I’m no champion of sports analogies, but if you enter a game, you better be ready to leave it all on the court. Disney’s Big Shot, from David E. Kelley, Dean Leroy, and Brad Garrett, is positioned as a touching sports show about the relationship between a coach and his players, but it lacks the stakes that ground this genre and make a story compelling.

John Stamos plays Marvyn Korn, a college basketball coach looking for a comeback because of his poor likability despite an impressive record of titles. Korn ends up at an all-girls’ private high school in California, thanks to an overzealous parent who paid for the new gym and wants to ensure a basketball scholarship for his daughter. Marvyn has his own teen daughter back in Chicago (Sophia Mitri Schloss) but the universal expectations for his new job are low; he will fail, whether by driving everyone away or simply losing game after game.

Big Shot struggles with its Ted Lasso-lite premise, if only because of the inevitable comparisons to Ted Lasso and to another surprisingly poignant sports show, Friday Night Lights. Big Shot wants to scratch that exact itch, where the joy of sports brings audiences together and the universality of human experience tugs at their heartstrings. Sadly, it fails at both.

Marvyn (John Stamos) and Holly (Jessalyn Gilsig) coach a high school girls' basketball team on "Big Shot," on Disney+.

Marvyn (John Stamos) and Holly (Jessalyn Gilsig) coach a high school girls’ basketball team on “Big Shot,” on Disney+.

Image: disney+

Not that Big Shot is explicitly bad. It’s just fine, but fine is damning in the shadow of giants. When Coach Korn gives his inevitable climactic locker room speech in the pilot, it’s to echoes of Eric Taylor that fall flat. The three episodes Disney screened for review do little to establish the girls of Westbrook, the outside relationships and desires that make characters tick and would bolster their connection to basketball in this context. Maybe Big Shot would work better as a movie as it struggles to sustain story over its run.

Like Netflix’s Ginny and Georgia, there’s a disconnect here between how the adults and teens are written and portrayed. A crackling scene between Marvyn and assistant coach Holly (Jessalyn Gilsig)  — sandwiched among a lot of hokey filler about doing your best and playing as tEaM — is a rare exception from mostly clunky dialogue and plotting. There’s so much dividing Marvin from his new charges that it muddies every conflict; is this a generational gap? A gender issue? A disparity of wealth and privilege? Because it could be any, or all three. 

Episode 2 does introduce a teacher with wildly elitist academic views (Toks Olagundoye) — and a supremely posh English accent to underscore it. She butts heads with Marvyn and his daughter on the way that sports overshadow academics — which is entirely valid but poorly argued on the show. Of course education matters; the entire crux of the college admissions scandal was that affluent parents let their students’ learning fall by the wayside and sometimes used athletics to weasel their way into elite institutions. It’s a larger conversation than Big Shot is ready for and one it can’t engage in beyond painting Ms. Grint as a villainous killjoy. 

Ultimately, Marvyn is not the character this show thinks he is. He’s described in episode 1 as “toxic,” with vague references later to his poor treatment of college players and throwing a chair on at least one occasion. Maybe it’s Stamos’ past filmography come back to haunt him, but we never see that version of Marvyn. He’s hawkish about training the girls, but no more than expected, and has an obvious soft spot for them from the start because of his own daughter. Any conflict intended to stem from the fish-out-of-water premise is watered down to the point of impotence. Principal Thomas’ (Yvette Nichole Brown) teasing “You’re connecting with these girls!” doesn’t land because Marvyn connects with them from the jump. 

Big Shot is a perfectly adequate show ostensibly targeting a teen audience for Disney+. The cast makes the most of awkward moments, but the lingering feeling three episodes in is that no one is sure exactly which show they’re on. Is this the FNL drama? The quirky new comedy? Like so many other shows, maybe Big Shot is testing out a bunch of possible plays — and failing to score.  

Big Shot premieres today on Disney+, with new episodes every Friday.