In conception, The Franchise is not a very complicated show -- it tells human interests stories in the context of the Giants season with a healthy dose of insider access. It's built for a large audience, and as such is at its best when it's largely positive.
The Giants need to be good in order for that approach to seem natural and not manipulative. Otherwise, as in last week's episode, it can feel like the producers are glossing over the real story of the team. It can't all be puppy dogs and ice cream.
The Giants have been rather depressing to follow lately. And while episodes of The Franchise typically run five days behind their air dates -- this week's stopped right before the team traveled to Florida to face the Marlins last Friday -- the show still must reflect the dread that seems to follow this team around every corner. When a new player seems to lose a toe every four hours, there's no way to think things are going well.
This episode somehow communicates those doldrums without dwelling in them. Like most installments of this series, it's heavy on human-interest stories, this time for the two most popular players on the team. After staying out the limelight for the first five episodes, Tim Lincecum takes center stage in this one, or at least as much of it as he's comfortable claiming. Using his terrific win against the Phillies on Aug. 7 as ballast, the producers posit Lincecum as an enigmatic personality who rarely opens up to fans or the press, instead preferring to communicate his style on the mound.
In the interview, Timmy stays humble, mentioning that he's "fortunate enough to play a game [he loves] and do it for a living" without seeming fake. He's also willing to make fun of himself, like when he says that he looks more like "the kid riding his skateboard down the street or some shit like that" than a two-time Cy Young winner.
Teammates make up the rest of the profile by suggesting that Lincecum is actually vocal in the clubhouse, singing songs and playing games with teammates to keep things light in the midst of a losing streak. Showtime's access is key here, because a few clips of Lincecum playing dominoes with Brian Wilson and Guillermo Mota shows that he is approachable and likable when out of the spotlight. This profile isn't especially fresh or insightful, but it's done in a way that feels useful. A show about the Giants needs to involve Lincecum, and The Franchise did it in a way that will embarrass no one.
Brian Wilson, the episode's other star, has been covered enough that it's tempting to think Showtime decided to use the Giants for this series just so they could film and interview him. At some point, their obsession may get tired, but it hasn't yet -- in large part because Wilson himself is such an interesting person. Apart from an unnecessary and repetitive bit on the pressure of closing games, this week's travels with Willy focused more on his relationship with his father, Michael, who struggled with cancer for almost all of Wilson's adolescence. It's a heartbreaking story -- Wilson says he barely saw his father because he was in the hospital so much -- and one that becomes even tougher when you learn that Michael thought he'd beaten cancer, only to find out two months later that he had a brain tumor from taking experimental drugs.
It's a story that has little to do with the Giants' season, but sometimes stories are touching enough that they transcend being manipulative.
Lincecum and Wilson take up the bulk of the runtime, but Showtime also found some room for third-base coach Tim Flannery, whose performance of the national anthem with Grateful Dead stalwarts Phil Lesh and Bob Weir takes up a few minutes. It's a very light segment, and not just because Flannery speaks of Lesh and Weir as if they've never been off-key in 45 years with no hint that he's in on the joke. There's little backstory here -- narrator Andre Braugher doesn't even mention that Flannery has released several albums of music -- but it makes for a fun digression from another loss. Plus, Bob Weir now looks like a 19th century gold prospector, and I really miss Deadwood.
So, there are three main segments to this episode, and all are either positive, touching, or so overtly comedic that The Franchise now seems like more of a comedy than Weeds or The Big C. Yet the Giants still come across as a team in the midst of a soul-crushing slump, mostly because the producers use the short amount of time they devote to these troubles as best they can. There is no listing of injuries or statistical breakdown, but audio clips of KNBR morning host Brian Murphy, "highlights" of the entire lineup grounding/popping out, and cutaways to players with expressions of anguish get the point across pretty well.
To show that the team stinks right now, the show need not spend the whole episode being in a depressive funk. Succinct communication of the failure will do just fine. If we have any luck, though, this won't be an issue for the rest of the show's run.
* Several clips of Lincecum in this episode come from A Day in the Life of Tim Lincecum, an enervating half-hour special that ran on CSN Bay Area this winter. Have you ever wanted to watch your favorite player get into an intense game of FIFA on the PS3 or order cheap strip-mall teriyaki? This is your chance!
* Flannery tells Deadhead Bill Walton that Weir and Lesh gave him a high harmony for the anthem. However, I'm sure both forgot the plan two minutes later, so any screwups shouldn't be placed on Flannery's shoulders.
* Showtime got some very interesting footage of Freddy Sanchez at his home in Arizona while watching a loss just a few days after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. He looks antsy and very ticked off at not being able to help the team right now. His family's also nowhere to be seen, which suggests they've learned when to leave him alone.
* The episode ends with Sergio Romo mashing buttons on an arcade-style video game machine in the clubhouse. At least we now know how why he has elbow inflammation.
* Showtime announced this week that they've increased the episode order for this season from eight to ten, so you'll be spending a few more weeks with me on The Snitch!
Eric Freeman has lived in San Francisco his entire life. He writes daily for Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie NBA blog. His new sports journalism, The Classical, is currently raising money on Kickstarter. Follow him on Twitter @freemaneric.