The Bad News Bears, a deliriously funny 1976 film about a Little League team of outcasts and cast-offs, has had a long and mostly inglorious afterlife, spawning two sequels, a remake and even a short-lived TV show notable mostly for giving Corey Feldman his first starring role. (Your objection to my dubious usage of “notable” is, well, noted.) Their quality has ranged from “tepid” to “possibly associated with brain cancer.”
Finally, though, we have a worthy — if unofficial — successor. ABC’s new sitcom Back in the Game is a gleefully misanthropic clone of The Bad New Bears . And however many points you dock it for lack of originality, you’ve got to give back double for ferociously funny execution.
“Clone” is probably not quite the right word for Back in the Game, which varies the Bad News Bears formula in one key way: The team is coached by a single mom. Maggie Lawson (the lithe blonde cop in USA’s Psych) plays Terry, an All American softball player in college until she lost her scholarship to an unplanned pregnancy and her sanity to her overbearing ex-jock dad (James Caan), who once peed on home plate after a loss.
Estranged from both baseball and her father, she begrudgingly reunites with the latter after a disastrous divorce and reluctantly agrees to coach the Little League team her son has joined to impress a girl. Her players are an amiable bunch of spastics and slackers whose skills are not enhanced by her father’s efforts to help coach. (“Hit that first kid right square in the face,” he counsels a pitcher. “You’ll scare the crap out of all of them.”)
No matter who’s on screen or what they’re doing, Back in the Game is gut-bustingly hilarious: A fascist father, after seeing a fly ball dropped, snarls, “I wish I were 12 so I could punch that kid.” Maggie’s son, Danny, fends off a bully by kissing him. (“That kid’s scared of me now,” he brags to a girl, who muses, “You’re weird. I like that.”)
But the best scenes are those between Lawson, still brimming with unspilled rage over her mis-parented childhood, and the unrepentant Caan. Almost any memory can trigger her rants, especially the barbaric recollection of her first menstrual period. “You told me to walk it off!” she shouts. As one of the other moms tells Terry: “You have issues. We’re going to be great friends.’’ Oh yeah.