‘Pitch’ Review: Kylie Bunbury on Deck for Stardom in Baseball Drama

But Fox series still has to work on some finer points of the TV series game

Ray Mickshaw / FOX

Live sports are typically among the higher-rated offerings on television, but scripted series revolving around the subject often don’t fare as well. Which is a shame, because the new baseball drama “Pitch,” from Fox, is a show that deserves to be seen.

Sadly, in 2016 a story of a female who plays professional baseball has to be described as “groundbreaking” simply for the fact that it hasn’t yet happened in real life. And so the pilot mirrors reality by treating the situation as the phenomenon that it is. When Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) is called up from the minors to make her big league debut, she not only has to face the pressure of becoming the first professional female player, but she also has to make her start on the mound–one of the most pressure-filled positions in the game regardless of whether you’re a trailblazer.

Add in a clubhouse that isn’t entirely happy to have her there, a catcher (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) who thinks the whole thing is a publicity stunt and a massive audience that could turn on Ginny in a heartbeat, and there’s lots of stuff for a great drama built into the pilot.

Bunbury is a star in the making as the leading character, but there are plenty of kinks to work out. Given how important this show will be to a large female audience, it’s a shame the writers pull away from that gravity with a predictable plot twist toward the pilot’s end. If you’re going to introduce a surprise element like that (sorry, no spoilers), it has to make sense to the overall story. Showrunner Dan Fogelman‘s other fall series, “This is Us,” is a perfect example of how to execute a turn in that sense. In the case of “Pitch,” the writers were hoping to establish character motivation, but thanks to flashbacks and exposition aplenty there is no need. As a result the revelation could have been executed in a fresher, more relevant way without jeopardizing the overall story.

Given the premiere’s big-screen feel, it’s also hard to see how the show will continue to pack the emotional punches and find story drivers in subsequent weeks. While it’s clear there are grumblings in the clubhouse over Ginny’s arrival, it seems a little juvenile to assume those same men who oppose her playing on the team would continue to have a job if this were real life. Then again, it’s also surprising that so many people out there continue to oppose female participation in a major-league sport even if they do boast the same skill-sets as a male.

Fox is touting this one as “a true story on the verge of happening,” which may seem self-important, but it could also be true given minor league team Sonoma Stompers’s recent acquisition of a female pitcher and a female outfielder. For now, viewers have to rely on Bunbury’s take on the situation, which is a captivating one full of weighted scenes. In terms of technical performance it’s obvious she spent a lot of time brushing up on her throwing skills. Her batting know-how, however, will come in a future installment (her team, the San Diego Padres, are in the National League).

Gosselaar, who has had a hard time ditching his “Saved by the Bell” persona over the years, is unrecognizable thanks to some newly acquired facial hair. As a result viewers will pay more attention to his equally strong performance and interactions with Bunbury throughout the hour. Mo McRae, Ali Larter and Tim Jo round out the solid cast, making for a pretty entertaining hour. If you’re female and you love the game, you may even fist-pump at some point.

Is “Pitch” really as groundbreaking as it seems? Only the coming weeks will tell, once the buzz and novelty of the pilot wears off and real story is established. But kudos should be given to Fox for taking such a swing in the first place, as female ball fans everyone cross their fingers that this will be the one that knocks it out of the park.

“Pitch” debuts Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. on Fox.