The dual offerings from Dan Fogelman this season both have a pivotal plot point to propel them, but the September 20-debuting ensemble starring Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia on the Comcast-owned network is a real tearjerker that pays compelling homage in many ways to a time when the Big 3 dominated TV. On the other hand, the Kylie Bunbury-led sports drama about the first woman to play for a Major League Baseball team, which launches September 22, leans toward a future likely not too far down the road. But it’s still too close to call if the show created by Fogelman and Rick Singer can sustain week after week once the premise is established and you get by this powerful pilot.
Fortunately for the fast-paced, high-production-value, crisp quips and fastballs of the clearly empowering Pitch, the Paris Barclay-directed pilot reveals that Bunbury is well up to the task of shouldering the weight of a gender and a generation as San Diego Padres pitcher Ginny Baker takes the mound. With the right-off-the-top Jackie Robinson comparisons, Pitch is a team effort. That includes NYPD Blue alum Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the initially dismissive Padres captain and, having been cast in the role originally held by Elisabeth Shue, Ali Larter as relentlessly focused sports agent Amelia Slater hitting a few home runs of their own in the pilot.
Game changing aside, corporate convergence is notably on the table with Pitch. Having Bunbury’s Baker playing for real-life team the Padres and MLB deeply involved in the show, the series also provides baseball-broadcasting Fox not just with a swing at a future that is coming and should be welcomed in real life, but a great way to pitch eyeballs to Fox Sports. With logos, talking heads and graphics, Fox Sports adds a calculated level of authenticity to the series as it shows up here a lot – all of which might help America’s pastime itself, which needs a ratings jolt and some real drama.
Jolts and real drama are not lacking in the tearjerker deluxe of This Is Us, though originality might be. Even though it takes a shot at modern sitcoms, the core of the show reeks of old-school network TV with the intertwining tales of several characters sharing the same birthday. Cloying but hoping to burst the dark-cynicism boil that has popped up on the body of television in recent years, This Is Us is a pleasant plethora of tropes and twists that reminds all of us, even those who never watched it in its heyday, just how influential the 1987-91 ABC series thirtysomething really was — at least tonally.
If the 100 million-plus views the trailer for This Is Us has gotten since it debuted in May is any indication, that’s going to be a good thing for NBC. Seemingly adding new cast every day, This Is Us is a surprisingly effective simulacrum of a different era update for today with a bordering on infectious optimism. As I also say in my video review above, honestly, who doesn’t need a good cry at least once a week?
So, as Premiere Week kicks off the 2016-17 TV season, click on my dual review of This Is Us and Pitch above and tell us what you think of these two series.
This review originally was posted on September 16.