By Clare Maceira | TV | December 1, 2016 |
By Clare Maceira | TV | December 1, 2016 |
It would be easy to throw FOX’s baseball drama Pitch into a trope garbage bin: girl plays pro baseball. Girl faces adversity. Girl falls in love. Girl wins the World Series, gets the guy, and stays beautiful. Now all is well!
Lucky for us, Pitch takes the hard, bumpy road to greatness.
Ginny Baker (promising newcomer Kylie Bunbury) is our complicated heroine, a prodigy of a pitcher who also has a love/hate relationship with the game she’s driven by. The twenty-three year old is a self-proclaimed robot, living and breathing baseball since her father saw the raw talent in his toddler. While there’s some animosity towards her father and the way he trained her (he is not beyond abusing Ginny’s brother to make Ginny practice harder), it doesn’t taint her love for him, and this complexity transfers to how Ginny treats the game itself. She’s at times quietly resentful of the pressure put upon her as the first female player on the San Diego Padres and at one point breaks down, weeping about not wanting to play baseball anymore. But of course she does, for her passion for baseball is real, as she repeats over and over in the excellent bottle episode “Unstoppable Forces and Immovable Objects,” “I want to pitch.”
Pitch benefits from a partnership with the MLB, the show’s game snippets looking at least passable as a real FOX game, complete with stats and commentary. The show even shows the excitement in the supposedly mundane. Alfonzo Guzman-Chavez focuses entirely on a trade deadline, complete with a timer counting down to the deadline. It’s in the business b-plots general manager Oscar Arguella (a surprisingly strong Mark Consuelos) shines, showing both the competitive spirit and coldness necessary to run a team, a side rarely shown at length, and Pitch seems to have taken its cues for Oscar and Ginny’s agent Amelia from the film Jerry Maguire in the best way. While baseball may be driven by a love of the game, it’s also a business, and at times, a very cold business.
The show does us a favor by not treating Ginny’s relationships as paint by number affairs. All of her relationships are complex and layered, from her familial bond with teammate Blip and his family, to a relationship with her agent Amelia Slater (an underrated Ali Larter) that teeters from business to an almost mother-daughter partnership. She finds a father figure in her coach Al, and when Ginny suffers a breakdown, he is the one to offer her support and professional help, viewing her as a human being, instead of a pitching machine. Ginny and her relationships run Pitch in the best possible way.
Ginny’s most complicated relationship is saved for catcher/team leader/resident damaged smartass Mike Lawson (played to perfection by an unrecognizable Mark-Paul Gosselaar, that’s Zack Morris to you). Ginny and Mike’s relationship — affectionately called “Bawson” by its cast, crew and fans alike — is one which is as warm as it is tense. Pitch without a doubt plays up the yin and yang of the two’s damaged personalities, right down to Ginny’s career is beginning as Mike’s is nearing its end. The mentor/mentee, pitcher/catcher relationship is one built on co-dependency as much as it is respect, and the two teammates begin to blur the line between business and pleasure with late night phone calls and bouts of jealousy and attachment well beyond the game. The folks behind Pitch clearly know the pitcher/catcher relationship is its bread and butter, judging by how the show’s official twitter aggressively promotes it.
We’re seeing not just a show about baseball but a show about one woman’s journey through a new life. Through the Padres, Ginny gains the friendships and relationships denied to her in her youth. Ginny’s rare smiles become more frequent as the season moves forward and it feels earned, the prodigy trained to be a robot thawing as she finds a family in her team. A cliche, sure, but it’s wonderful to watch on screen.
Also wonderful is the show’s treatment of its lead character, a woman of color. Ginny is allowed to be more than a sidekick and her desires and well-being are considered important. She, after the bumpy first episode, is more or less respected by her teammates. She’s allowed to be unlikable and angry, and allowed to be feminine and flawed, and the show doesn’t punish her for it. Additionally, the show itself is diverse, with several characters of color, including a Latino character in a position of power and shown to be quick, smart, and fiercely intelligent. In our current environment, it’s a welcome display.
With two episodes left, Pitch’s renewal is uncertain. It would be a shame if FOX chose to give up on the show since Ginny’s journey appears to just be starting. As long as Pitch is on the air, I’ll be watching, and hopefully you are too.
Pitch airs Thursday nights at 9pm on FOX. All episodes are available on Hulu.
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