Joining ABC's family-focused lineup of comedies this Wednesday night is Back in the Game, a single-camera comedy that merges baseball and family with a Bad News Bears-like twist, as series star Maggie Lawson plays a single mom who finds herself coaching a ragtag team of little leaguers, while also faced with the challenge of living with her estranged father, played by James Caan.
Created by Mark & Robb Cullen, Back in the Game stars Lawson as Terry Gannon Jr., a former All Star softball player who put baseball in the past when she got pregnant. Now a single mother with a cheating husband in her rearview, Terry and her son are living with her father, Terry Sr. (Caan) -- also known as "The Cannon" -- whom she had a falling out with after she went away to college. We learn from the start that The Cannon's grandfathering skills are a bit rough around the edges, particularly in his attempts to give Terry's son Danny (Griffin Gluck) advice on how to deal with a bully. Some of my favorite moments from the pilot involve Caan. Not only is he funny, but the way he guides Danny gives us an idea of where the disconnect might be between The Cannon and his daughter. He may not always have the right approach, but there's love behind his words and actions, and that's part of what could give this series a bit more depth behind the humor and baseball. As for Danny, he's a sharp kid and quick-thinking enough to handle this challenge, both in facing off against the bully and trying to win the attention of a cute girl he likes. But he has a setback on the latter front when he isn't chosen to play for the local youth baseball team.
That's when Terry steps up to coach the team of boys who were cut from the league, her son included. With the financial support of her new friend Lulu (Lenora Crichlow), the wealthy widow and mother of another child who wasn't selected, Terry sets out to let baseball back into her life after years of turning her back on the sport.
Lulu's appearances in the first episode are brief, but memorable, particularly in the way she introduces herself to Terry. Between Crichlow's humor and the father-daughter chemistry demonstrated between Lawson and Caan, not to mention some amusing scenes between Caan's character and his grandson, there's a lot to appreciate from the pilot on the character side. And that includes Dick Slingbaugh (Ben Koldyke), Terry's new rival, a man who may live up to his name when it comes to his attitude about baseball and winning, but could prove to bring another layer of humor to this series as he awkwardly attempts to interact with Terry.
The family element makes Back in the Game a great fit for ABC's Wednesday night lineup, especially as it's wedged between The Middle and Modern Family. Beyond that, it's the down-to-earth humor that allows Back in the Game to stand out as a series, especially when we consider just how many family-focused comedies are debuting this fall. And then, of course, there's baseball, the timeless pastime that appeals to any generation. The sport unites the characters in Back in the Game, setting itself up as an underdog tale in the vein of Bad News Bears -- or if we're factoring in other sports, Little Giants, The Mighty Ducks and any other sports movie about kids who can't play well, but have heart. The pilot gets off to a solid start, leaving me hopeful that Back in the Game will be another winner for ABC's Wednesday night comedy block.
Back in the Game premieres Wednesday, September 25 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.