Fall Pilots, week two, part two: The legends return

While ABC frontloaded its pilots early on, the second half of the second fall pilot week only had three new shows to talk about: baseball-themed Back In The Game, Robin Williams vehicle The Crazy Ones and NBC’s one hope for the future, The Michael J. Fox Show. The results are a mixed bag. All times are eastern.

Back In The Game

ABC, 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Comedy

Will Watch Again? Maybe

Premise: Maggie Lawson, attempting to land a regular gig post-Psych, plays Terry Gannon Jr., a former softball star whose career crumbled due to a variety of circumstances, chief among them the birth of her son, Danny (Griffin Gluck). James Caan is her seemingly distant father, Terry “The Cannon” Gannon Sr., whose own baseball career was also curtailed. After Terry and Danny are forced to move in with Cannon, the three reluctantly begin to bond as Terry decides to coach a Little League team made up of the kids who didn’t make it through tryouts, Danny included.

How Was It? Caan is fun though a bit one-note in his crustiness, but Lawson does good work in the pilot, retaining her Psych-earned likability but adding a fun competitive edge to the mix as a woman who can’t stand being marginalized by the creeps who run the local Little League. The three leads have good chemistry, and there are a couple of left turns in the pilot that give some hope that Back In The Game can occasionally surprise.

Though the pilot is mostly setup, it appears that the show will primarily focus on Lawson’s managing of Danny’s team, The Angles (it’s supposed to be The Angels, but the shirts were misprinted). It’s impossible not to think of the Bad News Bears when you see the premise, and at this point, it’s more charming than funny. On a leaner year, I’d probably give it a few more episodes, but I’m already watching three hours of new shows and roughly three and a half hours of old shows a week. We’ll see.

The Crazy Ones

CBS, 9 p.m. Thursdays, Comedy

Will Watch Again? No

Premise: Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar play the father-daughter owners of an advertising agency who have to come up with crazy, creative ideas for their clients. Also, since Robin Williams is in it, there’s a lot of stuff that Aladdin’s Genie would do.

How Was It? I generally enjoy Robin Williams, possibly because I’ve never seen “Patch Adams” and many of his other panned features (and I actually remember liking “Bicentennial Man”), but he needs to be unleashed with caution. His energy and enthusiasm need to be channeled into something specific, and The Crazy Ones is content to just let him mug, assuming that the audience will be delighted. The show is single camera, but creator David E. Kelley has installed a miniature laugh track just the same in the form of William’s assistant (Amanda Setton), lest we forget that Williams is totally hilarious.

Williams has a few good moments (more than Gellar, who primarily plays exasperated in the pilot), and James Wolk was funny in passing. But when your pilot’s most memorable moments come from a game-but-not-hilarious Kelly Clarkson, you’re not breaking any laughs per minute records.

The Michael J. Fox Show

NBC, 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, Comedy

Will Watch Again? Probably

MJF show still2

Premise: In the show that NBC hopes will jumpstart its new era of comedy – after all the shows it hoped would do that last year tanked and were cancelled – Michael J. Fox makes his return to series regular as newscaster Mike Henry, who is himself making a return to nightly newscasts now that he has his Parkinson’s disease a bit more under control. As you may be able to guess, the Parkinson’s and Fox’s eponymous character are only a couple of the autobiographical elements of the show, which splits time between Mike’s return to TV and his oddball family’s reaction to his exploits.

How Was It? Michael J. Fox is just about the most likable actor you could watch, and that goes a long way toward making his show a pleasant half hour. The show has some fun at the expense of his disease, but it neither goes too far nor portrays him as a hugely inspirational figure – in fact, the pilot skewers this idea by making Mike weary of the constant public adulation he receives for battling Parkinson’s. When one person asks for Mike’s autograph because his uncle has Alzheimer’s, Mike reminds the man that he has Parkinson’s, not Alzheimer’s. “Either way,” the man responds with a shrug.

The show still has some trouble spots, particularly the role of Mike’s sister (Katie Finneran, playing what appears to be a flat version of 30 Rock’s Jenna Maroney). It also needs to get a little funnier before it becomes appointment viewing, but I can easily see the path it could take to get better (can the talking heads, boost the amount of Betsy Brandt as Mike’s wry wife, etc.). Catch this one online or binge watch via DVR on a rainy day.

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