The Disney+ original has tired jokes and an even more forgettable performance from John Stamos.
Did you know Disney+ has original TV shows that don’t belong to the Marvel and Star Wars cinematic universes? It’s true! The streaming service also has a bunch of programs that are just too edgy for the Disney Channel, but not compelling enough to make it on other streaming platforms. A great example of this is the new John Stamos sports show Big Shot. Hailing from creators David E. Kelley and Brad Garrett, the show will prove revolutionary to those who have never seen any kind of inspirational sports storytelling before.
Stamos plays Marvyn Korn, once the most in-demand basketball coaches around, until he threw a tantrum during a game and threw a chair at a referee. Dropped from the NCAA, Korn needs a comeback. However desperate he is for a gig, though, he still isn’t chomping at the bit for his new job of coaching the Westbrook Sirens, a girls’ private high school basketball team. See, he’s a macho guy who doesn’t care about “hurting feelings,” and they’re all a bunch of girls who are all teenagers and you can probably guess where this show is going from here.
Six minutes into its first episode, Korn walks onto the basketball court and is greeted by a player who informs him they don’t use whistles here because “it’s triggering.” That establishes the kind of humor you see throughout the first three episodes of Big Shot. This is a program aimed squarely at older viewers who have nostalgia for older Stamos shows, and are terrified of whatever Fox News tells them is the boogeyman of the week. Yes, Big Shot isn’t just a rerun of every other sports movie, it’s also yet another story about an old white dude showing “over-sensitive” youngsters how the “real world” works.
This means the script is packed with lines of dialogue praising Korn to high heaven (multiple characters talk about how attractive he is) and gags that’ll induce facepalms rather than chuckles. The first episode alone includes a whole sequence defending Korn for fat-shaming a player and a squirm-inducing gag about a lesbian team player. The latter gag will make you wonder if maybe it’s better for Disney programming to stop doing queer representation altogether.
Not only are these tired gags reflective of a toxic political ideology, they’re also emblematic of the larger writing problems at play in Big Shot. For instance, the high school girls Korn is hired to coach warm up to him before the first episode is halfway over. Where can the coach/player dynamic go from here? The following two episodes suggest there won’t be much variety to the storylines in Big Shot. Korn will get on someone’s nerves. The other character will briefly bristle before realizing his wisdom. Balls will be thrown into hoops. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
These narratives are so rigidly assembled it has no room for either laughs or, even more disappointingly, effective pathos. The best sports dramas can make the sappiest storylines effective tearjerkers if you execute them with enough conviction. That’s the quality that separates the We Are Marshalls from the Remember the Titans. This is where Big Shot stumbles the most. The three episodes sent for review can barely generate a pulse, let alone enough commitment to make their lazy plots work.
The phoned-in nature of this whole production is embodied by a lifeless performance from Stamos. You need some real charm to pull off a role like this and he just doesn’t have it. He’s constantly smirking and quipping his way through the role of Korn as if it will magically give the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. In the end, he just registers as smug. The various team players have no discernible individual personalities and simply serve as interchangeable mouthpieces for today’s slang (“That lip gloss is fire!”). Meanwhile, poor Yvette Nicole Brown is woefully underserved in a thankless supporting role as the school’s principal.
The show will prove revolutionary to those who have never seen any kind of inspirational sports storytelling before.
These various performances prove especially underwhelming when they’re asked to handle the Big Shot’s attempts at “serious” storytelling. The same can be said for the directing from Bill D’Elia, particularly in the shows third episode. Here, a significant tragedy in Korn’s life calls on the program to handle a new level of depth. For the occasion, D’Elia opts to coat the screen in a light blue hue and resort to an on-the-nose autotuned needledrop. All of this is to ham-fistedly convey the idea that the viewer is supposed to be sad.
Neither the directing nor Stamos as an actor are up to the challenge of tugging on your heartstrings. Then again, neither element is really up to the challenge of doing anything right in Big Shot. In the middle of this show’s various stumbles at delivering entertainment, I found my mind wandering. Specifically, I kept wondering who exactly this show is aimed at. Kids won’t be entertained by any of this largely slow storytelling. Why would they want to watch Korn take assistance coach Holly Barrett for a tedious “after-work beer” when they could just watch The Mandalorian on the same streaming service?
Adults, meanwhile, will be even more bored while soaking in this program. If you’re over ten years old, you’ve seen everything here before. The snappy dialogue trying to emulate Joss Whedon quips; the story of a hardened coach having a soft side; unexpected team players rising to the occasion. Big Shot rehashes these familiar storytelling details with a level of panache that echoes Air Buddies rather than Air Bud. The ball is in the court of Disney+ viewers everywhere, who will really score if they opt to watch anything but this.
Big Shot premieres on Disney+ April 16th.