Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," wrote Tolstoy. Ol' Leo was not a big baseball fan, but his aphorism gets at the challenge faced by Showtime and MLB Productions with The Franchise, their new weekly reality series about the San Francisco Giants. (The six-episode run began on July 13.) As with other sports cinema-verité programs, such as HBO's Hard Knocks and 24/7, the producers have been granted behind-the-scenes access. Those other series, though, featured either struggling teams (the Chiefs, the Bengals), a pitched rivalry (Capitals-Penguins) or a larger-than-life character (Rex Ryan). These Giants, by contrast, are basking in the glow of the club's first world championship in San Francisco and a sparkling current season. So in the opener, we see a sunny bunch, often portrayed in quick, superficial vignettes. That doesn't always make for gripping TV.
Still, The Franchise is never less than watchable. Clearly, the hope is to make a Rex Ryan--like star out of closer Brian Wilson, he of the demonic gleam. Another blithe spirit is third baseman Pablo (Panda) Sandoval, who exults when a scale reveals he has lost 35 pounds. And we are on hand as righthander Matt Cain changes diapers.
The first episode covers, seemingly from every possible angle, catcher Buster Posey's season-ending injury on May 25. But the most poignant story arc belongs to righthander Ryan Vogelsong. A journeyman long shot for the rotation, he pitches so well that manager Bruce Bochy, who's also the NL skipper, names him to the All-Star roster. When Bochy breaks the news, the manager gets misty as he says, "This is an awesome moment for you but for all of us too." If The Franchise can summon more such moments, it might have its own championship season.