tv review

Big Shot Shoots and Mostly Scores

It’s not exactly an ideal time for a show about an angry white man who believes he’s owed redemption, but John Stamos effectively taps into Coach Korn’s vulnerabilities in Big Shot. Photo: Courtesy of Disney+

Marvyn Korn is a man with few options.

Having been fired as head coach of the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team — he threw a chair during a game that hit a referee — he meets with his agent (Adam Arkin) in the opening moments of the new Disney+ series Big Shot to find out what his next gig might be. Will he be forced to coach for a Division II or Division III college team? Actually, no, his agent says. The only job he could find for Coach Chair Chucker is as the leader of a basketball team at the Westbrook School for Girls in La Jolla, Calif.

High-school basketball. Girls’ high-school basketball. This is insult on top of multiple injuries, in Marvyn’s mind. But of course, once Marvyn, played by John Stamos, gets to know the members of the Westbrook Sirens, he realizes, as anyone who has ever watched a sports movie or TV show could guess, that he has as much to learn from them as they do from him.

Yes, the premise of Big Shot is familiar, but it’s more satisfying and dramatically fulfilling than you might expect. Co-created by David E. Kelley, Dean Lorey, and Brad Garrett, 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. 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 Shots 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. Louise Gruzinsky (Nell Verlaque) stands out, not only for being the best player on the team but also for immediately clashing with Coach Korn, in part because she is under so much pressure to succeed from her father, whose deep pockets helped bring Korn onboard. Korn slowly begins to develop more of a bond with another player, Destiny (Tiana Le), though things start on a rocky note there as well. At the first practice, the coach points to Destiny and tells her she needs to lose five pounds. When she confronts him later, she’s in tears but shows no weakness. “They all said that you were a psycho,” she tells him. “They were wrong. You’re just a bully.” Le, who played Dayniece in season one of Insecure, gives a really grounded, authentic performance in the series.

Destiny is right. Korn can be a bit of a bully. He’s aggressive, blunt, arrogant, and rubs almost everyone the wrong way out of the gate. He’s basically the anti–Ted Lasso. Stamos leans into all those qualities while punching just enough holes in Korn’s hard shell to allow his compassion to peek out. This is not exactly an ideal time to build a show around an angry white man who believes he’s owed redemption, but Stamos finds a way to effectively bring out the character’s vulnerabilities so that we can at least empathize with him, even when he makes choices that are not ideal.

Big Shot surrounds Marvyn with women beyond his players who hold him to higher standards, including Principal Sherilyn Thomas (an enjoyably impatient Yvette Nicole Brown), his assistant coach Holly (Jessalyn Gilsig), and his daughter, Emma (Sophia Mitri Schloss), who comes to live with Marvyn in episode three after her mother, Marvyn’s ex-wife, gets a work opportunity overseas. (Critics were given three of the ten episodes for review.)

The show certainly has some flaws. One wishes that Holly, for example, were more of a fleshed-out character; in the initial episodes, at least, her personality is basically “reacting to what Marvyn says and does.” The actual basketball scenes themselves don’t always have the urgency one would hope for in a show like this. And, as should perhaps be expected of a Disney series, some moments can get a tad hokey. But as an engaging family drama, and one that illustrates the obstacles girls face when they try to achieve in sports, Big Shot is mostly a winner.

Big Shot Shoots and Mostly Scores