Review: Big Shot 2021 Tv Series By David E. Kelley
Having been fired as head coach of the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team — he threw a chair during a game that hit a referee — he meets with his agent (Adam Arkin) in the opening moments of the new Disney+ series Big Shot to find out what his next gig might be. Will he be forced to coach for a Division II or Division III college team? Actually, no, his agent says. The only job he could find for Coach Chair Chucker is as the leader of a basketball team at the Westbrook School for Girls in La Jolla, Calif.
High-school basketball. Girls’ high-school basketball. This is insult on top of multiple injuries, in Marvyn’s mind. But of course, once Marvyn, played by John Stamos, gets to know the members of the Westbrook Sirens, he realizes, as anyone who has ever watched a sports movie or TV show could guess, that he has as much to learn from them as they do from him.
Yes, the premise of Big Shot is familiar, but it’s more satisfying and dramatically fulfilling than you might expect. Co-created by David E. Kelley, Dean Lorey, and Brad Garrett, Big Shot takes its time with everyday moments, from the frustrating drills Marvyn runs during two-a-day practices to the battles with teachers who expect players to make schoolwork a top priority at all times. The show is less concerned with the big games than it is the work that gets put in privately, both on and off the court, when no one’s watching and there’s all the time in the world on the clock.
Big Shot is one of many sports shows that have garnered attention during the past year. In addition to high-profile documentaries such as The Last Dance, Tiger, Cheer, and Last Chance U, scripted shows about competitive sports have been having a moment too, thanks to The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, also on Disney+; the hockey-centric Beartown, on HBO Max; the cheerleading thriller Dare Me, sadly cancelled after one season; All-American, a CW show that many discovered on Netflix during the pandemic; and, of course, Ted Lasso, the buzzy, award-winning Apple TV+ series about an incurable American optimist coaching British soccer.
Big Shot stands out in this field for a significant reason: Its competitors are exclusively young women. While television has given us a few series about female sports — the aforementioned Dare Me was one, and 2016’s Pitch, about the first woman to play Major League Baseball, another — it’s still a rarity. Considering all the conversations recently generated during the NCAA tournament about the lack of respect shown for women’s basketball, Big Shots is both overdue and arriving at just the right time.
One of the show’s great assets is its cast of young women, who look like actual teenagers who might show up on an actual high-school basketball court. Louise Gruzinsky (Nell Verlaque) stands out, not only for being the best player on the team but also for immediately clashing with Coach Korn, in part because she is under so much pressure to succeed from her father, whose deep pockets helped bring Korn onboard. Korn slowly begins to develop more of a bond with another player, Destiny (Tiana Le), though things start on a rocky note there as well. At the first practice, the coach points to Destiny and tells her she needs to lose five pounds. When she confronts him later, she’s in tears but shows no weakness. “They all said that you were a psycho,” she tells him. “They were wrong. You’re just a bully.” Le, who played Dayniece in season one of Insecure, gives a really grounded, authentic performance in the series.
Read More: Stowaway 2021 By Joe Penna
Destiny is right. Korn can be a bit of a bully. He’s aggressive, blunt, arrogant, and rubs almost everyone the wrong way out of the gate. He’s basically the anti–Ted Lasso. Stamos leans into all those qualities while punching just enough holes in Korn’s hard shell to allow his compassion to peek out. This is not exactly an ideal time to build a show around an angry white man who believes he’s owed redemption, but Stamos finds a way to effectively bring out the character’s vulnerabilities so that we can at least empathize with him, even when he makes choices that are not ideal.
This lets the show’s star off the hook. A genial, likable actor, Stamos is unconvincing as a Bobby Knight-esque terror of a coach. It’s little wonder that what we see of his time as a college-sports rage-monster is brief and choppily edited. Someone we’re told was cruel even by the standards of college coaching downshifts easily to, if not cuddly, then at least amiable. Much of the performance is simply being John Stamos. The kids on Stamos’ team have an easy chemistry, but other adult roles tend towards the schematic.
Which is fine: This is a show for kids and their parents to watch together. But one wonders, first, what exact involvement David E. Kelley had in a show that feels so underwritten, and then, why this is a TV show in the first place. It’s not that there isn’t room in the marketplace for pleasant stories about overcoming obstacles as a team — and that team teaching Coach a few things, too. It’s that those stories’ flaws used to be elided by their existing in 90-minute movies, not 10-episode seasons of television. The endless space of streaming allows for a show like “Big Shot” to sprawl, to unfurl further than the story can sustain it. This is above all else, to borrow a phrase from Coach Korn, a show that could stand to shed a few hours.