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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Franchise Episode 1: Promising Rookie Looks a Little Raw

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2011 at 7:35 AM

When Showtime aired a preview for The Franchise in April, the Giants were only two weeks into the MLB season and still riding high in defense of their World Series title. Back then, the show looked like a window into the lives of baseball players, rather than a rough-and-tumble view of a team in the thick of daily tragedy and drama.

Three months later, the Giants have suffered countless injuries, have one of the worst offenses in the majors, and have nevertheless held on for a three-game lead in the NL West at the All-Star Break. With most every final score falling within a one- or two-run margin, they tend to play games that stay dramatic for all nine innings (and beyond), no matter which ideal eighth-place hitter is batting cleanup on that particular night.

Yet while the Giants seem made for the high-stakes emotional atmosphere of a TV series, they're also messy in a way that may not jibe with the sort of human interest stories laid out for The Franchise. Heading into last night's official season premiere, the series had to prove that it would stay true to the Giants experience of 2011 and not shoehorn in tales of typical reality show high-jinks, like making Sergio Romo spend an evening in the Pittsburgh dugout to find out if it's really haunted.

For the most part, the opening hour sticks to baseball, telling the story of the first 92 games of the Giants' season while also letting the viewers know a handful of players as people. Unfortunately, the results are mixed, especially for Giants fans, with forward momentum occasionally being impeded by the need to explain events and developments for more casual viewers.

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Most of the major events of the Giants season are present -- Buster Posey's catastrophic injury, Ryan Vogelson's Cinderella story, the offense's season-long slump, and team's general perseverance. But, for a diehard fan these stories are well-known, if not discussed to the point of exhaustion. No one in San Francisco particularly wants to relive Scott Cousins' May 25 collision with Posey any more than we already have, and discussions of Aubrey Huff's struggles don't make for particularly compelling viewing when he hasn't yet broken away from them. (The same does not go for Ryan Vogelsong, whose story is so amazing that it never fails to amaze.)

Worse yet, some of these stories are introduced in broad strokes. Huff's rally thong antics are seen at last November's victory parade with no added context; if you'd never heard of him, he wouldn't be so different from any weirdo at the Civic Center picking a bit of fabric out of his pants. Plus, certain stories are picked up and then dropped, as when Brandon "The Emu" Belt is shown returning to the clubhouse from Fresno following the Posey injury. Most fans know that Belt suffered a wrist fracture days later and hasn't come back to the big club since, but Showtime never mentions him again. If you didn't know better, you'd think he'd become a mainstay in the lineup.

To its credit, the show gets most of the stories right, barring a few well-placed highlights that give the illusion that the batting lineup has become competent, rather than an albatross round the collective neck of the pitching staff. In fact, it's possible that any impatience that develops while watching this episode might come from the fact that diehards like us know this team better than anyone else: I watched with a Mets fan friend, and she found the basic stories of Belt and others interesting.

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Eric Freeman


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