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Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Franchise Episode Five Recap: The Agony of Defeat

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 12:00 AM


The Franchise has been on a nice run lately, alternating Cliffs Notes of the team season with human-interest stories in the right balance. However, for all its successes, the producers have had an easy time drumming up content. The Giants have been a stellar team over the course of the series so far, but they've been good enough that it's been possible to tell their story in relatively breezy fashion. Add in some major events like the All-Star Game and the White House visit, and the show has been easy to watch. There have been fun events and dramatic moments, but not the sense that this team is somehow unworthy of being the only MLB squad with a premium cable series devoted to its trials and travails.

As most Giants fans know, the team has been terrible lately, losing 10 of its last 13 and giving up first place to an Arizona Diamondbacks team that isn't exactly lighting the league on fire. Showtime was faced with creating a compelling episode out of depression and ineffectiveness for the first time.

Sadly, it was not very successful. Whereas past episodes were structured around a few huge series wins, the fifth episode had only one series-salvaging win against the Diamondbacks last week to work from. While the show touches on the team's losses, it refuses to wallow in them, instead treating that lone Ryan Vogelsong win as if it were an oasis in the desert. And while that game was important for a team in need of a win, it also set the Giants back on a path of good fortune. This episode follows it up with clips from the first two losses against the Phillies, but seems to handle them as two games that ramped up the rivalry rather than a sign that the Giants aren't in the same class as Philadelphia right now. 

In the long term, that may be more sensible. For now, though, the handling feels untrue to the Giants' experience as it stands in the first few weeks of August. Having to deal with a string of losses, the producers don't seem sure how to shape a series that's at its best when it can carry the viewers on a wave of good vibes.

Even the human-interest side of this episode is a bummer. Its centerpiece is a profile of Andres Torres, a fanatical workout warrior and affable soul who has nevertheless struggled massively at the plate this season after 2010's breakout campaign. His segment covers a wide range of topics, from highlights to his early-career struggles in Detroit and Texas to some inside-the-clubhouse clips of him working with Carlos Beltran and Pablo Sandoval in the team's indoor batting cage. (Nate Schierholtz is there, too, but he mostly sits on a bench looking bored while everyone else speaks Spanish.) 

The latter is the episode's highlight: It shows Beltran's process in the cage -- he starts out swinging one-handed and only goes to the opposite field so it feels more natural in a game situation -- and features a host of conversations on the science of hitting. While this bit probably appeals most to former players and baseball obsessives (of which I am very much one), it's the kind of thing you could get only from The Franchise. It also shows that, even if Beltran hasn't performed very well since his arrival, he's a positive presence in the clubhouse. Plus it provides a view of Torres that suggests he works so hard that he gets down on himself and presses in the midst of struggles.

Otherwise, this episode is light on substance. There's a brief look at Friday night's brawl with the Phillies, but little explanation beyond a few clips of the major events and some postgame comments viewers could have gotten from any other media outlet. It was a missed opportunity, but my guess is that few players on the team wanted to discuss the events. When they're playing so poorly, it's tough to get too hung up on a fight.

That fight is the last event mentioned in Episode 5, so Showtime will have at least two wins to cover next week. For the sake of this series (and, uh, my favorite team in any professional sport), I hope things get better. If this week was any indication, the show suffers under the weight of too many losses.

Miscellaneous Observations

* Bruce Bochy says he had "quite a few" fights during his younger days. Probably after people made fun of his giant head.

* Orlando Cabrera is interviewed while wearing a T-shirt advertising The Franchise. How meta!

* The episode opens with various members of the team playing "golf" with a baseball and bat in Cincinnati. Holes include the 404 sign in centerfield, a rolled-up hose on the pitcher's mound, and the tunnel from the dugout to the clubhouse.

* The bumper at the end features people playing pranks on each other with a fuzzy boom mic. Let no one ever say that baseball players do not know how to entertain themselves. The audience is another story.

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 last fall. Follow him on @freemaneric.

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