Pitch

4 out of 5

Created by: Dan Fogelman, Rich Singer

Appearing during a climate rife with discussions of gender roles in media, ‘Pitch’ – a fictionalized account of the first female Major League baseball player – seems primed to be a topical crowd pleaser, choosing relatively low-hanging fruit from the larger conversation and deriving safe, entertainment-geared conclusions from them.  To trivialize: women are objectified; women are men’s equals.  How smart to present these Girl Power banners against the very masculine backdrop of Major League baseball?

But Pitch dodges a lot of the bottom-line preaching by trusting the setup to be sensational enough and not sensationalizing what follows.  This by no means means it avoids the possible realities of this scenario – which, in case my statements above skimp on making this clear, are important to extrapolate and explore – but rather that works hard to make its characters real, thus making the task of navigating the effects of such an experience relative and equally real easier.  This is not an easy task, and is a balance few TV shows attempt, much less successfully execute more often than not.  Madam Secretary is another good modern day example of this: both shows face tricky issues and don’t back down, and manage to ask bolder questions without clear answers by, believe it or not, opting to highlight the good in humanity more often than not.  This could be seen as glossing over the darker side of things to a certain extent, but boiling concepts down to an hour of TV is going to require gloss anyway, and I’d rather a show make drama out of inherent drama instead of getting bogged down in the horrors we can readily find on various other shows or, perhaps, in real life.  In other words, this is entertainment, but it’s nice that we can opt for a conversational approach to things instead of splashing the screen with cliffhangers and headlines.

To circle back, this approach could not hold water without the support of strong characters to ground it and make talking heads interesting.  For Pitch, this is lead Ginny (Kylie Bunbury), her agent / manager Amelia (Ali Larter), team coach Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), and minor-league-now-teammate Blip (Mo McRae), as well as various others weaving in and out of this network.  Throughout our ten episode season, the show – through its characters – explores Ginny’s raising at the hands of tough-love motivator father Bill (Michael Beach), Mike and Blip’s counterpoints to the team’s reception of Ginny, and Amelia’s need to be a part of this dream complicated by her awareness of the push and pull of superstar life.  It also makes sure to give ample time to the actual sport and of Ginny’s team The Padres, showing us the team politics (team management all too aware of needing to ‘feature’ Ginny), inter-team politics, and how this plays out on the field when the bottom line need is to win the game.  This prevents the problem of shows like The Flash or Arrow, which claim to be comic book shows but just toss the heroics on as window dressing; Pitch is a baseball show, and Ginny is its focus.  It’s also the perfect avenue down which to poke at the series main theme: if the basic idea is to win, and Ginny can help them do so, why does everyone else have to weigh in on what things mean and how to act in response?  It’s the weight of finding one’s own voice amidst all of these opinions – from men and women, from Ginny’s past and present – that provides a theme from episode to episode.

There’s inevitably some buffer here.  It’s hard to get away from that.  As a mid-season fill, the show has to poke around a bit to see what lands, so we get a questionable “twist” involving Ginny’s motivations early on and later relationship / family dealings feel a bit besides the point.  And although I’m praising it for this same reason, it does have to be underlined that the show is very idealized.  There are some frightening likely realities to this setup that don’t get much screentime, and 95% of the time its the smart decision to skirt this stuff, but they’re definitely plotlines worth touching on.  However, I can appreciate that that would’ve been a big gamble for a first season.  If they ease us into this – over hopefully future seasons – all the better.

On the whole, this is one of those “hook” shows that ends up proving that it has a lot more going on under the hood than could have been supposed.