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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. 



Back in the Game – Wednesdays starting September 25 at 8:30pm on ABC


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)


DRAMA

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


COMEDY

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




Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 3/3/2014

Season 1 : Episode 13

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I'm in, this oughta be good!
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Last year a few of the pilots had early previews like Revolution for example. Has that happened this year? Would like to see some of these shows early if its available.
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Why does anyone like baseball? The best way I can describe it is anti-entertainment. It sucks away your positive thoughts and makes you irritable and depressed. There should be health warnings against watching.
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I was looking forward to this after the trailer in the big trailer dumps you were doing, but seeing caan in magic city which must have been filmed after the pilot somehow it looks like he had plastic surgery and if that's the case I can't watch him in this.
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Interesting cast and it sounds better than other comedies that are coming this TV season.
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Tim, you just climbed several levels in my book due to your liking baseball. I take back all those snarky comments I made about you last week.
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I don't watch comedies to actually laugh i just enjoy the plot to it. (example family guy) i watch that just to be entertained not laugh. Some comedies are actually more dramedy to me now
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I feel the exact same way. Like modern family isn't as funny but I love the show... It still has its funny moments here and there lol
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I think people always misinterpret comedies in the sense that yes, they are supposed to be funny, but a lot of the time what makes them so fun to watch is not the laugh out loud gags, but rather that some of them are enjoyably feel-good.
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I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the trailer. You're right in saying Tim that this shows seems like the type 'of comedies that aren't necessarily laugh riots but are still a joy to watch because they possess a certain charm?'.

I also agree with you about the humour aspect of the show 'a bunch of dorky kids playing baseball provides plenty of slapstick and one-liners for those looking for it' and I found myself enjoying the trailer most at these parts, so yes, there should be more focus on the kids in the show wants to enhance its comedy.

Don't know if I have time in my schedule for a 'light-hearted dramedy', but I wish this one well. It looks like a solid show that could continue ABC's strong line of comedies (although I still wish Happy Endings was around).
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Is there a way to quantify how many women enjoy sports? It's certainly more fun to play a sport than watch it played and exposition is usually the pitfall with sports-oriented series, but this has a bit of my attention now. I'll give it a pitch and if it hits a home run then I haven't lost anything, but if it doesn't, well...I don't mind losing a few balls. ^_^
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I think this will be ABC's second comedy cancelation. It'll be gone by January.
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They held on To The Neighbors despite not having great rating and some criticisms.
My instinct, helped by this review, says this will last a season plus be helped by ABC's other Wednesday offerings, like The Middle.
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I like the cast, so hopefully it will be good.
Any idea whether the game of rounders will be a permanent backdrop?
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Not all comedies are that funny, but it's that charm thing we watch for. Charming goes a long way sometimes. In other news, The Glades was cancelled for its lack thereof...
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Wednesday night on ABC is the Inertia Zone for me between The Middle and Modern Family, so I'd have probably watched this even without the decent p/review here. And it does sound like it'll fit well into that time slot, maybe more so than Suburgatory did. Plus, Maggie Lawson, so say no more.

/me renews his contract

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Wow, that was unexpectedly optimistic. In May when you posted the trailers for the upcoming autumn shows, I'm pretty sure most readers hated Back in the Game. let's see if your PREview will change their minds.

Baseball is, as your example shows, important to many Americans, so the show will surely appeal to them, but we'll have to see how interested foreigners are in that theme. Where I come from, our official national sport is actually a form of baseball, but most people don't care for it, and neither do I. But I will check out this show because of Lawson. She really is pretty loveable.
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I was thinking the same, it's a tough sell for the international market. I'm not sure a French network would air it. Except if it's a huge hit in the US.
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I don't think this show will be sold to my country neither. And I couldn't care less about baseball. But just like you, I might find other reason to give this a try :)
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To be honest, I can't imagine producers ever trying to sell the show as one about baseball (even to ABC), but rather as an awkward family reconnecting, so I'm sure it'll find somewhere overseas that will air it. I'm from Australia and have very little interest in baseball too, but the fact that baseball is heavily featured in the show would not personally way me to watch it either way (so I think we'll be seeing it here).
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Was at a screening of this and all i can say is we must have been watching a different pilot because i found it, uninspired, the characters were unlikable, especially Caan and Lawson's characters and i found it to be one dimensional and not that funny. Maggie is great on Psych and i am glad she is sticking with that also because this is awful and should not have even been given the go ahead. Also for international sales baseball has zero appeal. Sorry Maggie but this is a complete waste of your amazing talent and beauty. Looking forward to seeing her on Psych next season and Psych the Musical of course!
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It doesn't sound like my type of show, but I like the actors enough that I'll give it a try.
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Hey, Caan also starred in NBC's "Las Vegas", so that takes away from the cachet of being Sonny Corleone.

I'm surprised to hear there's heart here, the ads felt like they were trying to fake that heart in a very ABC sort of way.

Question, Tim: where is the future for this show, where does it go week after week based on your view of the pilot? This seemed like a quirky Lifetime movie of the week premise, and the initial teasers did nothing to dissuade that, so how does it get by week in and week out without getting canned 3 weeks into its second season (one of my more pet-peeve ABC moves)?
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Yes, I thought it was weird that Tim declared that 'Bona fide movie star James Caan (something called The Godfather) gives television a real shot' considering Las Vegas, although to be fair, that is a fairly forgettable show.

If you read the last part of Tim's snap judgement he highlights that 'there's a ton of possibilities to work with here that I'd like to see', so maybe he's referring to those as what the show can and/ or will do in the future.
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I don't see the possibilities he does because I haven't seen it, so a vague idea of where this could go might tip the scales for me. But right now, I'm just not seeing where this premise could go.
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You're not wrong, there are actually quite a few series that look like they could suffer from the problem of where to go after the pilot and how to create a season's worth of plot that could probably be just as well conveyed in a movie.

Betrayal, Lucky 7, Hostages, Enlisted and Sleepy Hollow also come to mind for me.
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And of those, only Sleep Hollow have I been remotely interested in giving a chance, and only because it's a really far out there premise that could be open-ended.
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This sounds like another My Boys, which I loved. I'll give it a try.
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I wasn't sold on 'Back in the Game' when I first heard about it, but Maggie Lawson is excellent on 'Psych' and she was great in her one episode of 'Justified'. I'll be rooting for this show to be a hit and I'll definitely be giving it a chance.
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As a Baseball and Psych fan I am game for this!

(no pun intended)
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And it does sound like it fits perfectly and as the perfect transition ABC has been looking for between The Middle and Modern Family and has the vibe that falls just in the middle of them (Suburgatory does too, but sometimes skews too much in the teen direction, mind you, I really like Suburgatory and if the Trophy Wife is uncomfortable, which it might not be, it can come back there).
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I'll watch because I love Maggie (still hoping for a season 9 of Psych, my favorite show!) and James Caan, who is still a babe!
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I absolutely love baseball films, especially baseball films with kids. Def checking this out.
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