Review: ‘Hardball’

Pro baseball's the setting for unambitious, forced sitcom new to Fox's Sunday night lineup. Unavailable to critics before airing, it should have remained in the dugout for further retooling.

Pro baseball’s the setting for unambitious, forced sitcom new to Fox’s Sunday night lineup. Unavailable to critics before airing, it should have remained in the dugout for further retooling.

In latest incarnation of pilot that’s been shot at least twice, Rose Marie is featured as Mitzi Balzer, tough-talking, boisterous owner of perennially losing major league team the Pioneers; she’s a toned-down version of Marge Schott, complete with hand-held pooch.

Ernest (Happy) Talbot (Dann Florek) is the Pioneers’ new manager; Lee Emory (Alexandra Wentworth) has come aboard as the team’s PR staffer. Remainder of featured cast are ballplayers, a rowdy, irascible and stereotyped lot including big and dumb Lloyd LaCombe (Chris Browning), bulky Mike Widmer (Mike Starr) and Phill Lewis as Arnold Nixon, who must be the first black nicknamed “Lightning” on television since “Amos & Andy” left the air.

Bruce Greenwood toplines as Dave Logan, the team wiseacre and resident hunk, this show’s analog to Steven Weber’s character on “Wings.” Everything on this show has been seen before, even the team’s logo, based on that of the Cleveland Indians.

First episode introduces everybody, has Logan unwittingly bed Talbot’s daughter (the appealing Nancy Valen, who’s not a regular so far). If he’d seen “The Paper Chase,” Logan would have seen it coming, but it’s unlikely that anybody in or watching this series is a fan of that film.

Wentworth’s character comes through with a publicity stunt that gains the fans’ attention and instills some much-needed team spirit.

Earlier version of pilot didn’t have the Schott character and — though subplots and even much dialogue were the same as on the aired incarnation — was more subtle and funnier than what landed on the air. Maybe Fox knows their audience, but what they’ve got would probably be better off following “Married… With Children” than “The Simpsons.”

Hardball

(Sun. (4), 8:30-9 p.m., Fox)

Production

Videotaped in Los Angeles by Interbang, Inc. and Magic Beans, Inc. in association with Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Jeff Martin, Kevin Curran; producer, Mark Gossan; co-producers, Tracy Newman, Jonathan Stark; directors, John Whitesell, Peter Baldwin; script, Kevin Curran, Jeff Martin.

Crew

Camera, Richard Brown; editor, Larry Harris; art director, Richard Improta; sound, Norm Webster; music, Jonathan Wolff.

Cast

Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Mike Starr, Alexandra Wentworth, Dann Florek, Joe Rogan, Chris Browning, Steve Hynter, Phill Lewis, Rose Marie, Ashlee Levitch, Adam Henderschott, Mel Winkler, Eddie Velez, Nancy Valen, Charles Cyphers, Christpher B. Duncan, Dave Sebastian Williams, Jonathan Stark, Jack Kenny, Terry Cain, Frank Medrano, Jim Breuer, Joel McKinnon Miller, Jimmy Danelli, Brian Levinson, Louis Lombardi.
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