The first ‘Pitch’ episode came out of the gate with a fastball: One of the best pilots in years, with a great concept — the first female pitcher to be called up by the MLB and start for the San Diego Padres, Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) — and even a jaw-dropping twist ending, when it was confirmed that Ginny’s father was deceased, his presence a mere figment of her imagination.
With such a strong first outing, the bar was set very high — perhaps “Pitch” had nowhere to go but down. While it’s far from being pulled from the line-up, the FOX series hasn’t consistently maintained that level of excellence. But with a few tweaks, it can get back to fine form.
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Because “Pitch” is solidly good. It’s able to tackle race, feminism, and the importance of mental health, remaining rooted in the entertaining world of professional baseball, and a bench full of endearing characters. But it can be better that just good: “Pitch” has the potential to be amazing.
From the point of view of a knowledgeable baseball fan, there are a few glaring issues that have been impossible to ignore, but seemingly lazy mistakes like that are easily fixable. We understand the series must sometimes take a moment to explain how the game of baseball works — but that naiveté cannot come from Ginny.
With all the relentless training her father put her through, it made zero sense that Ginny would not understand — for example — how trade deadlines worked, in the Oct. 27 episode. Bill (Michael Beach) raised to her know all the ins and outs of baseball. There is no baseball related subject about which she could be entirely clueless — especially such highly publicized, yearly event.
This is not a deal-breaker for the series, but a big swinging strike. The show still has so much going for it. Mark Paul-Gosselaar, with that scruffy beard, is perfect as the aging Mike Lawson. The tension building between him and Ginny is becoming an audience obsession, and the writers are doing a fantastic job or organically building this layered, complicated relationship — so much so that a romance, triangle, or anything else would be deadly disappointing.
It’s the friendships on “Pitch” that make the show tick: There’s nothing not to love about Ginny’s close buddy Blip (Mo McRae), his marriage, or his wife’s fondness for Ginny — and it’s empowering in a lot of ways to watch Ginny stay true to who she is, gaining the respect of her Padres teammates through her skills, convictions and charm rather than all the predictable nonsense the show constantly lampoons.
With only 10 episodes making up Season 1, we know it’s a tough ask — but we want more screen time with Amelia (Ali Larter), Al (Dan Lauria) — even Charlie, considering Kevin Connolly may well have come out of the womb with that cocky, douchey manager vibe down pat. And the “boatloads of money” speech Oscar gave Ginny during the “Alfonzo Guzman-Chavez speech only makes us hungrier to see Mark Consuelos flexing those dramatic acting muscles.
There’s an entire roster of fully fleshed out and interesting characters to delve into here, perhaps an embarrassment of riches: Why not develop them all, now, while you have them, instead of focusing so tightly on Ginny? The show’s depth right now is a collection of hints, seeds dropped, developments foreshadowed — it’s as frustrating to watch, at times, as that first big shutout must have been for Ginny’s adoring fans. Ginny is the heart and soul of the series, no question there, but Bunbury is lifted surrounded her talented cast mates.
Lastly, “Pitch” can let go of the constant back-and-forth time cuts. Unless it’s an actual flashback to part of a character’s past that informs the current plot, there’s no need to time jump around. The story is already captivating. Time jumps are a crutch for when an A-plot is too boring to stand on its own. While Nov. 3’s “Wear It,” was perhaps the strongest episode of the entire series so far, really delving into the emotional pressure and stress of what it’s like to be in Ginny’s Nike-endorsed shoes, it could’ve been told using a normal timeline and still be just as moving.
We’re rooting for you, “Pitch.” You’re the best new show of the season and you’ve got all the tools and practice you need to knock it out of the park each and every week. So game on, and let’s lock in Season 2 already.
“Pitch” airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.