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Review: 'Back in the Game' Should Have Stayed on the Bench



Last night, I praised ABC's new super-heroics adventure series 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Tonight, I was dipping back into ABC's new fall line-up to check out a new comedy starring an actor I've always admired: James Caan. We all know Caan from 'The Godfather,' 'Misery,' and more recently 'Elf,' and it's no secret that the guy can command any scene he's involved in. He's proven that he can be funny before (in feature films like 'Mickey Blue Eyes') so I was hoping that 'Back in the Game,' his latest project, would give him some clever scenes to play with. 

I was sorely disappointed. 

While compiling my thoughts on the pilot episode of 'Back in the Game' I was somewhat puzzled; this is a television series with a very strong structure at its core. Terry (Maggie Lawson) is a single mother reeling from a messy divorce, forced to move her and her son into her father's house. Terry's father--Back in the Game castwho still goes by his old baseball nickname, The Cannon (James Caan)--is a gruff, stereotypical sports-dad who was tough on Terry and forced her to play baseball. Terry hates the game and doesn't want The Cannon putting her son through the same fate... but is drawn back into the sport by coaching Danny's (Griffin Gluck) little league team. The team that Terry takes over is comprised of the misfit kids rejected from the town's competitive team... so the show comes with a built-in antagonist in the form of the opposing coach (played by Benjamin Koldyke). So, basically, it's 'Bad News Bears' meets 'How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life).' 

The structure is sound--I can see precisely why this project sold. The interior is sound... it's the characters and the humor that are sorely lacking here. 'Back in the Game' isn't funny. It isn't cute. It isn't endearing. Some scenes are mean-spirited, but most are simply dull. 

There is no reason to blame any of this on the actors assembled in the cast. Lawson, Caan, even Koldyke do whatever they can with the pages they were given--those pages are just trite. The humor of 'Back in the Game' reminded me of the hack comedian who tries to get by on being raw or offensive to cover up the fact that he doesn't know how to tell a joke. When I realized that 'Back in the Game' was written by Mark & Robb Cullen, the minds behind the film 'Cop Out,' my suspicions were confirmed. (After all, these are the guys who originally titled this series 'She's Got Balls').

The only near-laugh came from Koldyke's Dick Slingbaugh, who is awkwardly obsessed with his own manhood, but even that was an example of an actor trying to make the most of a lacking scene. 

The rag-tag collection of misfit ball players is reduced to a collection of hurled insults. The motivation behind every character is a cruel one; there are no characters who are doing anything out of anything other than selfishness. We're clearly supposed to root for Terry to turn this group of misfits into a winning team, but the person who treats them the worst in the episode is Terry herself. Also, oddly, there aren't really any traits to these characters, to speak of. When thinking of how I could describe Terry or Danny, I was at a loss; I wouldn't even be able to describe The Cannon if he wasn't a perfect stereotype. The Cullen brothers put together a workable premise and decided to leave all the rest--the writing--out of the process. 

'Back in the Game's premise is sound, as I said, provided you have someone to root for. Given the characters on display in the pilot episode, I think the only thing left for viewers to root for is a swift cancellation. 

GRADE: D minus

- Maggie Lawson
- James Caan
- Back In The Game

Written by: bad_subject
Sep 25th, 2013, 1:29 pm

Images courtesy of ABC


Level 1 (77%)
Points: 7.8
Since: 19/Dec/12
Message Posted On Sep 28th, 2013, 1:45 pm

Firstly if the piece of garbage called "Eastbound and Down" gets to go on making it's god awfull show, then this deffinatly has to be given atleast 3 seasons. Even though it's not great, it's still miles ahead of "EB&D".

Secondly,the simple fact is that there are going to be rubbish shows more and more offten due to the 10 to 13 episode seasons instead of the 18 to 24 episoed season show's there use to be. So now there has to be more shows made and there just isn't that many really tallented wrighters out there. Well, not enough to wright for all the new shows being made these days.

Take us back to the full 18 to 24 episode season's and the wrighting will improve, it's that simple.


Level 1 (48%)
Since: 02/Apr/13
Message Posted On Sep 26th, 2013, 10:14 am

Not an original thought in its very being this tired and messy show,Lawson and Caan deserve better than this surely?


On a broader note why is this fall shows so poor?not one and i include SHIELD as well that at the moment i can see my self watching come may time,quite shocking really.


Level 1 (97%)
Since: 25/Sep/07
Message Posted On Sep 26th, 2013, 12:33 am

To be honest i'd say 90% of the new fall shows are appauling. I enjoyed so many shows last season that got cancelled. This show isnt the worst out there trust me.


Message Posted On Sep 25th, 2013, 9:39 pm
"this is a television series with a very strong structure at its core." Reads like a tired old cliche to me. Not a single ORIGINAL concept in that description. Why not a newly divorced Lesbian, she kept the kid because she carried, moving back in with Dad. BANG, new twist with a far deeper concept than before.Both have to learn to accept each other and grow.And come to terms with her raising a child and dating. One of the most hilarious parts of Adam Carolla's boxing movie The Hammer was the exchange between him and Jane Lynch in the hardware store over deck building.That type of adult low key comedy can't be adapted to a sitcom?

Level 1 (66%)
Since: 22/Jul/10
Message Posted On Sep 25th, 2013, 2:55 pm

Bad News Bears much?

(Global Editor)

Level 39 (91%)
Points: 17879.2
Since: 07/Jul/10
Message Posted On Sep 25th, 2013, 2:20 pm

It's sad to see what James Caan has been reduced to. I know actors need work too, but from Sonny Corleone to...this? Ugh.


Level 1 (54%)
Points: 9.9
Mood: depressed
Since: 14/May/13
Message Posted On Sep 25th, 2013, 2:18 pm
I really don't like Caan's character at all and the kids are awful. When you have a kid act as flamboyant as Richard Simmons, and others fitting 90% of every none sport playing cliche in the book, you are pushing the envelope. Now if they were just kids who didn't get the game, you might have a chance. And if Caan's character was just a drunk like Walter Matthau's in Bad News Bears, or just a sexiest, or a grouchy old man, or a raciest, then maybe it might work. But he is all these at the same time... Now on the other hand, Maggie Lawson is fantastic, but I don't know if she's enough to save this one... I'd be more generous then Adam... I'll give it a C-
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