TLC’s latest series, “Pete Rose: Hits & Mrs.,” no doubt began as another wannabe freakshow (most of the channel’s lineup is), but winds up playing like a reality-TV version of the May-December coupling on “Modern Family.” Mostly, that’s thanks to the 71-year-old former baseball great, a sad but still charismatic and comical figure, whose poor judgment cost him any further association with the game and admission to its hallowed Hall of Fame. By that measure, his planned nuptials to a thirtysomething Playboy model, Kiana Kim, are merely a pun-friendly sideshow.
Of course, if Rose thinks signing up for this kind of exposure will somehow endear him to Major League Baseball’s current stewards, he stepped into too many pitches; and if he needs the money, well, that’s sort of depressing, too.
Still, the guy nicknamed Charlie Hustle is still doing just that — signing autographs, living in Vegas, and trying to teach his would-be stepkids (if, that is, he ever marries their mom) how to hit at a batting cage.
The half-hour episodes certainly possess all the qualities of a sitcom, with Pete discussing Kiana’s notable assets (although she plans to reduce the two most prominent of them, much to his chagrin), and playfully sparring with her mom, who’s about his age, and deserves a TV show of her own.
Still, there’s also a bittersweet element (and the usual exaggerated drama) in questions about their respective families — such as whether his grown children will accept the relationship with a perceived “gold-digger,” as Kiana acknowledges. In subsequent episodes, Pete tries his hand at parenting Kiana’s young kids, and there’s even actual pathos when Pete — having admitted he “made a big mistake” by betting on baseball — visits Cooperstown but, still smarting over his exclusion from the Hall, won’t venture inside.
Granted, the focus on Rose and baseball make the series an unusual fit for TLC, which specializes in unorthodox families and carnival acts. ESPN2 might actually be a more natural location, inasmuch as the series might hold more interest for demos that otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead watching most of the channel’s lineup.
Nevertheless, those who do tune in will find the Rose they see here as being as natural at mugging for the camera as he was at the plate. Whether that will be enough to keep the series around long enough for Kim to actually earn her “Mrs.” stripes, well, don’t bet on it.