BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- There are two shows struggling to exist in one in the ABC comedy "Back in the Game" (8:30 tonight, WTAE).
One is about former all-star softball player Terry Gannon Jr. (Maggie Lawson, "Psych") and her relationship with her hard-charging estranged ex-athlete father, Terry Sr. (James Caan), who goes by "The Cannon." This show is pretty terrible.
Mr. Caan plays such a lizard-like, unpalatable character that it's hard not to look away whenever he's on the screen.
The second show is not at all novel, but it's at least easier to take: "Back in the Game" is essentially a "Bad News Bears" reboot as Terry Jr. agrees to coach a little league team full of misfits (fatties, twins, kid in a turban, flamboyant boy, etc.), including her son, Danny (Griffin Gluck).
"The only thing that kid's gonna catch is a beating," says coach Dick Slingbaugh (Ben Koldyke, "Work It") after he sees Danny miss catching a pop fly.
"I wish I was 12 so I could punch him," says another coach.
Anger and threats of violence course through the show, from The Cannon's advice to Danny to essentially assault a bully at school to Terry Jr.'s decision to throw a pitch at a rival coach's head. This part of the show -- all stemming from The Cannon -- is mean-spirited and ugly.
Other aspects of the show are more watchable. Anything with the kids tends to be amusing, and Terry Jr.'s friendship with a rich British-accented mom, Lulu (Lenora Crichlow, "Being Human"), is a delight.
Lulu brings tequila to the game to share with Terry Jr., who throws a drink at a coach after he bad-mouths her son.
"You have issues," Lulu tells Terry Jr. "We're gonna be great friends!"
It will be interesting to watch this internal struggle for the soul of "Back in the Game" play out in future episodes.
The show's executive producers are brothers Mark and Robb Cullen, best known for the short-lived dark FX comedy "Lucky," which aired in 2003 and featured Pittsburgh native Billy Gardell in a supporting role. It seems likely that they're pushing the show's darker elements.
This comedy does have a Pittsburgh shout-out in a scene set in The Cannon's garage toward the end of the half-hour. Look for an Iron City Beer logo hanging above a work bench.
After a recent ABC press conference for "Back in the Game," Mark Cullen said "Back in the Game" is set in a fictional Southern California town thousands of miles from Pittsburgh.
"We're from Philly and have spent some time in Pittsburgh, and it's a personal favorite," he said of Iron City Beer.
Robb Cullen gave the placement context within and outside the show.
"The Cannon traveled around a lot to a lot of minor league teams, and he had a stint in Pittsburgh," Robb Cullen said. "Also, Billy Gardell is one of our best friends in the world, and it's a little homage to Gardell. It's a little wink-wink."tvradio
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.