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Disney+'s Big Shot is a familiar sports drama, but it’s more satisfying and dramatically fulfilling than you might expect

  • "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," says Jen Chaney says of the John Stamos-led show created by Brad Garrett, David E. Kelley and Dean Lorey . "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 Shot 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."


    • Big Shot is so hollow that it's insulting: "At a moment when the potential to finally make women’s basketball a mainstream phenomenon is so real, to introduce as big a swing-and-a-miss* as Big Shot to the mix—literally A DAY after the 2021 Draft!—feels not just like a lost opportunity, but an insult," says Alexis Gunderson. "(*I’d apologize for mixing my sports metaphors, but with a creative team as happy to admit their absolutely galling lack of basketball knowledge as Big Shot has in producer Bill D’Elia and star John Stamos, I’m not convinced the show would notice.) ...In terms of setting up the kind of fish-out-of-water story Big Shot wants to tell, this really couldn’t be much bleaker. It would be one thing if the series evinced any kind of winking awareness of the fact that it might be a bit out of touch, in the year of Our Ladies Aari McDonald, Paige Buekers, and Caitlin Clark 2021, to frame the prospect of coaching teen girls as literally the worst professional punishment someone like (Stamos' Coach) Korn could possibly receive."
    • Big Shot, despite feeling dated, works because of the "sheer power" of John Stamos: The reason why Big Shot feels dated is because ABC originally rejected it six years ago. But Stamos' mere presence is able to overcome that. "He doesn’t play Marvyn as an outright villain nor an ignorant man who genuinely doesn’t see the error of his ways," says Kristen Lopez. "The character’s selfishness is always apparent (he has the ability to rent out two long-term hotel rooms at a posh La Jolla inn, after all). But Stamos finds a way to keep that charm and likability on the surface of the character. You keep watching because he’s so compelling to watch. This is especially clear during the basketball sequences, when Korn eschews selfishness and remembers his love of the game. Stamos gets the opportunity to have some strong monologues, mostly in the way of pep talks. One, about the team going out and doing their best, enters into the grand tradition of sports monologues. As the season progresses, and Korn brings his daughter to live with him, Stamos is given more opportunities to see Korn’s vulnerabilities and humanity that he does well even if it is not on the page."
    • Big Shot, while perfectly amiable in most respects, often fails to sweat the details in the way that a tough coach would demand: "Big Shot is similarly guilty of assuming the clichés of the genre will work the way they always do, and that the appeal of forever TV star Stamos will paper over the rest," says Alan Sepinwall. "The former proves more correct than the latter: Even at its sloppiest, the show knows which beats to hit, and when, regarding the players’ relationships with both Marvyn and each other. And the girls are all well cast enough to make you root for them. Stamos is the tougher fit. He’s done drama before (he filled the Clooney slot in the final seasons of ER, for instance), but usually as nice guys not too far removed from Uncle Jesse on Full House. That seems to be where this role is eventually headed, but first he has to play a far more abrasive Marvyn, and his heart doesn’t seem in it. He’s neither as cold nor as tough as the role demands at this stage, seemingly only comfortable once Marvyn starts making an effort to connect with his daughter and with players like Destiny. It’s not that the evolution is supposed to be a surprise, but when you cast Stamos to play a younger, handsomer Bobby Knight, you’re essentially sacrificing the growth part of the story that’s supposed to make the later beats more potent. And the series’ gentle comedy needs someone more fundamentally caustic than Stamos is. Marvyn says and does obnoxious things, but he never seems to mean them, and that makes a big difference."
    • Big Shot is a sport show afraid of conflict: "I'm no champion of sports analogies, but if you enter a game, you better be ready to leave it all on the court," says Proma Khosla. "Disney's Big Shot, from David E. Kelley, Dean Leroy, and Brad Garrett, is positioned as a touching sports show about the relationship between a coach and his players, but it lacks the stakes that ground this genre and make a story compelling." Khosla adds: "Big Shot struggles with its Ted Lasso-lite premise, if only because of the inevitable comparisons to Ted Lasso — and to another surprisingly poignant sports show, Friday Night Lights. Big Shot wants to scratch that exact itch, where the joy of sports brings audiences together and the universality of human experience tugs at their heartstrings. Sadly, it fails at both."
    • Big Shot is a surprisingly loveable sports drama: "Out of all Big Shot’s small pleasures, the one I appreciate most is its generous approach to character development," says Judy Berman. "The show could have forced its narrative into any number of convenient contemporary frames, casting Marvyn as a victim of cancel culture or a prime example of toxic masculinity or a tough-talking boomer ready to whip some Gen Z snowflakes into shape (one already-dated trigger warning joke in the premiere notwithstanding). Instead, it does the increasingly rare work of showing us characters who slowly improve themselves, as players and as people, by engaging in good faith with other flawed but ultimately well-intentioned characters. More of this, and fewer franchise special-effects spectacles, please."
    • If Big Shot is able to find its footing, it’s thanks to Stamos: "He renders a believable performance—Marvyn’s discomfort at this major life change eventually transforms into subtle acceptance and joy," says Saloni Gajjar. "The actor can pull off comedy, as witnessed in his early years on Full House and the more oddball humor of Grandfathered and Scream Queens—but here he shows off his more dramatic side. The role isn’t as hard-hitting as Marc Maron’s Sam Sylvia, but Stamos brings warmth to his role, sometimes slipping into the comfortable Uncle Jesse mode to better suit the wholesome ethos and target audience of Disney+’s teen offerings. Marvyn’s prickly exterior also finds an effective counterbalance in Holly Barrett (Jessalyn Gilsig), his down-to-earth assistant coach, as the two strike an improbable friendship."
    • Big Shot avoids cliché, which lessens the drama: "I'm not sure Disney+ has done a good job projecting that Big Shot isn't a comedy; you can see how this description might lead to an expectation of Bad News Bears-type hijinks," says Daniel Fienberg. "But one of my favorite things about the show is how it steers into situations that could be sitcom-y and then avoids easy punchlines. This isn't a team of hilariously inept misfits tripping over shoelaces and bouncing balls off of each other's faces. They're an undersized crew losing games because other schools have better players, but you can see immediately that with some proper motivation, they could become a team. The avoidance of cliché is welcome. At the same time, in reducing the gulf between the team Coach Korn inherits and the team we know they'll become, Big Shot reduces its dramatic arc to nearly nothing. 'Ragtag misfits have to learn the game from scratch to go from ineptitude to champions' is a gripping story. 'Average players learn to pass and become better' is a training montage. If Big Shot were fully invested in the individual players, perhaps this wouldn't be a problem, but the players' backstories after three episodes (out of 10) sent to critics can be boiled down to 'daddy issues,' 'daddy issues' and more 'daddy issues.'"
    • 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," says Daniel D'Addario. "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."
    • Stamos gives one of the most heartfelt performances of his career: "Only John Stamos could walk into an NBA practice, call it a rehearsal, and still endear himself to a legend like Jerry West," says Brady Langmann, who interviewed the actor. "Second: When you watch Big Shot, you'd think Stamos could pass as Pat Riley's slightly-more-handsome, much-younger brother. He has the suits. The edge. He throws a chair in the first episode. Stamos nails the manic energy of an overworked hoops coach. But over the course of the show—which is firmly and beautifully imbued with Disney Sports Movie DNA, humor and moral lessons and all—Stamos gives one of the most heartfelt performances of his career. Big Shot is about what it means to be a dad, have a father yourself, and someday, make peace with losing that father. If you had any doubt, Korn comes to love the young women he coaches—but not before they coach him up. He even does that Uncle Jesse thing where he puts his arm around someone and gives the advice that changes everything, in only a line or two."
    • Why Yvette Nicole Brown was drawn to Big Shot: "The David E. Kelley part of it was like, 'What!?' And then, you know, you add John Stamos to that, and then it’s a show about empowerment and young girls finding their voice and unapologetically going for what they want out of life," she says. "All of that just made it wonderful. And then to get to play the head administrator, the dean, the principal of this school of wonderful women… It was an embarrassment of riches, this show."
    • Sports-averse John Stamos just wanted to work with David E. Kelley: "I got a call from my managers and they said you’re going to get an offer for the new David E. Kelley show," he says. "I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I love David, and I said, 'Am I playing a lawyer? Am I playing (someone) on Big Little Lies?' They said, 'No, it’s about basketball,' and I was like, 'Oh no.'" Stamos adds that he signed up for Big Shot because "I saw a show about a guy who was very polarizing, and stuck in his way, and did things his way. In his mind, to have to coach high school girls is the worst thing in the world. Turns out it isn’t, and for him to come in and just let go of those (preconceptions) and connect with these girls, that’s a show that I wanted to be a part of."
    • Stamos says learning basketball lingo was more difficult than learning medical lingo on ER: “I was a band geek in school, I’m a band geek now — I never played sports, I didn’t watch sports,” he says. “It was harder for me to learn basketball lingo than medical lingo when I was on ER playing a doctor, I’m not kidding.” Eventually, Stamos said he learned the role enough to impress NBA legend Jerry West, who advised him.

    TOPICS: Big Shot, Disney+, Brad Garrett, David E. Kelley, Dean Lorey, John Stamos, Yvette Nicole Brown