A not-particularly-fresh take on “The Bad News Bears” — which already spawned multiple movies and a 1979 series — “Back in the Game” isn’t without its modest charms, thanks mostly to James Caan’s turn as an irascible old ballplayer whose daughter agrees (eventually) to coach the worst team in her kid’s baseball league. Granted, this ABC comedy is the equivalent of a big fat pitch over the heart of plate, and will need to get mileage out of more characters, but what’s here has the potential to hold its lineup spot between leadoff hitter “The Middle” and ratings slugger “Modern Family.”
Terry (Maggie Lawson) is the classic single mom forced to move back home with dad, a wayward sort in her youth who insists his grandson Danny (Griffin Gluck) call him by his playing-days nickname, the Cannon. “You stink!” the old codger yells, seemingly lacking any sort of filter as he watches the kid haplessly try to catch a fly ball. (In a way, Caan’s character is the male version of the post-AA mom in CBS’ “Mom,” and in a perfect world, someone would try to arrange a cross-network fix-up.)
A one-time softball star herself, Terry instantly befriends Lulu (“Being Human’s” Lenora Crichlow), a boozy British import whose young son is obviously gay. Crichlow brightens up every scene she’s in, but they’ll need to find some gradations to make her more than a retread of Christine Baranski’s sidekick role in “Cybill.”
Writers Mark and Robb Cullen worked with Caan on NBC’s “Las Vegas,” and he plays the Cannon as all swagger and snarl; still, the grudging warmth between father and daughter — mixed with the broad kid-oriented gags — could mesh with the shows bookending it.
Given how familiar the concept seems (there’s even a slave-driving dad, played by Ben Koldyke, plucked straight out of “Bad News Bears”), “Back in the Game” is clearly a case of playing small-ball, with ABC hoping the show has enough stuff in its arsenal to go more than a few innings. And while the first pitch isn’t bad, based on history and the high casualty rate around “Modern Family,” execs would probably be well advised to keep the bullpen warmed up.