'Back in the Game' Review: James Caan's Gruff Persona Powers Boundary-Pushing Pilot

'Back in the Game' Review: James Caan's Gruff Persona Powers Boundary-Pushing Pilot

The big news, and the good news, of Back in the Game is that James Caan is returning to television.

Caan is one of the more underrated actors of his generation, and he’s great in the new ABC comedy. In fact, he’s the best part of the show. He plays up his age and rough around the edges persona, earning some real laughs and genuine moments. Too bad the rest of the show can’t quite live up to the legendary actor’s efforts.

The comedy, premiering at 8:30 p.m. EST Sept. 25, is about a middle aged woman (Maggie Lawson) that loses her money, her house and her life (yet not her kid…) in a messy divorce and is forced to move back home with her father (James Caan).

The two have their issues. Her father forced her into baseball and was apparently a little too aggressive in her training. He spent too much time being a coach and a middle-aged wreck than a father. All that good stuff. To cut to the chase: the woman and her father team up to train a group of misfit kids that don’t make the school baseball team (one of them is her son).

Back in the Game is not a terrible show (at least based on the pilot). It’s actually funny and has a lot of moments. The problem here comes down to tone and originality. The Cullen brothers (Cop Out) wrote the pilot and Glenn Ficarra/ John Requa (they wrote Bad Santa) direct, so it’s no surprise that the show pushes the boundaries as far as language and mature material go.

What I’m trying to say is that the show belongs on a network like Showtime or Starz. That’s not because the pilot is outrageously inappropriate for cable TV; it’s because the only funny and good parts of Back in the Game are where the boundaries are pushed, the humor feels more off the cuff and the themes get a little more mature. These aspects to the pilot are wonderfully written and very funny. But Back in the Game seems to want it both ways because the other parts of the show fall apart.

There are more than a few eye rolling moments of predictability and “seen this before” scenes. The show wants to aim itself to families and kids and be an innocent little ABC pilot when it is not.

You can feel the show deep inside Back in the Game aching to get out. Sadly, we will never see it because mature audiences will feel the show doesn’t quite hit the mark and family audiences will shy away from this show’s sometimes crude sense of humor. Oh well.

Note: While I saw nothing wrong with it (the show’s writers were trying to be funny and, in some sense, they were), I can already hear GLAAD’s footsteps coming for this show. There’s a young boy on the team that is said to be “gay” and he acts like a total stereotype. He’s feminine, dances and he’s only twelve. When you have a misfit team in a story, you have to embrace stereotypes to knock them down later, but it’s hard to imagine our crazy politically correct society understanding much about storytelling. Then again, maybe GLAAD will ignore it because there’s no outspoken conservatives behind the show (Caan seems to keep to himself).