There weren’t a lot of expectations being placed on ABC’s “Back in the Game.” In fact, it had just about everything it needed to potentially succeed as the show it was trying to be. It just had to run those bases, deliver some heartwarming comedy, and poke fun at the usual family dynamics that we can all relate to. These aren’t hard concepts to grasp. Plenty of other shows have managed to do this while also proving to be mildly entertaining in the process. “Back in the Game” was even preceding one of these very shows on ABC before its swift cancellation in November. The bare minimum for comedy was all that was required, yet the only things provided by the show are tired caricatures, a cast largely made up of sleazy, unlikable characters, and a terrible sense of humour that strikes the series out well before it ever gets going.
“It smells like a hot van full of monkey ass.”
Following a messy divorce and with her son in tow, Terry Gannon (Maggie Lawson) is forced to move back home and live with her estranged father, “The Cannon” (James Caan), as she tries to get her life back in order. However, after getting settled in, Terry’s son decides to try out for the town’s Little League Baseball team in order to impress a girl at school. Having been forced to pursue a career in All Star softball by her dad during her youth, Terry is hesitant to let him try out for fear that her sports fanatic father may pressure her son to follow in her footsteps. Thankfully, her fears prove to be unfounded when the boy is rejected by the team. But her son is disappointed, and Terry disagrees with the decisions made by douchebag coach, Dick Slingbaugh (Ben Koldyke), so, against her judgement, Terry decides to form her own team of misfit rejects to participate in the league.
Much in the same way that “Glee” saw its rise to power through a heavy-handed celebration of the underdog, “Back in the Game” similarly forms its base on ideas of acceptance and reconciliation. In a pilot that wanders aimlessly from one plot point to the next, Terry repeatedly jokes about the emotional upset that she’s experienced while growing up with her father and the influence this has on her desire to help the rejects of her town’s Little League. Being a comedy, of course, these ideas are handled lightly and never amount to anything more than being a force to keep the plot moving along. But they’re still mentioned, and they’re also handled very lazily.
Every character in the series comes off as a caricature and nothing more, which makes it difficult to really feel its attempts at being heartfelt. Caan’s character, “The Cannon,” is your average washed-up dad who loves beer and is rough on the kids, but also secretly cares and has a heart of gold. Likewise, Terry is a hard working single mom who stands up for herself at every turn and cares for her son. When we learn that The Cannon has a collection of video tapes with all of Terry’s old soft ball games recorded, even though she resented him for apparently never attending any of those very games, it’s supposed to be the first of many moments in the series where we learn that the two may stand some chance of being a family again. The problem is, I’m not sure how we’re supposed to react to this as a genuine moment when that is literally the most cliché plot point you could have chosen.
“Oh, lady. I’m man enough to take both of you on.”
The humour is just as stale. Personal preferences aside, this is a show that goes for the most obvious, low-level jokes and does so without even putting any real effort into setting things up. When it’s not trying to sell you the idea that a pair of boys yelling “We have to poop!” a couple of times in desperate succession is a punch line, it’s bringing out all manner of sleaze in the form of unlikable characters who grow tiring very quickly.
The most notable example of this is Koldyke’s character, who is aptly and very purposefully named Dick. He’s the closest thing to an antagonist on the show and is always ready with a double entendre or five to detract from whatever Terry is doing. For the most part, he is shown to be a douche and is called out as such by Terry regularly. However, his regular appearances, ongoing banter with Terry, and the constant reminders that he’s also divorced, seem to be setting up a scenario where we’re meant to see him as a kind of funny guy and possible love interest for Terry in the future. This results in numerous scenes that awkwardly try to sell the idea that his jokes are funny, albeit kind of dickish, when really they’re just terrible and cringe-worthy. He’s not the only character who does this either. In an attempt to emphasise how strong-willed and independent Terry is, she is constantly surrounded by similarly awful characters who all make the same types of jokes that leave me sitting here for twenty minutes at a time, wishing the screenwriters would learn to write actual comedy.
Thankfully, as I mentioned earlier, “Back in the Game” has been cancelled and it’s uncertain if we’ll ever even see the final episodes of its first season. It’s really unfortunate that the show had to take the path that it did. With better care, more thoughtful plotting, and humour that doesn’t rely on lazy stereotypes, this idea could have gone somewhere and been everything it initially set out to be. But, as it stands, the show will just have to be content with its position as a warning to others.