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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Franchise Episode 3 Recap: Got Heem!

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 10:20 PM


Over the past few weeks, I've complained that The Franchise has too often focused on establishing and teasing out narratives rather than using its access to its best advantage. The first two episodes spent most of their time introducing the audience to players, sometimes more than once, and generally attempted to tell the story of the 2010 Giants in an amount of time that guaranteed it would feel incomplete. This series is unique because it shows parts of the Giants we've never seen before, not because it tells the story of the team especially well.

So I'm happy to say that the third installment of The Franchise is a success on all counts. This week's show finds the Giants floating in the doldrums between the All-Star Break and the trade deadline. Lacking any huge storylines, the episode glances over team's performance in broad, quick strokes, but focuses on the nitty-gritty of being on a professional baseball team.

Case in point: The centerpiece isn't an emotional story, but rather a prank involving Cody Ross finding Aubrey Huff's credit card and concocting a complicated story about illegal purchases in Tijuana. The idea is fairly simple: Ross grabbed Huff's card after a family event. He goes to Michael King, the team's traveling coordinator, and asks if he can tell Huff that the team got a call about $23,000 worth of explosives being put on his card. King complies, with Ross following up to tell Huff that the same thing happened to him a few years ago in Florida and that it took 18 months to clear his credit. Huff is distraught and begins calling various managers and family members to help him with the issue. After several minutes of Huff looking like he's about to vomit all over his locker, Brian Wilson approaches, throws the card in his face, and brings out his favorite catchphrase, "Got heem!" For a second, Huff looks like he is going to punch someone in the stomach. Then he laughs, gets up, and says that he has to go work on figuring out his swing with his "heart racing."

I swear this all plays much funnier on the show, in part because most of the humor comes from Huff having to deal with another headache in what has been a nightmare season. Mostly, though, it's great because we get to see a side of these players we usually only hear about. We've heard for some time that these Giants get along as well as any group of players in club history, but we've never seen it in this degree of specificity. We're being shown things we've only ever been told.

Huff gets some biographical backstory, too, but it's much shorter than similar tales in week's past. For instance, his struggles at the plate are told mostly in one short montage during which he makes nothing but weak contact followed by shouts of "Damn!" and "Fuck!" (Something tells me there were plenty of other examples left on the cutting room floor.) And when the show delves into his personal life, they focus on important and previously unheard specifics, including the very sad story of Huff's father being murdered while trying to break up a fight between a woman and her estranged husband, and Huff's single mother saving up enough money to buy her son a pitching machine when he was a kid. These stories aren't belabored over -- they're discussed just enough to avoid being manipulative while remaining touching.

The same goes for the treatment of Freddy Sanchez's rehab of his injured right shoulder. Because Sanchez is set to miss several months, the team allowed him to rehab at his home near their Spring Training facility in Scottsdale. As such, Sanchez splits his time between intense workouts and extended downtime with his wife and young children that he'd never get during a regular season. It's bittersweet, and the episode communicates that by showing the pain of his strengthening exercise as well as the joy on his face at birthday parties and spontaneous tee-ball games in the kitchen. It works because it all feels true to the experience, rather than like a narrative foisted upon the audience. Sanchez is suffering because he can't play, but also loving life because he gets to spend time with the people loves. It's a complicated situation that's presented as such.

If there's one problem with this episode, it's that the team's acquisition of Jeff Keppinger is presented as a game-changing move. To be fair, it was a big trade for a struggling offense, especially with the Giants getting little production from second base after Sanchez's injury. However, in the wake of yesterday's Carlos Beltran trade, the episode's focus on Keppinger's impact can't help but feel a little off. You have to wonder whether the producers will be forced to use a lot of the same tricks next week when they cover the run-up to Beltran's deal and arrival.

That said, the Keppinger saga is still interesting, because we get to see Brian Sabean's behind-the-scenes process. No, there's no moment of truth in which Sabean gets a call from Houston completing the trade. But we do see some moments we'd never see in any other outlet, or in any other form than from this reality show. That's when this series is at its best. If we're lucky, Showtime has figured things out and will keep producing episodes like this one.

Miscellaneous Observations

* A few great bits from the Huff prank: He initially thinks that someone bought drugs with his credit card, which forces Ross to tell him that it's not legal or even a practical move for a criminal. Also, Ross tells Huff things aren't so bad: "One good thing about it is you're rich."

* Huff's backstory gets some fantastic photo accompaniment, including a shot of him as a fat 8-year-oldwith a bowl cut. He had to have been the overgrown monster of his Little League team.

* At one point, Sabean claims that any frontline player will demand a "king's ransom" at this year's trade deadline. Does he think Zach Wheeler qualifies?

* Brandon Belt says that former minor league teammate Tommy Joseph calls him "the most awkward man in the world." I still think "The Emu" is a better nickname.

Eric Freeman has lived in San Francisco his entire life. He writes daily for Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie NBA blog and is one of the authors of FreeDarko's The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. He did not speak about the 2002 World Series at length until four hours after the Giants beat the Rangers in Game 5 last fall. Follow him on Twitter @freemaneric.

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