Hey you! This isn't a review, it's a PREview. Huge difference. Most notably, the "P." Also, these PREviews are based on early cuts of pilots that might change drastically by the time they officially hit the air, so we can't properly review them. But we CAN give you an idea of what to expect. In this series of early looks at the new shows of fall 2013, there's no contemplating, no deep analysis; just super-duper quick thoughts on what we just watched that we're passing on to you. We'll revisit each previewed show in the fall with the hyper-intellectual breakdowns and fart jokes you're used to from us goons here at TV.com.
STARRING AND CREATED BY: The sought-after Maggie Lawson was signed as a (partially) free agent after several seasons on Psych for her first starring role. Bona fide movie star James Caan (something called The Godfather) gives television a real shot, and Ben Koldyke (Work It), Lenora Crichlow (UK's Being Human), and little guy Griffin Gluck round things out. Brothers Mark and Robb Cullen (Lucky) created the series and will run the show.
THE GIST: Terry Gannon, Jr. (Lawson) is one of several divorced single moms you'll meet on television this season, but this one plays baseball! With no place to go, Terry moves back home with her tweenish son Danny (Gluck) and into her dad's (Caan) house. Dad was an old ballplayer who used to crush home runs but now he's just crushing cans of domestic beer. Most of the show revolves around the relationship between the two Terrys; she feels she was pushed too hard into sports as a kid and wants to leave it behind her, he's trying to relive his glory days through her and Danny and defends the way he brought her up. Sitcom circumstances leave her as coach of Danny's Little League, and BAM! You have yourself an ABC comedy.
SNAP JUDGMENT: You know those types of comedies that aren't necessarily laugh riots but are still a joy to watch because they possess a certain charm? This is one of those. There's a lot of heart in Back in the Game anchored by strong performances from Lawson and Caan who sell the beaten-up but still intact father-daughter relationship. It kind of makes the show more of a light-hearted dramedy than a straight sitcom as regular joke beats aren't being hit here. However, a bunch of dorky kids playing baseball provides plenty of slapstick and one-liners for those looking for it (and let's be honest here, fat kids running into each other on the field of play is why God gave us the ability to laugh). Koldyke starts erasing his Work It mistake as the dickish villain, and he could be one of the season's sleeper characters. There's a ton of possibilities to work with here that I'd like to see: the father-daughter relationship, Terry Jr.'s romantic life (and the pilot doesn't force a possible love interest on us, which is pleasantly unusual), Danny's climb up the school social ladder, the lives of each of the kids on the team, the lives of the parents, and the baseball season. This isn't a metaphorical home run for ABC, but it's a strong role player with the potential to be a perennial contributor.
PILOTITIS DIAGNOSIS: One of the reasons the pilot works is because it's well written and glides on by with ease. You know Terry is going to end up coaching the team, but it doesn't feel clunky getting there. Exposition can feel rough off the tongue, but Lawson is one of those actors who makes it feel natural.
FACES TO LOOK OUT FOR: For those who don't watch Psych, it's gotta be Lawson. She's wonderful in this. She's the next pretty TV actress that everyone will love. Koldyke also has a shot at network television redemption. And let's just throw in all the kids here, because none of them are annoying and that's considered a huge victory with child actors.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: "This isn't soccer, we don't give every kid a trophy." Oooh! Take that, soccer. Back in the Game might have difficulty finding an audience as it's a female-skewing series involving sports, but maybe it's the kind of show that both sexes can enjoy together? It will be interesting to keep an eye on the ratings for this one.
EXCITEMENT LEVEL: Disclaimer: I love baseball. Love it. In fact, I'm typing this up from second base! So I may be predisposed to favoring this, but I enjoyed it. Good cast, kids running into each other dropping fly balls, and solid family relationships. On the 1 to 10 scale of like-itude, a strong 7.
PILOT PREVIEW POWER RANKINGS:
(Where we rank the fall season's pilots based on very early impressions)
1. Almost Human - J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman's robotic buddy-cop drama
2. The 100 - Teens have fun (and die) on post-apocalyptic Earth while the adults fight each other in a big tin can orbiting the planet
3. Intelligence - Josh Holloway stars as a Cyber Command agent who has Wi-Fi in his brain
4. Sleepy Hollow - Ichabod Crane zaps to the future to help a detective stop The Headless Horseman
5. The Tomorrow People - Young people, including Stephen Amell's cousin, get superpowers.
6. The Blacklist - James Spader is a master criminal who turns himself in to the FBI on one condition: He only works with the pretty new FBI agent
7. Hostages - Toni Collette is a doctor whose family is taken hostage and will be killed by Dylan McDermott's character unless she kills the President in surgery
8. Dracula - Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the fanged one in this re-imagining of the classic story of an undead guy chasing his old girlfriend
9. Lucky 7 - A group of gas-station employees win the lottery, for better or worse
1. Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Andy Samberg and a bunch of buffoons are cops in Brooklyn
2. Back in the Game - Maggie Lawson returns home and winds up coaching her son's Little League team while her drunk dad heckles her
3. Trophy Wife - Malin Akerman marries into a big family and ends up with two ex-wives and three stepchildren in the process
4. The Crazy Ones - Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar are a father-daughter team in the advertising business
5. Mom - Anna Faris and Allison Janney play a mother and daughter with life problems
6. Enlisted - Geoff Stults goes to army reject camp with his two brothers
7. About a Boy - Jason Katims' TV adaptation of the film adaption of Nick Hornby's novel about a man-boy friendship
8. Super Fun Night - Rebel Wilson and her loser friends hit the social scene