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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Franchise Season Finale Recap: Out with a Whimper

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2011 at 8:22 AM

Last night marked the end of The Franchise, so it's time to take stock of the series. In many ways, it was a success, providing a most-access look into the Giants while also doing a serviceable job of telling the story of the team. On the other hand, it was often rudimentary and repetitive, recapping some of the team's games in broad strokes while not fully explaining just how bad the team has been over the past month.

Maybe the producers at Showtime and MLB Productions didn't get quite what they bargained for with this squad.

The finale was by far the worst episode of the bunch, but this half-hour also displayed some of the show's best and worst qualities. On the good side, the episode started with and later featured a very telling conversation between the franchise braintrust of Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean, Bill Neukom, and Larry Baer. Whether intentionally or not, it explains how the team has dealt with their recent struggles. 

Whereas some people may claim that the piss-poor offense is a result of poor roster construction, bad approaches at the plate, and misplaced faith in veterans, Sabean and Bochy speak of the team in terms of much less concrete qualities. A win against the lowly Houston Astros on August 21 is spoken of as if it may have been the turning point of the season, which fans know was obviously not the case. Similarly, Sabean praises the team for not being in "panic mode" and for always being "ready for the next game."

It's an outlook that deflects blame from any one person and places great faith in a turnaround. In other words, it's about classic baseball wisdom instead of a more scientific approach. Chemistry is a fickle mistress, though, and the same feelings and faith that lead to a championship one season can lead to disappointment the next. That the Giants let this August become such a mess before making a move -- which they finally did with the DFAs of Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada -- is on display in the conversation between this foursome. The Franchise is the only media with that kind of access, and for the most part they used it well over eight episodes.

On the other hand, this episode did a very poor job of explaining the Giants' continued struggles. While there's some voiceover narration about how far the team has fallen behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West race, this installment mostly just explains a week or so of poor performances of bad opponents with some brief clips of wins and some late-inning offensive failures. There's no real attempt to communicate just how awful the bats have been for the entire month of August; if anything, it just looks like the Giants have been in a slight slump instead of a historically bad funk.

That narrative decision would be excusable if this episode were overstuffed with content. But it's actually pretty bare, containing a nice two-minute segment on Mark DeRosa's attempts to contribute something in the face of two years of injuries and little else in the way of new material. Brandon Belt, Ryan Vogelsong, Pablo Sandoval, and Barry Zito get screen time, but everything is culled from previous episodes. Season finales shouldn't be clip shows, and this proves why. It all seems like a waste of time.

This is not to say that The Franchise was a failure as a series -- my past reviews state that it was mostly enjoyable. But the finale helps underscore that, in many respects, it was a missed opportunity. Despite being terrible, the Giants have been really interesting over the past month. For the most part, the producers of the series chose to keep things relatively light instead of wallowing in the suck and really getting inside what a clubhouse is like when a team is playing poorly.

The Franchise helped explain who the Giants are as people. But, given the access the series had over this stretch, it didn't tell the story of the 2011 team as well as it could have.

Miscellaneous Observations

* The closing credits feature some outtakes from interviews, all of which feature players swearing profusely. Showtime got to keep their brand alive that way, I guess.

* However, the real last scene of the series is a bunch of outtakes of Brian Wilson saying Brian Wilson things. It amounts to fetish porn, basically, so, uh, have fun with it.

* It shocks me that the series never ran an extended segment on long-time clubhouse manager Mike Murphy. That seems like a no-brainer if the goal is to tell the story of the sport's personalities.

* It's been fun, everyone. I'll see you next year when Brian Wilson gets his own variety show on the Hallmark Channel.

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.

Follow us on Twitter at @SFWeekly and @TheSnitchSF
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