Friday, July 15, 2011

So far, 'The Franchise' is for SF Giants fans only


It was a box of chocolates.
"The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants" kicked off Wednesday night on Showtime. There will be five more hourlong episodes, so maybe the meat and potatoes are on the way.
The first installment wasn't deep, there were no shocks or surprises, but maybe that's going to be part of the charm of the series. Every other TV reality series strives mightily for the shock and the cheap (and unreal) dramatics.
This one is gimmick free. No Kardashians, no trumped-up plotlines, no zany judges, no potty-mouth football coaches.
But for a series promising viewers unprecedented access to a baseball team, the first installment came off a little puffy.
For Giants fans it had to be excellent watching, glimpses of the team you won't get anywhere else. Nice home/family footage of Matt Cain and Jeremy Affeldt. Nice glimpses of Bruce Bochy and his staff.
For the rest of the baseball world, it will be interesting to see if the series reinforces the image of the Giants as zany, offbeat guys having fun playing a game, or causes folks in New York and Philadelphia to roll their eyes and switch the channel.
There are some nice moments. Aubrey Huff remembers facing Ryan Vogelsong years ago when he was a Pirate. Huff relates how he said to Vogelsong, "Wow, time really flies, doesn't it?" And Vogelsong replied, "Maybe for you."
The star of the show? Because everyone else seems kind of normal and real, the guy who jumps out is Brian Wilson. There's a shock. I don't know how the outside world sees Wilson, but as presented here, it would be hard for a Giants fan not to hang on every Wilson scene.
Wilson talks about the moment he learned of the death of Osama Bin Laden. He was watching TV and turned to the news because he'd been watching "CSI: Miami" and he figured out the ending so he switched channels. Nobody figures out the endings to any CSI shows. Maybe Wilson really is smarter than the rest of us.
You wonder if the editors and producers were ever tempted to say, "Let's just turn this into a Brian Wilson documentary."
There was weird stuff. Several cuts to the meetings inside Brian Sabean's tiny downstairs office (he's got a bigger one upstairs) before every home series. Bochy is there, and team boss Bill Neukom, and Larry Baer, and you anticipate you're going to get a glimpse of the brainstorming that goes into making the Giants tick, but you get just patter and cliches. It's like eavesdropping on five random fans chatting over a water cooler.
Vogelsong is a star, a man still in disbelief at how his career and life have suddenly turned to pure gold after years of struggle. He talks about how a starting pitcher makes 30 or so starts in a season and he's lucky if he has his best stuff four or five of those times.
Buster Posey shows a moment of emotion when he is asked if he would let one of his kids become a catcher. "No way! No chance!"
Good work on digging up old footage of Bochy as a big-league catcher, getting blown up on a play at home plate. You see why Bochy has been outspoken on the need for rule changes. He's been there. And wow, back then Bochy appeared to weigh about 140 pounds.
Bochy is shown giving his hitters a pep talk, telling them they have to "turn it up a notch." Bochy is a man of cliches, but they're delivered with conviction and sincerity, and his players never doubt that he has their backs.
Got to love the scene where Bochy tells Brandon Belt he has made the big-league team, Belt gets emotional and Bochy, not wanting to send the kid back to the clubhouse in tears, says, "You can hang with me for a while. Need a beer?"
Another great scene: Belt, just recalled from the minors, walking toward the Giants' clubhouse and being beeped out of the way by a cart transporting the injured Posey.
The Giants' brass had to be happy with the first episode. Not one scene for which the Giants are going to have to publicly apologize, except maybe the scene where Huff is dancing on a TV show.
What's missing? Hey, you can't cover everything in one episode, but I'd like to see more of what has been the big theme of the season, the Giants emerging as baseball's thin-ice team, an offensively challenged club somehow thriving on the daily high anxiety. The torture.
So, not a lot of hard-edged stuff yet. But give the Showtime folks credit, they have taken the phoniness and unreality out of reality TV.

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