Watching the series premiere of Pitch,the new drama about America’s first female baseball player in the major leagues made me nostalgic for Friday Night Lights. They’re both sports-based dramas that aren’t really about the sports, so much as the culture, community, and family that surround the drama of the game.
Pitchisn’t as good as Friday Night Lights, but that is a high bar to reach, and falling short still leaves a lot of room to be good — and Pitchis good. It’s still finding its footing, but the pilot shows a lot of promise and hits a lot of the emotional beats it needs to with its introduction. In this first, stylish, well-soundtracked hour, we meet Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), the fiercely determined young woman who is carrying the weight of the world — or at least the weight of the expectations of an infinite amount of adorable little girls who want to play in the major leagues, too — on her shoulders.
Ginny has just been called up to play for the San Diego Padres, and the pilot doesn’t spend too much time trying to make anything more complicated than that in the series premiere (save for the hour’s final, twisty minutes). There’s enough drama inherent in the situation, which sees Ginny harrassed and belittled by many of her new teammates — including Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Mike Lawson, the team’s captain and Ginny’s catcher.
The show is greatly aided by a strong cast filled with “oh, hey, it’s that actor” actors and an intimate understanding of the sports media coverage, business, and hype that goes along with having the MLB’s weight in the show’s production huddle. Pitch actually filmed in Petco Park, giving it an authentic location feel that is missing from most TV shows. (It is not unlike Austin-based Friday Night Lightsin this way, either.)
One of the series other strengths is its willingness to craft not-completely-likable characters, like Lawson or many of the behind-the-scenes businesspeople who must think of selling tickets (or getting endoresement deals) first and playing the game or even what’s best for Ginny second.
Even series star Ginny isn’t overly perfect, like she could have been in a less interesting pilot. She’s determined and fierce and totally admirable, but she’s also kind of a mess. At one point, she breaks down to her father about not having a personal life because of the life he chose for her, because of the aspirations he forced upon her at an early age. Based on the flashbacks we’re treating to throughout the episode, Ginny has some valid points.
There are a lot of characters running around in this introductary installment, and many of those introduced are underdeveloped and cliche. Some of this can be forgiven due to the tricky nature of a network pilot. Hopefully, the cast of characters will be better fleshed out moving forward. If not, this show will suffer for its over-ambition when it comes to casting a wide ensemble net.
If Pitchdoes manage to earn its ensemble keep, then this show could be something special, a show that doesn’t rely too heavily on the inherent drama of the situation, but rather takes the time to explore the culture of this sport and business, and how it affects the different players (both baseball and baseball-tangential) in this world.
Right now, I’m particularly intrigued by Meagan Holder’s Evelyn Sanders, the wife of one of Ginny’s teammates and one of Ginny’s only confidante’s in the show’s opening hour. I’m also interested in the nuances of Mike Lawson, who plays both an antagonistic and a supportive role for Ginny over the course of the pilot. I’m fascinated by how unlikable Zack Morris can be at times in this introduction.
It can be really hard to tell the strength of a show from its pilot. Friday Night Lightsof this world aside, most struggle to both present a worthwhile introductory story and work as an effective advertisement for networks looking to buy up series orders. Pitchdoes an admirable job in this first hour. It doesn’t hit it out of the park, but I’d call it a solid ground rule double. I’m eager to follow this team — and the courageous Ginny Baker — further into the season.