top out in the 80s. People are always underestimating her which only makes her want to work harder.

None of this show works without the right person in the lead role. Ginny is such a specific character. The audience has to believe she has the confidence to walk into this world and succeed. But she also has to carry around her doubts and insecurities about letting the entire world down. Bunbury perfectly encapsulates all of those qualities. It's one of the few breakout performances on any of the new fall shows this year. She's terrific. The arc of the premiere works as well as it does because of her. She also has the physicality to make it believable that she's this incredible pitcher. The show mostly succeeds when it comes to depicting its baseball games. I'm not really a fan of the game or sports in general. So, I can't tell you definitively if everything looks right. I'm sure people can nitpick and spot just how incredulous all of this is. But for someone who could care less about sports, this premiere really won me over and made a strong and lasting impression.

Bunbury also gets a major assist from Mark-Paul Gosselaar. He disappears so completely into his role as legendary athlete Mike Lawson. A scruffy and impressive beard helps in that regard. Mike is the catcher for the team and the leader amongst his teammates. He's also a bit of a player who's now more concerned about his legacy than anything else - including Ginny's role on the team outshining his own. But it's his kind of expertise that will lead the team into the future with Ginny. It's up to him to pull all of the disparate pieces of the show together. Again, it's a not so easy task. And yet, the work he does in the premiere proves he is more than up to the task. He's a standout. Hopefully, Bunbury and Gosselaar's work is strong enough for the show to give better material to the supporting ensemble of excellent actors as well.

Pitch is yet another show this week where I wish I had another episode to judge it on. The premiere is very impressive but it doesn't completely hit it out of the park. I'm a little concerned about just how ambitious it wants to be this season. The scale is huge in this first episode. The show is being produced in association with Major League Baseball. It shot in the San Diego Padres stadium. It has accessed to the FS1 cameras to make the games look realistic. Everything about this show has been very carefully considered to give it authenticity. I'm just curious of how that plays out in an ongoing series after a strong premiere.