For those of you too young to remember, 'The Bad News Bears' was a series of movies and a subsequent(albeit short-lived) television series about a misfit baseball team. The first movie was released in 1976, with a remake of the rude classic made in 2005, and the CBS TV program lasted all of 2 seasons, totaling 26 episodes. While the original film was timely, funny, and inspiring, the knockoffs that followed were just hollow echos of the original, riding its coattails for the success they enjoyed. ABC's latest offering, 'Back in the Game,' clearly uses the formula of its ancestor from 37 years ago, although the treatment it gets is closer to abuse and neglect.
Maggie Lawson of 'Psych' fame stars as Terry Gannon, a down-on-her-luck divorced mom who's forced to live with her alcoholic father, played by James Caan. Known only as "The Cannon," he's an ex-minor-league baseball player whose one wish was to have a child go pro in the game. Instead of a son, he got a daughter. Granted, the daughter had talent, enough to make All-American playing ball in college, but in order to foster that talent, this schlub thought it was necessary to only be a parent as an afterthought. Terry's son, Danny(Griffin Gluck), actually wants to be a ball player, despite all the issues his mom has with the sport, but there's just one problem - he can't hit, catch, or throw.
The excruciatingly dated chauvinists that make up the local chapter of Little League predictably raise Terry's ire with their constant derision of her son and others like him - kids that no team wants and whom nobody deems worthy of the expense and trouble to form a new team. This prompts Terry to volunteer as the coach of a new team, with equipment costs funded by wealthy widow and instant bestie, Michelle(Michelle Betts).
What separates this TV series from its predecessors is a lack of taste that, rather than shocking the audience into laughter like the movie did, just throws in bad behavior thoughtlessly, mixes it with painfully cliche stereotypes, and adds more stereotypes making jokes based on stereotypes. It's as if all the social problems of the 1970's haven't made any progress at all, but only spread through the internet to become more entrenched. You have one scene of a clearly inebriated Cannon getting into his car with neither Terry nor Danny acting at all concerned, and Michelle's son is so effeminately gay, he makes "Will & Grace's" Jack look downright butch. Added to this mess is the kid who's dumb and fat, the twins who always speak in unison, the firebug who just needs some guy-liner to complete his emo/goth look, a Korean kid named Dung who wants to be more redneck than Larry the Cable Guy, a Latino kid, an African-American kid, a kid whose parents are Indian Sikhs, and a nerd with horn-rim glasses. It's like the script writers were too tired to come up with anything original and just vomited a politically correct rainbow to fill out the team roster. The only thing missing is a Native American, and they might throw that in by week two.
While I appreciate what the series is trying to communicate, the strokes it uses are over-broad and lacking in finesse. Moments that should be touching, like when Terry discovers her dad recorded all of her college games, don't make much of an impact because it's so difficult to care about the characters in the first place. What really upsets me is how so much talent is wasted here. Both Lawson and Caan do their level best with what they're given, but it's just not enough to elevate this show to any real likability. The one character I didn't find grating is that of Michelle, even though she seems like a cross between a bimbo from 'The Only Way is Essex' and Snookie from 'Jersey Shore.'
Even with its cushy time slot between ABC hits 'The Middle' and 'Modern Family,' if the writing team doesn't get a fresh infusion of talent, this program will be waiting for renewal about as long as the Cubs have been waiting to win the World Series.
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U.S. only - ABC