Back in the Game plays like an amalgamation of The Bad News Bears, Trouble With the Curve, and a politically incorrect See N’ Say. However, while there is life behind show star James Caan’s eyes as he plays a surly former baseball player and a lackluster father, there isn’t anything incredibly funny coming out of his mouth.
At this early stage, the virtues of Back in the Game come down to its potential and the impressive chemistry between Caan – who plays failed baseball player Terry “The Cannon” Gannon – and Psych co-star Maggie Lawson, who plays “The Cannon’s” recently de-estranged daughter and a struggling single mother. These are building blocks and better assets than a lot of shows have, but is that enough?
Terry’s son, Danny (or as The Cannon antagonistically calls him, “Donnie”), is the tie that binds the two together. He’s not the reason why Terry is back under her father’s thumb, fleeing Michigan due to a failed marriage, but he is what gets her back on a baseball field – a place that she somewhat unfairly blames for a lot of her issues with her father.
The victim of a lackluster childhood wherein she always finished second to the game in the eyes of a father who so very clearly wanted a son, Terry is dedicated to being there for Danny, even if it means he wants to play little league baseball to impress a girl.
From all of this, you would think that you would have to be a baseball fan to like this show, but the game is really just a bridge meant to cross the wide divide between Terry and The Cannon as they team up to coach Danny’s little league team after Terry show’s a bit of that “Cannon” attitude and a propensity for violence against a sports obsessed father, pig, and league commissioner, winning a bet and the right to coach this team full of rejects.
Playing the father, Dick Slingbaugh, is former Work It co-star Benjamin Koldyke – and while his presence, the bickery back and forth between he and Terry, and the rules of television indicate that Slingbaugh and Terry are fated to have a relationship at some point, it might be better if they don’t. Not only do the characters have zero romantic chemistry (so far), but in joining the two of them Terry would become a sad cliche, dating a lout who is somewhat similar to her father.
Beyond these four characters, producers haven’t really fleshed out the rest of the show world, save for Gigi (Lenora Crichlow) a boozy delight that injects a bit of absurd fun into every scene that she steals. Thanks to Gigi, Terry and Danny’s team have uniforms, “ribbons on sticks” and whatever else they need, save for players. They do not have decent players, but they do have comically odd ones.
Clearly, producers are taking the chance to populate the team with a diverse bunch of kids in the hope that we will cheer when they all say precocious things, but we know better, don’t we?
Overall, Back in the Game seems like a show with more potential than direction following its first episode. Will they find a way to move away from the baseball field so as to not alienate viewers who feel lost between the lines? What about the relationship between The Cannon and Terry? At the end of episode 1, she had somewhat eased in her disdain for her father, but will they find the appropriate line that allows for bitter back and forths (the best part of the show) while also dialing back the somewhat off-putting meanness and still finding the funny? Time will tell, but time is a luxury that new shows rarely get.
Back in the Game airs Wednesday nights @8:30 on ABC