Review: Pitch – “Pilot”

The premise of Fox’s new fall drama Pitch is simple: what would happen if a woman became a major league pitcher?

201609211629593415319-p2-vadapt-980-high-52As excited as I was about the trailer and the concept, I had misgivings when I originally heard about the series. Would the writers play fast and loose with my beloved sport, bending logic to fit their story? Would they make Ginny Baker, our heroine, too perfect? Would it rely too heavily on sexist drama, and skimp on the baseball? Basically, I wanted to know if the show could manage to respect baseball, women, and also tell a compelling story.

It succeeded.

Pitch is first and foremost a show about baseball. It is being made with cooperation from the MLB, meaning it uses real stadiums, real uniforms, and real team names. Ken Rosenthal, Joe Buck, and other recognizable faces pop up, giving a real sense of authenticity. (Joe Buck is just as insufferable in fiction, FYI). The clubhouse, park, and game aspects all feel very genuine, if perhaps a bit glossier than their real life counterparts.

What about the realism of a female pitcher? I had some concerns about this initially as well. A major league pitcher needs multiple pitches to hit the big leagues. Usually four or five, with great command on at least three. Unless they’re throwing something deeply unusual like a knuckleball or an eephus pitch, they need a decent velocity fastball with good command and a combo of a curve, a change-up, etc. The trailer for the series showed Ginny learning a screwball to account for her inability to match velocity with her male counterparts, but I wondered “if that’s all she has, that’s not enough to be a starter.”

They answered my concerns. In a little overheard news piece at the start they mention a high 80s fastball, and an “arsenal” of pitches. This was good enough for me. I am still curious to see how they’ll handle her at-bats since she’s playing  for an NL team, but frankly I’m assuming they’ll just roll right through it in a matter-of-fact fashion.

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PITCH: Mark-Paul Gosselaar in PITCH premiering Thursday, Sept. 22 (9:0010:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX © 2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Tommy Garcia / FOX.

Let’s talk casting: Kylie Bunbury is wonderful as Ginny. She’s not soft and adorable (though baby-Ginny at the beginning is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen), but she’s not a stone-cold android either. The character, in one episode, is allowed to be both tough and fragile, and Bunbury’s performance makes both equally compelling and relateable. Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s seasoned catcher Mike Lawson feels very genuine, and gives me a strong Russell Martin vibe. They play well off each other, and there’s definite chemistry, but whether the show will go for a romance angle their isn’t clear. Gosselaar plays the part of a supportive but not-too-supportive catcher for a shaky pitcher beautifully, and the scenes Mike and Ginny share on the mound felt true to the game. Michael Beach, who plays Ginny’s demanding, perfection-driven father, is perfectly cast, as he plays the tough to love role well. Ali Larter’s no-nonsense agent Amelia is difficult to connect with only because she is written as a one-note career driven type, but I loved her dedication to Ginny and think she can become more interesting without having to soften, as long as they can give her some human interests outside making Ginny famous. Mo McRae is enjoyable in his screentime as Blip, and I want to see more of his interactions with Ginny on the field. Ryan Dorsey’s slighted pitcher-on-the-DL Tommy Miller is the most cliched of the lot, and I want to see more than just petty jealousy if he’s going to be a compelling foil to Ginny in any way.

Not to overindulge in baseball puns, but the pilot ends with quite a curve ball, that I hope the show won’t rely too heavily on, as it could descend into cheese pretty quickly.

If Friday Night Lights sets the bar for perfect television love letters to sports, Pitch is the sweet first flirtation. It has a lot of potential in its first hour, enough to keep me craving more. For baseball fans, it’s a suitable off-season way to stay close to the game, and if the writers can shed a bit of the heavy-handedness in future scripts (“You can’t aim your pitches if you’re aiming to please everyone”), this show has a really good shot of being something tremendous.

I look forward to seeing Ginny Baker take the mound once a week.

Pitch airs on Fox Thursday at 9/8c. You can catch the episodes the following day on Hulu or Fox Online.

Watch the trailer below:

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