John Stamos scores in heartfelt teen dramedy Big Shot: Review
It would be foolish to hire professional dreamboat John Stamos only to keep his charm under a bushel. So the actor's mere presence as the star of Big Shot — about a famously temperamental, hard-nosed college basketball coach who is demoted to a girls' high school team — somewhat undermines the show's premise. Of course, Stamos' Coach Korn will turn out to be a softie at his core. But it's a flaw that works in the sports dramedy's favor, as the actor makes for a likable grump opposite an engaging young ensemble.
After a courtside chair-throwing outburst gets him fired, Marvyn Korn is all but unemployable. His apologetic agent (Adam Arkin) talks him into taking a gig at Westbrook High in San Diego, where Marvyn can hide out for a while before eventually making his way back into the NCAA. Naturally, Coach Korn's stern, suit-and-power-tie demeanor strikes everyone at Westbrook — including pragmatic dean Sherilyn Thomas (Yvette Nicole Brown) and assistant coach Holly Barrett (Jessalyn Gilsig) — as quite off-putting. The girls on the basketball team, meanwhile, see Marvyn as a very triggering bull stampeding through their private school safe space. "Expect to be yelled at. Don't take it personally," he barks, before announcing that several girls on the team "need to shed a few pounds."
Fat shaming? On Disney+? Don't fret — it's all to illustrate that Coach Korn is a man whose bluntness comes not from insensitivity, but from a near-debilitating focus on his job. "I don't see people like that, fat or skinny," he says, apologizing to one offended player. "I don't even see them as people. I see athletes." Divorced and living out of an extended-stay hotel, Marvyn can barely relate to his own teenage daughter, Emma (Sophia Mitri Schloss), let alone the gaggle of ambitious Gen Zers under his charge at Westbrook. Destiny (Tiana Le) is a strong-willed power forward searching for a father figure, while star shooter Louise Grazinsky (Nell Verlaque) leads with a flip wit to hide the pressure she feels from her father (Michael Trucco), who wants her to play Division I ball. Emma, meanwhile, feels compelled to defend her dad's extreme ways even as she vies desperately for his attention.
Created by David E. Kelley, Dean Lorey (Harley Quinn), and Everybody Loves Raymond star Brad Garrett, Big Shot (April 16 on Disney+) is funnier than the trailer would have you believe, and younger-skewing than anything Kelley's done since Doogie Howser, M.D. It has all the hallmarks of a Kelley production: Eccentric personalities, heart-tugging family dynamics, and low-stakes workplace conflicts. The three episodes provided for review set up a reliably pleasant structure: Coach Korn's single-minded approach clashes comedically with the emotional intricacies of teenage girlhood; bristling and push-back on both sides ensues; by the end of the hour, compromise is achieved, and everyone learns a little bit about themselves in the process.
Stamos is the ultimate utility player, capable of delivering dry wit and sweet sentiment in equal measure. The other adult characters aren't as well-defined. So far, Dean Thomas serves only to moderate faculty squabbles with straight-faced diplomacy; one hopes the writers will take advantage of Brown's comedic talents in future episodes. Gilsig is reliably pleasant as Marvyn's basketball-to-human translator, and thankfully, the show doesn't seem to be setting Holly up as an inevitable love interest for Coach Korn. Veteran TV standout Toks Olagundoye brings the proper smugness to her role of Mrs. Grint, Westbrook's vehemently anti-sports history professor, but the character feels more like a cartoon villain than a legitimate nemesis. A little locker-room pep talk for the boys behind the scenes: You have what it takes to give these women more to do! Still, Big Shot could have a winning season if Kelley and company continue to pull from the quirky-and-heartfelt playbook. Grade: B