Thursday, September 22, 2016

REVIEW: 'Pitch' - Ginny is Called Up to Play in the Majors and Struggles with All the New Pressure in 'Pilot'

FOX's Pitch - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

A beautiful, tough and gifted athlete, Ginny Baker is vaulted into instant fame when she's called up by the San Diego Padres to make her Major League debut. All eyes are on her as she is the top news story of the day, making history as the first woman to pitch and play in the Major Leagues.

From the very first moment of this premiere, it's clear Pitch wants to take a bold step forward that reflects the changing world of 2016. Major League Baseball hasn't had its first female player yet. Pitch looks at how ground-breaking such a moment would be. It's looking ahead to the future with such hopefulness. It truly believes this moment is just around the corner - with all the pressures and excitement that come along with it. Ginny Baker doesn't have the arm that can rival her male counterparts. All she has is a signature pitch. That's what makes her unique. That's what makes her a good player. Her gender is what makes her a major story. A story that the San Diego Padres are willing to manipulate to their benefit. This premiere isn't completely about the game. It focuses on the back room manipulations that lead to this moment as well. It's a strong opening hour for the show with the promise of an even better future.

Everyone is cheering Ginny on as she takes the mound for her first game in the major leagues. Ticket sales are soaring. Just her presence is changing the game. Now, people who have little interest in baseball are turning in or showing up at the games. Life for this team is going to be so different with Ginny onboard. She's just in as a replacement for right now. But her presence really could be life-changing. It's a big deal for her as well. She has spent her entire life working towards this moment. It's her father's dream that she play in the majors. He never made it and is now transferring his dream unto her. He's grounded her with a tough work effort. She has felt the pressure and the discrimination ever since she was a little girl trying to break into this game. Throughout all of her years, she has proved other people wrong. And now, it's her chance to be on the biggest stage doing something her father never got to do. She's pitching in a major league game. That's a huge accomplishment. The pressure is raised more than anything previously in her life. But the excitement and determination to succeed are just as palpable.

That's what makes it hard to watch when Ginny fails right out of the gate. She throws a total of ten pitches during her first game. It's a very embarrassing moment for her. It's a huge let down after expectations were raised. The world was expecting excellence from the first female pitcher in this game. Instead, they got someone who barely seems able to do the job. It's played off as a publicity stunt. One that brings attention to the team in order to sell tickets. It's a benefit of bringing Ginny up that everyone is very appreciative of - especially team owner, Frank, and general manager, Oscar. But from a team perspective, Ginny is an absolute nightmare. No one on the team actually believes they can win with her. No one really makes the effort to try and get to know her or welcome her to the team. She's treated as an outsider from the moment she arrives. Team manager Al says she'll be treated like any other player. But she's not just any other player. She needs her own space in the clubhouse because she's a woman. There's a completely different context when one of the guys slaps her on the ass. It's something she has had to deal with for her entire career. But now, it's on a much larger scale with the entire world watching her. The team is hoping she fails just so they can get back to regular business. All of this attention is just too chaotic for them to handle.

Ginny needs the support of the team though. That's the only way she's going to survive in this world. She has one friend on the team, Blip. They played together in the minors for a year and became really close friends. He's the only one who welcomes her to the team that will actually be out there on the field with her. And yet, he's not able to help her when she's struggling during her first game. Al and Mike the catcher don't know how to connect with her yet. They haven't had any time to get to know her. They don't know how to coach her. So when she wants to leave the game, they let her. The stunt is over and things can go back to normal. It's taxing on the rest of the team. They have to play the rest of the game while dealing with the disappointment of the entire world. Ginny knows she failed. And the only support system she has is Blip's wife, Evelyn, who wants to distract her with talk about non-baseball related things. That's great and their friendship should become more important as the season goes along. But Ginny still needs support from her team during the games. That's the only way she'll be able to loosen up and win for them.

It really is quite an effective moment when Mike delivers a rousing speech to get Ginny back on her game. It's clear he's an aging star more worried about what his legacy will be. It takes him a long time to realize Ginny can be important for his legacy. He's just the famous athlete and a womanizer known throughout the whole town. The man who loves slapping asses no matter what Ginny tells him. And yet, he's the man chasing down every horrible pitch she throws. The two of them need to be in sync in order to win this game. They don't come together until that moment at the mound. Several people have tried to help Ginny get out of her head. Elliot says not that many people were watching anyway. Amelia says she needs to be an inspiration for all those little girls out there. Oscar and Frank are giving her this second chance because they can't afford the poor optics if they let her go. But it's not until Mike tells her that she needs to play for herself and her love of the game while screwing all of the outside noise that she manages to throw a perfect strike. Sure, it's manipulative on the show's part. It sets Ginny up as an underdog undeserving of this recognition. But when the moment calls for it, she more than rises to the occasion. She succeeds and leads the time to victory. It's a solid start. It's not perfect. There is still so much room for improvement amongst this team. Frank and Oscar have to figure out if Al is still the right person to lead now that Ginny is there. But it's still an interesting opening to this story.

And yet, the twist at the end needs to be talked about as well because it indicates that there is more at play with this show than just the sports drama. It turns out that Ginny's father, Bill, wasn't there at all to see her playing in the major leagues. He died in a tragic car accident after a professional scout first approached her six years ago. On the one hand, it seems like an incredibly unnecessary twist. It doesn't provide any greater insight into the show that the rest of the premiere didn't already establish. All it does is highlight just how important a figure he remains in her life even now. When she needs to be motivated to do a good job, she sees him and his strict methods and she succeeds. It's a powerful motivational tool. But it also plays as a big surprise to highlight the personal stakes of the show. It's a big shock meant to throw the audience off. It provides insight into how the storytelling will be more than just Ginny being the first female pitch in major league baseball. It says that not everything is necessarily as it seems. Bill forcing his daughter to train after her disastrous first game was just her pitching by herself. That reveal comes swiftly in the end. It should be interesting to see just how big of a deal it will continue to be in the future. And more importantly, whether it will be more or less effective now that the audience knows the truth.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Dan Fogelman & Rick Singer and directed by Paris Barclay.
  • There is a noticeable age difference between Ginny and Mike. She looks up to him as a legend simply because she has his rookie card from when she was younger. And now, they need to work together as a team. That closeness could ignite something more between them. The chemistry is obviously though. I just don't know if they should act on it in such a romantic way.
  • Ginny has no life outside of this game. She doesn't know what she would do if this doesn't go according to plan. This is all she has ever been trained to do. Her father did that to her. So, that makes her want to succeed. It just puts her a little too firmly in this world with no outside life other than her family.
  • The flashbacks reveal that Ginny has a brother. Bill wanted to teach him how to play but he didn't show an interest like Ginny did. And yet, the brother is noticeably absent during both of Ginny's games. Her parents are there - her mom physically and her dad in spirit.
  • This is the first time Amelia has represented a sports star. But she believes in Ginny enough to guide her through this life-changing process. She knows how to handle herself in press conferences and magazine deals. It should be interesting to see what insight she brings to this process.
  • Amelia and Oscar have an obvious romantic spark between them as well. Something that Oscar wants to act on immediately even though he is only currently separated from his wife and not completely divorced yet.
  • Elliot is the new guy brought in to help manage Ginny's social media pages. He's a little too excited for Ginny as compared to everyone else. It's not a particularly big role in this first episode.
  • Frank asks Oscar to compile a shortlist of people to potentially replace Al with. Al doesn't seem like a guy who'll go down without swinging. There is still a ton of tension amongst the team. So, it's unclear if he's up to the task or if he'll fail because he's too stuck in his ways.