The baseball coming-of-age sports drama, Pitch debuted on FOX last week and if the series can match the twists and turns of the pilot they may have a winner on their hands.
The show follows a young female pitcher, Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) who defies the odds when she becomes the first woman to play in the major leagues. Pitch isn’t afraid to lean into the tear-jerking tropes of its genre or to embrace the Cinderella narrative that SportsCenter hosts love so much.
But its main appeal lies in its heroine Ginny, a fictitious insta-icon to a generation of American women—suggesting that the show’s best hope for long-term success is digging into the thrill, and the burden, of the mantle she takes up.
Pitch works because it indulges a compelling fantasy, only this one is a lot less bleak. The idea of Ginny, a female pitcher signed by the San Diego Padres, is not completely far-fetched—there’s no reason, outside of social pressures, why a woman wouldn’t be able to hold her own in the entirely male institution of baseball. As played by the relative newcomer Bunbury, Ginny is a delightfully flinty and occasionally nervy champ to root for, and she helps Pitch’s pilot episode overcome some of its biggest clichés through sheer charm, even if the show’s long-term future is murkier.
In Pitch, Ginny Baker’s debut on the mound for the Padres is a national event, selling out tickets, packing the stands with young girls inspired by her example, and prompting sportscasters to compare her moment to Jackie Robinson famously breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. The show takes ample advantage of Fox’s resources to replicate the broadcast experience of a real game, down to interjections from talking heads like Katie Nolan and Colin Cowherd. At times, the entire thing feels like a massive cross-advertisement for Fox Sports 1, but that sort of synergy is so common in the industry today that it’s hard to object.
Plenty of things go wrong for Ginny, of course. Most of the team is skeptical that her inclusion is anything but a publicity stunt. The aging star catcher Mike Lawson (a neck-bearded Mark-Paul Gosselaar) can’t help but condescend, even after Ginny tells him she bought his rookie card as a kid; the manager Al Luongo (a grouchy Dan Lauria) is planning to bump her back down to the minors once an injured pitcher is back on the roster. Ginny’s biggest fans are her sharp-elbowed agent Amelia Slater (Ali Larter, her face in a permanent grimace) and the Padres owner (Bob Balaban), who knows a branding opportunity when he sees one. Behind it all is the looming specter of her father Bill (Michael Beach), who pushed her into the sport as a youngster with troubling intensity.
It’s Pitch’s future that’s more concerning. The most successful fictional TV shows about sports usually operate on the sidelines in some way, like HBO’s Arli$$ (about agents) or ABC’s Sports Night (about the behind-the-scenes of broadcasting). The great Friday Night Lights, about the culture of high-school football in West Texas, didn’t know what to do with its team by its second season, and only succeeded by rebooting its premise entirely in the third (essentially creating a whole new team from scratch). That would be tougher to pull off for Pitch since major-league sports are at their very core consistent: A team’s quality may ebb and flow, but it’s going to try and do the same basic thing year every year, meaning Pitch might eventually run out of material for Ginny.
Pitch ends with a surprising emotional twist that suggests a canny, if mawkish, attitude toward plotting. Though Ginny has started on the path toward impressing her teammates, there will be plenty more obstacles, big and small, for her to overcome in the coming episodes. If the pilot is any indication, Pitch will be slickly presented, rife with heartwarming moments, and feature a magnetic lead on the mound every week. In other words: so far, so good.
Pitch airs Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.
Check out the preview of next week’s show, embedded below: