Big Shot review: John Stamos-led Basketball drama is surprisingly refreshing for a dated template

If you've been a fan of the 80s sitcom Full House, the first thing you're likely to notice about the Disney+ original show Big Shot is that Uncle Jesse still has a great head of hair. In this largely made-for-young-adults show, actor John Stamos (with his spectacular locks and easy affability firmly in tow) plays Marvyn Korn, a disgraced NCAA superstar coach who's looking for a new gig to tide him over awhile.

The crime that forced him into exile? He threw a chair during an intense college game in a fit of rage, an act he knows he'll have to live down for the rest of his life. Suddenly, his multiple college championships notwithstanding, Korn is radioactive. No one wants him coaching at college after his outburst; and Korn, who lives and breathes basketball, sees his life fall apart. (For context, NCAA's Division 1 basketball championship, dubbed March Madness, is a collegiate event that brings in over a billion dollars of advertising revenue over March and April each year.)

And so, in an effort to make the best of the situation and bring his life back on track, Korn takes up a gig at the elite Westbrook High School across the country in California, as basketball coach to a bunch of high school girls who aren't particularly good at winning. This setup occurs in the first few minutes of the first episode - and even as it is unfolding, you realise that nothing about the premise of the show seems particularly original.

Hotshot coach, underdog team. Teething issues, personality clashes. Frustration, redemption. Whether you're thinking The Mighty Ducks or Chak De India, the template is the same. (Sure enough, if the first episode of the show doesn't remind you of the first act of Chak De, I'm willing to try eating a hockey stick.)

Big Shot 640
Big Shot 640

Still, one of Big Shot's big victories is that even though it seems like the kind of story that should have been made a while ago, it also seems to pack in some extremely relevant messaging for today. This is driven by the context of the coach's new team being ultimately a bunch of teenaged girls - not the easiest phase of life to deal with, from the inside or out. So, for example, one of the very first things Korn does when he meets his new team is tell one of the girls that she's five pounds overweight. The girl doesn't take it well, and she goes up to the coach in private soon after and tells him that his fat-shaming hurt her.

This sums up pretty much all of the conflicts on the show. Every time an issue pops up, it finds its resolution almost immediately after. Even though a number of moments seem to escalate the stakes and make you worry about the girl or girls in question, the show quickly resolves it, puts your mind at ease and moves on. In a world where arcs, storylines and conflicts often take years and seasons of storytelling to play out, this instant resolution is actually a rather refreshing aspect of Big Shot, because it maintains its earnest, feel-good naïveté all through, making rather fun (if a long attention span isn't one of your strong suits).

For something co-created by prolific writer-producer David E. Kelley, the man behind several iconic shows over past decades - Doogie Howser MD, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, and more recently, Big Little Lies, among so many others - Big Shot often seems surprisingly basic. Korn, the proverbial fish out of the water, is built up as a guy who could lose it at any moment, but he seems willing to learn how to deal with young girls almost from the get-go.

He talks a tough talk, but he happens to have a teenaged daughter himself. So, what you get is a man learning things that men should have learned a long time back. Korn deals with his own personality issues and daddy issues while trying to make what's essentially a temp gig work, trying to infuse his new wards with the kind of passion and discipline that champion teams usually display.

big-shot-1
big-shot-1

'Tough love', that great con of Big D*ck Capitalism, finds its match with the goings-on at Westbrook, as Korn learns that you can teach a sportsperson aggression without being an a-hole. He also learns that while he might be the star in the room, there exist people who don't really care how big your boots are, or how high in the clouds your head is.

Like the show itself, Stamos doesn't really dig deep. He coasts on personality and charm, as the girls and women around him make the show what it is. Yvette Nicole Brown dishes out a school principal for the ages with her character Sherilyn Thomas, while Jessalyn Gilsig and Kathleen Rose Perkins do what Stamos doesn't (or doesn't need to) with their characters (assistant coach Holly and drama teacher Miss Goodwin respectively) - craft them into wonderfully weird people that astonish you with their choices.

Despite being thoroughly predictable all through its 10 episodes from a sports-plot perspective, Big Shot surprises you in a number of ways. The same-sex teenage romance that is treated by the creators (as well as the other characters) just as any other school-time romance would be; the little ways in which the characters in the show let their guard down and reveal their cracks; Korn's own handling of the sudden explosion of female energy in his life, both as coach and as father; and mostly, the five girls at the heart of Team Westbrook Sirens - much of the joys of the show lie not with the progress of the team, but with the evolution of the girls that are in it.

In this golden age of streaming, Big Shot may not fall into the category of Peak TV, but it's still a direction I'd consider pointing in, if I was asked to recommend what show a teenager should watch today.

Rating: 3/5

Watch the trailer here

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