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TV Review: James Caan Comes Home in ‘Back in the Game’
CHICAGO – From Archie Bunker to Frank Barone, TV has a long history of crotchety, irascible, borderline offensive fathers who really love their kids. To the long list, we can now add Terry Gannon (James Caan), the scene-stealer from ABC’s “Back in the Game,” premiering tonight, September 25, 2013 in a coveted time slot between the returns of “The Middle” and “Modern Family.”
Television Rating: 2.5/5.0
I’m torn on “Back in the Game.” Its creators — Mark & Robb Cullen (“Lucky”) — and executive producers — John Requa & Glenn Ficarra (“Bad Santa”) — are definitely talented people and one can see the potential in this gruff family comedy. The cast is strong, the concept isn’t bad, but I just didn’t find the pilot funny. It feels like it’s playing with comedy concepts that might have worked better in the ’90s. Hey, guess what? Some retired athletes are still too competitive and live vicariously through their Little League-playing grandkids? We know that. Anyone who’s been to a kid’s baseball game knows that. I’m not saying every comedy needs to reinvent the wheel but the treads are too worn on this one.
Back in the Game
Photo credit: ABC
Terry Lawson raised his daughter as such a tomboy that he named her Terry Jr. (Maggie Lawson). The retired baller, known as “The Cannon” in his brief stint as an All-Star pitcher, even formed his daughter into a baseball player herself until life got in the way. Terry’s softball career was derailed by a crap husband, a kid, and a lost scholarship. Neither Terry is where they thought they’d be when they were in their prime. But they have loving family members to take it out on.
Terry Jr. wants to stop the madness. She discourages Danny (Griffin Gluck) from continuing the athletic branch of the family tree but Terry Sr. needs someone to root for in his favorite game. It doesn’t help that Danny wants to impress his new crush (Kennedy Waite) on the diamond. The problem is that Danny didn’t get baseball talent from his mom’s side of the family, which leads to grandfatherly disappointment, of course. That is until Lulu (Lenora Crichlow), a local parent, decides to start a team of misfits, a modern Bad News Bears, and asks Terry Sr. to coach.
Caan is perfectly cast here and “Back in the Game” was clearly designed around him and the role fits like, sorry, a well-worn baseball glove. His comic timing was always better than most people thought (see “Elf” for further proof) and he’s not the problem with “Back in the Game.” As it so often does, it comes down to the writing. I just don’t care. And I just don’t find it funny. It’s not one of those new shows that aggravates me like “Dads” or “The Crazy Ones.” It’s got more potential and is less abrasive. But it’s a show that thinks it’s throwing a comedy curveball by being a bit un-PC but it’s really not doing anything we haven’t see before. The problem with following Archie Bunker and Frank Barone into comedy history? Those are big shoes to fill.