Each week (or not), Dan McQuade reviews a baseball movie. Since he hasn't turned in one of those in a while, Dan will also be reviewing MLB Network's six-episode reality show The Pen, featuring the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen, airing Sundays at 8 p.m. on MLB Network.
I watch a lot of bad television. I watch Family Feud for an hour most nights, enjoy scanning the channels I'm not even sure really exist (ION Television? Totally fake.) for hilarious new infomercials after midnight and have sat through several different episodes of Peter Popoff Miracle Manna. I have a clip saved on my computer of Kevin Federline defeating John Cena in a wrestling match. I will watch ESPN Classic skateboarding just to see the old espn2 graphics. I've seen every episode of Pitchmen.
Point being: I like TV. I might like bad TV even more. As such, it is with no hesitation that I jump into the pool for MLB Network's first-ever reality series, The Pen. The things I do for you, the fans, I know. The show will follow around the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen from spring training to the All-Star Break, presumably teaching us what to do if you have, say, 50 games to sit out at work because you took a banned work drug. Ooh, and Mitch Williams narrates.
The series opens with this shot, ostensibly of the Philadelphia skyline from Citizens Bank Park (~50 miles away).
Clearly, The Pen's producers decided to ignore the "reality" part of "reality series." Anyone who's been to Citizens Bank Park knows the view of the skyline looks more like this (sign photo courtesy of phillyskyline.com):
The Pen's storyline is this: The Phillies won the World Series last year, and the bullpen was absolutely spectacular. Brad Lidge went 48-for-48 in save opportunities, Ryan Madson threw like 99 mph in the World Series and J.C. Romero hit 73 homers. ("Whoops, looks like we should have followed them around last season instead!" should be the show's tagline.) Now they have to defend the World Series title with, as Mitch Williams says, "high expectations for the Phillies bullpen this year, not to mention a lot of fanfare -- like the kind of attention that has led to the first reality series for MLB Network."
Mitch's narration allows The Pen to show clips of his spectacular saves (NLCS Game 6, 1993) and failures (as a Phillies fan, none that I know of). This means we get to see Wes Chamberlain stumble as he goes out to celebrate.
Way to go, Wes!
The first episode begins with the main bullpen members -- Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey, Scott Eyre, J.A. (pronounced "Jay") Happ, bullpen catcher Mick Billmeyer -- introducing themselves as the team begins Spring Training. And the plot devices are set up: Some of these pitchers might not make the team!
But, actually, all the aforementioned pitchers (and one bullpen catcher) do make the team. Here's where The Pen is kind of weird: Most reality shows -- indeed, most non-fiction television shows in general -- have this forced awful forced drama that usually pains me to watch. It occasionally works, and a reality show that begins in Spring Training has a lot of decent drama already. Problem is, I already know what happened. I already know J.A. Happ made the team and Kyle Kendrick didn't. The teaser for next weeks episode asks, "Who will get sent down when J.C. Romero comes off suspension?" To quote Beerleaguer: "Spoiler alert: Sergio Escalona." Don't worry, he wasn't in the first episode.
There's also, throughout the show, this weird echo effect on some of the interviews. It's incredibly annoying. Agh, it's driving me nuts just thinking about it.
Anyway: Most of the first episode was, for me, a recap of what I already knew. I know Jack Taschner got traded to the Phillies near the end of Spring Training and he made the team, and I certainly know Brad Lidge blew his first save against San Diego and back-to-back ones against the Yankees later. I wonder if, next episode, he'll go on the DL?
That's not to say The Pen was devoid of any interest, even if it didn't have Kevin Trudeau calling Matthew Lesko "one of my heroes." (Have you seen that new infomercial yet? You gotta. Stay up late and watch it. Call out sick from work the next day if you have to.) Pro sports reality shows -- e.g., Hard Knocks -- work when there's behind-the-scenes stuff you don't normally see, like a seemingly asleep Charlie Manuel bashing Jack Taschner.
Or Ruben Amaro mixing up metaphors, I think.
Or even learning how to report a crime in Pinellas County!
It almost makes me want to move down there so I can report some crime. Did you know Pinellas County is contained entirely within area code 727, except for sections of Oldsmar (which has 813)? Thanks, Wikipedia!
Erhm. So: Yeah, I don't know. I enjoyed the first episode, but that's because it was about the Phillies. It could definitely pick up. Especially if we see more of Jack Taschner's wife, the Official First Babe of MLB Network Reality Television.
She just had a kid, too! Impressive.
The first episode of The Pen went all the way up to the Phillies-Yankees series late last month, so I can only assume by episode four we'll be into the postseason. I guess this show is going to get pretty dramatic by the end.