Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pitch 1x01 Review: "Pilot" (Quality Storytelling) [Guest Poster: Jennifer Iacopelli]

Original Airdate: September 22, 2016

Perhaps Fox’s most highly-anticipated (and promoted) show of the year, Pitch is a show where things could go so very wrong almost immediately. It’s the story of Ginny Baker, the first woman to be called up by a Major League Baseball team, breaking yet one of society's thickest glass ceilings: a girl playing with the boys. The show seems to be very much aware of this unprecedented story, drawing an allusion to what they are attempting to accomplish — creating a sports show on a major network ostensibly and realistically focused upon a woman. During a heated scene about three quarters of the way through the pilot, a character says what we’re all thinking, “It’s one thing to be the team that called up the first woman. It’s another thing to be the team that picked the wrong woman and turned this whole thing into a disaster.” If it were nothing else, Pitch is a timely microcosm of the world we live in today. The question is, can it be anything more?

The answer? So far, so good. The first episode of Pitch — ahem — delivers on every level: layered characters, engaging story, perfect pacing, and setting. Hardcore baseball fans will be pleased at the entirely realistic portrayal of the insanity that would follow the first female Major League baseball player and the reality of what it’s like to be a “call-up” in the majors. The show doesn’t shy away from the idea that many view Ginny as nothing more than a publicity stunt, including several of her teammates and even deep down, herself. Kylie Bunbury is compelling, owning the the character of Ginny Baker. She infuses Ginny with the dichotomy of overflowing bravado so familiar in elite athletes and the often crushing insecurity that plagues women, both in the public eye and out of it. Her catcher, veteran all star Mike Lawson, is played flawlessly by Mark-Paul Gosselaar. In fact, he is almost unrecognizable, encased in the well-worn catcher’s equipment and full beard. Lawson has very little patience for the “circus” as he calls it that surrounds Ginny. And despite his character playing into several cliches associated with successful, confident professional athlete, there were also hints at a hidden depth — a discontent with himself and the man he’s become as he nears the end of his career. The chemistry between Bunbury and Gosselaar is palpable as pseudo-antagonistic allies and their relationship, both with each other and with the game itself, is where the show will either find its footing going forward or flop spectacularly.

For those baseball fans out there looking for an accurate portrayal of the game you love, fear not. Fox and Major League Baseball have partnered together to project a sense of both on the field accuracy and off the field drama that felt neither too overplayed nor unrealistic. Ginny’s strengths are in her hard work and talent, but also in the command of a pitch most men haven’t bothered with in decades. Accompanying that realism is the underlying drama that makes for excellent television. Ginny has several people in her corner: an agent played to perfection by Ali Larter who fights for her with the tenacity of a barracuda; Moe McRae and Meagan Holder are cast perfectly as her former minor league teammate and her current centerfielder and his wife; and Dan Lauria, as her manager, who at the very least wants her to succeed simply because she’s one of his players and that’s his job. The pilot didn’t waste time developing any true antagonists beyond Ginny’s own personal demons and another pitcher whose job she currently occupies while he rehabs an injury — a good decision as there will be plenty of time for that as the season goes along.

All in all, Pitch’s truth strength is in the quality of its storytelling. The episode is unburdened by unnecessary dialogue, the editing between its own internal fourth wall and the “real” lives of its characters is seamless and the plot never hovers awkwardly on exposition so often found in pilots, not even for those unfamiliar with baseball. However, nothing is lost in the lack of explanation for those new to the game, and these moments will entrance and hook the hardcore baseball fan and the regular TV viewer, both male and female alike.

Overall, the first 45 minutes of Pitch may be the best pilot to grace the network airwaves in many years — at the very least, the best since Lost. The biggest challenge Pitch will face will be the ability to live up to the quality of the pilot during its first season. While not entirely clear what month the show is set in, the Padres are clearly in the thick of the six-month-long marathon that is the baseball season. The writers did themselves a favor with that, rather than March or April, giving them only a few months of story to cover — depending upon the team’s success — leading up to the season’s logical conclusion at the end of the baseball season. It creates an immediate sense of urgency that cannot simply be glossed over with a montage of success so often found in sports movies, but simultaneously adds the pressure of time constraints on a newly-constructed writers’ room.

Here’s hoping after a strong start, Pitch isn’t just a September call-up that catches lightning in a bottle every so briefly, but rather is more akin to a Hall of Fame career begun with a homerun in its first at-bat.

Grade: A+


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