PITCH 1×01 Debriefing: Padres in the Outfield

PITCH: Kylie Bunbury in the all-new “Pilot” series premiere episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 22 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Tommy Garcia / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

The Fall TV season is back (and so are we!), and first up at bat here at TYLL is the new baseball-themed drama Pitch on FOX. This series’ curveball? It centers around a promising young pitcher — who happens to be a woman. The pressure reaches a fever pitch, leaving everyone wondering if Ginny Baker is nothing but a flash in a pan. Can the rookie series hit a home run? (And could I use any more baseball analogies in this article so far?)

There’s no doubting that Pitch was one of the most highly-anticipated shows of the fall season, and that it had a lot of hype to live up to, perhaps unfairly. The basic premise is this: Baker (Kylie Bunbury) is a hotshot pitcher from the minors, fighting apparent equal amounts of sexism and racism in her rise to the top. She’s called up from the farm team to pitch for the San Diego Padres, who are in the middle of a slump (at least in this fictionalized universe) and need a shot in the arm to break out of it.

The young star who’s already a media sensation turns heads on her big day, both off the field and in the locker room. What follows is both predictable, yet fitting. She falters under the weight of the moment, choking at her very first game in the major league, making history — but not in the way she’d hoped. She crumbles, blaming everyone and everything for the disastrous performance: the pressure of being a role model, the pressure of being a rookie in the middle of an already-tense team, and the pressure of being the daughter of an intense parent who’s  still yearning for his own failed bid at the big leagues.

PITCH: Kylie Bunbury in the all-new “Pilot” series premiere episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 22 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Tommy Garcia / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

PITCH: Kylie Bunbury in the all-new “Pilot” series premiere episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 22 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Tommy Garcia / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

While Bunbury demonstrates Ginny’s gamut of emotions, the cast of Pitch is rounded out by a slew of seasoned TV veterans. There’s the seasoned head coach (Dan Lauria) who tries his best to adapt to her presence, and is fighting increasing irrelevance by the organization’s management (headed by Bob Balaban); the team captain (a nearly-unrecognizable Mark-Paul Gosselaar) who clashes with her at first, but delivers a perfectly-meta pep talk to snap Ginny out of her funk; the teammate (Mo McRae) with whom she has history who seems to provide the surrogate family she needs; the agent (Ali Larter) who takes no prisoners to get her to the top, and the suit (Mark Consuelos) who represents the changing tide in the sport’s image.

If you’re a fan of feel-good sports movies of the underdog variety, FOX’s newest addition hits all the familiar beats, with a little twenty-first century added flair. The cameras follow Ginny’s every move, and her agent’s assistant maneuvers those soundbites into snappy tweets. ESPN is practically a character in its own right in this pilot, and the importance of the media in shaping the narrative is always at the forefront. Our heroine is ridiculed about getting to where she is only because of her gender, and the buzz it creates for the ailing team. And when that’s not enough, she’s even accused of sleeping with Blip (McRae), because he’s the only one to come to her defense without question.

Yet, the tried-and-true themes exist too: the origin story provides some backdrop to her success, indicating life hasn’t been rosy for the budding star, and she’s obviously growing as a person as well as an athlete in this journey. Then there’s the foreseeable, and palpable animosity between her and the Padres’ current pitcher, who feels sidelined and may prove to be her biggest foe. Plus, as the season progresses, there’s almost assuredly going to be a story about the team’s rise from the ashes of a terrible season — and make it to the World Series? (Hey, that also happens to be on FOX this year. What a tie-in!)

PITCH: L-R: Dan Lauria, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Kylie Bunbury in PITCH coming soon to FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ray Mickshaw / FOX

PITCH: L-R: Dan Lauria, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Kylie Bunbury in PITCH coming soon to FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ray Mickshaw / FOX

On the surface, the show may not be especially original, but the same could be true of other series such as, say, Friday Night Lights. It feels like the love child of Empire and the formidable football drama — with perhaps a dash of Field of Dreams thrown in for good measure. It’s in-your-face at times, focusing on the personal toll the game takes on its players, but with the glitz and glamor that would make Cookie Lyon proud. The characters and their relationships are what will ultimately make or break the season, so to speak, and Pitch has a good starting ground in that respect.

Bunbury does a good job of balancing the confidence Baker has earned as a talented player, with the unfathomable pressure of being the first woman to ever play in Major League Baseball. And I like what I see so far of her chemistry with her cast mates, particularly Lauria, McRae and Gosselaar. What I especially enjoyed is that as of now, it’s all either professional or platonic, leaving the focus on the momentousness of Baker’s achievement. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good ‘ship, and I’m all for Ginny playing the field (I’m sorry, I’ll stop soon), but it was a refreshing change that so far, the major relationships seem to be based on mentorship rather than romance. I’m intrigued by it, and I’m anxious to see what each of their experiences brings out in her.

PITCH: L-R: Tim Jo and Ali Larter in the all-new “Pilot” series premiere episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 22 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

PITCH: L-R: Tim Jo and Ali Larter in the all-new “Pilot” series premiere episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 22 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

Of course, a show about professional baseball will be heavily weighted towards a male cast, and Pitch falls into that trap. It’s easy to say that it merely reflects the sport’s actual universe, and heightens Ginny’s struggles, which will evidently play a role in the season’s arc. I only hope that the addition of her agent, Amelia, and Blip’s wife Evelyn (Meagan Holder) as her old friend will lend some much-needed equilibrium to the roster moving forward.

While the series may not be as trailblazing as Ginny’s big game, it fills a void on the airwaves, at least for me. You may be able to see the twists coming from a mile away, but sometimes, that’s okay. The dialogue between the characters — particularly between Bunbury and Gosselaar, for me — is sharp enough to keep viewers engaged, even if it does veer off into Sorkin or Rimes-esque grandstanding at times. (It’s a pilot, it’s par for the course.)

PITCH: Kylie Bunbury in the all-new “Pilot” series premiere episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 22 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Tommy Garcia / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

PITCH: Kylie Bunbury in the all-new “Pilot” series premiere episode of PITCH airing Thursday, Sept. 22 (8:59-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Tommy Garcia / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

Admittedly, I have some concerns about how the concept is sustainable for more than a few episodes, or a season — even the end of the pilot felt like the closing scene of a movie to me — but I suppose the same could have been said about Friday Night Lights before it got adapted from its feature length for the small-screen. I’m definitely intrigued enough to stick with it, and see where Ginny goes next — especially after the big reveal. (Which I suspected fairly early on — but I won’t spoil it yet on the off chance you haven’t watched your DVR yet.)

So, with episode one at first base, how did you like Pitch? Are you in this for the full nine innings, or are you out of the game early? (That’s it, I’m done.)

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: