Sports fans love the chance to see what goes on behind the glossy, clichéd-ridden scenes of professional teams, so last summer’s debut of Showtime’s baseball reality show The Franchise seemed like promising viewing.
The problem, though, was that The Franchise fell more towards the cliché of baseball being boring rather than the nation’s thrilling pasttime. Part of the issue seemed to be the team itself: the 2011 San Francisco Giants had set out to defend their World Series championship, which doesn’t make for terribly high stakes. Unless it’s your own team, there is very little drama in watching a city triumphantly bring home a trophy a whole year after the last time.
Meanwhile, either due to limited access granted to Franchise cameramen or due to the fact that it was a team largely consisting of ordinary (I.E. boring) individuals, there was very little personal drama represented in the season. Aside from the enjoyable moments featuring the sarcastic, slightly off-kilter Brian Wilson, my main memories of the first season involve what every fan is dying to know: what’s it like to recover from an injury, and is spending time at home with your family as nice as it seems?
Well, no more Mister Nice Team. The Franchise has found a new subject, an organization with much higher stakes than the Giants had last season. After winning the World Series in 2003, the Miami (née Florida) Marlins finished up 2011 last in its division and lowest in attendance. The team has undergone a makeover for 2012 with colorful new uniforms, a flashy new stadium, plenty of new players, and, most precious to The Franchise as a show, new manager Ozzie Guillen.
Naturally, without Ozzie, the season benefits from focusing on a team that actually needs to have a good season without looking like a bunch of rainbow-draped idiots, but even if they didn’t, I’m sure the producers are banking on Guillen providing more entertainment than three Brian Wilsons combined (via a braided beard). Guillen, of course, is known for being outspoken, profane, critical and silly, a pre-enlightened Charles Barkley of baseball. As a White Sox fan, I still love Ozzie but had to laugh when the Marlins management expressed such shocked dismay after their manager proclaimed his love for Fidel Castro. “This is not the Ozzie I’ve known for all these years,” laments owner Jeffrey Loria in tonight’s debut. Really? Because that’s exactly the Ozzie I’ve known, and I barely know him. The pearl-clutching seemed a bit disingenuous on the part of the Marlins management, but more importantly, it made for better TV than we got with the Giants. Ozzie gets upbraided by the management, chided by the media, cries, and it’s only the first half of the first episode.
Tonight’s installment begins with spring training and takes us all the way up to the beginning of this month, introducing us to a team that is consistently inconsistent. As an American League fan, I am not invested in the Marlin's record, but there is something a little bit satisfying in watching an organization that placed so much pride in its new gloss and edginess (Loria praises Ozzie, in the first team meeting, for dropping 97 f-bombs), fall on its face, as the team starts miserably, enjoys a hot streak and then slides again in the standings.
The question is, now that The Franchise has almost caught up to real time, can the producers sustain an ongoing narrative that will make the show compelling enough that we’ll care to tune in even if we’re already keeping an eye on the box scores and sports news? I’ll remain optimistic, as I feel drawn in by closer Heath Bell, whose vulnerability is captured as he asks Ozzie to back him up during a bad slump. Meanwhile, as a Chicagoan I can’t help but feel suspicious of pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who was known for his temper and theatrics on the Cubs. He claims he’s turned over a new leaf and doesn’t complain when Bell blows his wins, yet I’m not sure if one is technically demonstrating good sportsmanship when he is congratulating himself on not chewing out his teammates. Meanwhile, José Reyes and Hanley Ramirez seem pretty adorable and we haven’t even met one of the team’s other noteworthy new acquisitions, my former White Sox pal Mark Buehrle.
Regardless of what happens, The Franchise seems determined to keep us more entertained than last season, whether by Ozzie or shots of tanned Miami beach bodies or fiery internal meetings or sculptures that feature fish spinning, spinning, spinning into the future. We’ll see if the season, like the team itself, has got more to offer than a new paint job.
- There’s something about Marlins president David Samson that rubs me the wrong way. He’s like an obnoxious version of Chris Traeger from Parks And Recreation.
- I enjoyed seeing José Reyes’s point of view of what it’s like to come home to your old stomping grounds after you’ve been traded.
- I’m curious to see if the Marlins’ wives get nearly as much attention as the Giants’ did. The Marlins/Rays wives’ charity softball game seemed to be set to the same soundtrack and same general sense of absurd novelty that the Puppy Bowl does.
- As Ozzie delivers his “fight fucking back” speech towards the end of the episode, I’m left wondering whether there is really anything that can be done to help a slumping team, or if all the speeches and what not are just bullshit ways to bide time and pray for luck.