It’s hardly coincidence that Hillary Rodham Clinton is name-checked not once, but twice, in the premiere episode of Fox’s new drama Pitch. In 2016, there are still a shocking number of things women haven’t done (or, in many cases, been allowed to do): among them, be elected president of the United States of America and pitch for a Major League Baseball team. While we are on the cusp of the former, we’ll have to rely on serialized television (at least for now) to see the latter.
Created by Rick Singer and Dan Fogelman (also the mastermind behind NBC’s twisty fall newcomer, This Is Us), the series follows 23-year-old pitcher Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) as she’s called up from the minors to be a walk-on for the San Diego Padres, becoming the first woman ever to play in a MLB game. Sports journalists and other talking heads naturally eat up the story like so much Big League Chew — and comparisons to Jackie Robinson fly fast and frequent. (In fact, Ginny’s given a No. 43 jersey, “one up from Jackie,” as the team’s owner explains.) Less enthused are the men she’ll be playing alongside, led by gruff manager Al (Dan Lauria), and swaggering team captain Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar sporting a beard).
But Ginny also boasts a full bench of supporters, including acid-tongued agent Amelia (Ali Larter), former (and now current) teammate Blip (Mo McRae), dad Bill (Michael Beach), and basically, every little girl in America, who cheer her on with handmade “I’m next” signs. Uh, no pressure.
Unsurprisingly, becoming a totem for her entire gender (something HRC surely knows a thing or two about) is just too much for her to handle: In her first game, Ginny can’t throw a single strike and asks to be pulled early. The Padres decide to give her a second chance (not altruistically; they need to save face), and this time — following a rousing speech from Lawson (“Do it for yourself!”) — Ginny gets her pitch back and wins the game. It would be enough to make even her stern father crack a smile….if he weren’t dead. Yep, you’ve just been Shyamalan-ed!
It’s a ludicrous last-minute twist, to be sure, and if it was one that left you questioning whether you’d tune in for another inning, I can happily report that three episodes in, Ghost Dad has yet to return. Producers have instead (smartly) opted for a more grounded approach, focusing on the realities of a woman working in a man’s world. But despite the much-needed feminist messaging, Pitch can’t seem to transcend those sports clichés as old and well-worn as the seventh-inning stretch: the injured player fuming with jealousy over his headline-grabbing replacement; the aging rake hiding how badly his body is deteriorating; the old-school manager losing relevancy in a changing world. All of which means that once the novelty of a lady playing in the majors wears off, you’re left with a pretty standard-issue sports tale — albeit one with an expertly scouted team that plays very well together. (Seriously, I can’t stop ‘shipping Ginny and Lawson.)
If Pitch would just throw out the dog-eared playbook, it could become one of America’s favorite TV pastimes. B