'Back in the Game' Review: It's Easy to Root for These Underdogs
'Back in the Game' Review: It's Easy to Root for These Underdogs
Jeff Dodge
Jeff Dodge
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
Everyone loves to root for the underdog -- especially when who they're going up against is smug, cocky and arrogant.

Whether that person is an outcast, has been rejected by their peers, is from a different country or doesn't look like what society tells us we should look like, that's what makes for the sweetest victory -- when someone can rise up and prove everyone else wrong.

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That's the premise behind ABC's new comedy Back in the Game. Danny just wants to play baseball. That's all. He's doing it to impress a girl at his school. The problem? He just doesn't have the skills to join the local youth league. So what is he to do? Well, that's when his mother steps in. Terry Gannon, Jr. (Maggie Lawson) decides that she'll coach a team consisting of all the kids who were rejected from the league. What could go wrong?

Terry wants to do everything she possibly can to make sure her son does well. And while she'd rather her son not play baseball, it's that over letting the league win the battle. She's faced some hefty hurdles herself. As she says in the pilot, she went through a "messy divorce, lost everything" and is now "living with my father who crippled me emotionally."

That father is Terry Gannon, Sr., otherwise known as "The Cannon." Played magnificently by James Cann, The Cannon is crass, overbearing and gruff. He's not afraid to tell someone they're not good. "He sucks," he says at one point about one of the kids trying out for the team. He also sometimes gives bad advice -- bad in that it's the kind of things that are inappropriate to tell children. He even goes so far as to break a car's windows with a bat to get back at the father of the kid who bullied his grandson -- but as we've seen in the promos time and again, he went to the wrong house. Oops!

But that's why we love him. Whereas Murray, the father on another new ABC comedy, The Goldbergs, comes across as just yelling for the sake of yelling, you can tell that Terry Sr. has more depth to him than that. And that's critical when it comes to being able to connect with characters, even if they're not like you at all.

He's someone we'd all love to live with, right? Yeah, not exactly. But his daughter has no other choice but to move in so she can try to get back on her own two feet. And that dynamic of how differently each of them approaches life makes for some great humor.

But back to the outcasts: Each of the rejected ball players who are now on Terry's team have their own quirks and labels: fat, foreign, gay, creepy. (The show's words, not mine.) I'm sure over the course of the season and the series, we'll get to know each of them more, which I'm looking forward to. And speaking of dynamics, it'll be interesting to see how each of these kids interact with each other. They're young, after all, so I'm sure there will be moments they won't get along, and other times they'll band together to stand up to someone.


Based on what I've seen in the pilot, I don't see a weak link among the young actors in terms of their acting abilities. Terry's son, Danny, is fantastic and, because of the way he plays the role, it's easy to root for him. Before being cast in Back in the Game, Griffin Gluck was best known as being a series regular on Private Practice as Paul's son, Mason.

Kennedy Waite is adorable as Vanessa, Danny's crush in school. And Michael, played by J.J. Totah, is hilarious -- he's "totally gay," according to his mother. I'm looking forward to any scene where he has dialogue because Totah brilliantly portrays this character. (You have probably seen him perform a couple lines from Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" in the promos -- I want to see him perform the entire song.)

Speaking of Michael, I have to bring up his mother: Lula. She's another character I absolutely love. She's a tad ditzy -- and extremely rich. It looks like she and Terry will be sharing a lot of scenes, and while they're not at all alike, they have great chemistry together.

At its core, Back in the Game is a story about the underdogs, the outcasts, who just want to be accepted and have fun. "I am coaching because nobody wanted these kids, and I know how that feels," Terry says in the pilot. It's that message that brings heart and sentimentality to the show. It's one thing to have a comedy be all about the laughs from start to finish, but when you can add that kind of depth to it and have the viewers really root for these characters to hit it out of the park, so to speak, that's where the show succeeds most of all.

It's hard to tell how this show will do ratings-wise. It's airing between The Middle and Modern Family, so it seems like a good fit in that respect. It probably won't have huge ratings, but it doesn't necessarily have to to succeed. I hope enough viewers give Back in the Game a chance, because this is the kind of show that has the potential to continue to grow and be something truly special.

Will you be tuning in to Back in the Game? Does this show have a chance at succeeding?

Back in the Game premieres tonight at 8:30pm on ABC.  

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(Image courtesy of ABC)



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