Big Shot, starring John Stamos, Jessalyn Gilsig, Yvette Nicole Brown, and a slew of talented young women performers, could be summed up as “life according to basketball.”
A quick internet search provides many articles about the important lessons basketball teaches, but Coach Marvyn Korn (Stamos) still has a lot to learn despite his celebrated accomplishments in the NCAA.
By the time we catch up with Coach Korn, his 12 conference titles and three championships are old news, and finding his next coaching gig doesn’t come easily.
So when he’s offered an opportunity at an all-girls high school, he’s not eager for the new experience but resigned to the fact that it’s the best he can do for now. Still, Marvyn Korn has been propelled all of his life by his father’s words — he’s an embarrassment — to do everything he can to prove otherwise.
It’s not a coincidence that a man driven by his father’s approval becomes the girls’ high-school basketball coach, as paternal issues drive much of the Big Shot narrative.
Coach Korn should have a lot of knowledge on teenage girls, being a father to one himself. But Emma (Sophia Mitri Schloss) lives far away from her father after her parents’ divorce.
A seemingly healthy and warm telephone relationship doesn’t quite stack up against the pressure of leading young women with whom he has no familial connection or understanding of their journey so far.
Helping in that arena is assistant Coach Holly (Jessalyn Gilsig). Holly welcomes what Coach Korn can bring to her team, even if it seems like an opportunity for her to land the gig has come and gone for reasons not apparent through the first three episodes made available to critics.
For Coach Korn to be a mentor to his young charges, he needs Holly’s full support, which she gives willingly because of how passionately she cares for the team and the girls’ development.
Coach Korn’s first meeting with the team doesn’t go well. Coaching youth basketball is vastly different than even its only-slightly-older college counterparts, but the difference between the sexes is a far more difficult challenge for Coach Korn.
He might be in over his head, but Holly has sage words of advice for him. “You’re not equipped. Welcome to high school.”
Right out of the gate, Coach Korn inadvertently fat-shames a student named Destiny (Tiana Le), who calls him out on it. Her honesty and determination eventually lead to an understanding and camaraderie between the two, one of the series’ highlights.
Mouse (Tisha Custodio) is an eager-to-please young woman struggling with her sexuality and her sexual identity. Somewhat of a brown-noser, she’s always the first to side with Coach Korn. That she’s so fully aware of how to get on the right side of adults and peers alike only makes her personal struggles more charming.
Then there’s Louise (Nell Verlaque), the most talented team member with the most athletic ability, and she knows it.
Like her new coach, Louise is driven by her father’s involvement in her life, but unlike Coach Korn, she’d prefer her freedom. Many children are plagued by parents who want to live out their fantasies through them, and Larry Gruzinsky (Michael Trucco) fits that description to a T.
Presiding over the school is Sherilyn Thomas (Yvette Nicole Brown). Responsible for bringing Coach Korn to the school to raise the team up, she’s impressed with strong-willed and passionate people, whether they’re students or faculty.
By coaching the girls, Marvyn realizes that the importance of his father’s message not to be an embarrassment pushed him to give his best effort no matter what he tried.
Even if he lost himself in the process, striving to be the best meant he always tried his best, and that’s all he wants from his team — to try their best, whether they win or lose.
Of course, along the way, Coach Korn will come to terms with his relationship with his father, as well as upping his own game as a father to Emma, and the lessons he teaches the team are invaluable to them and us.
This isn’t a game-changing series. Strong performances don’t necessarily make up for common themes we’ve seen before, but they help them feel well-worn instead of threadbare.
The most interesting performance comes from Stamos, who carries a perpetually hardened look on his face that overrides the softer heart Coach Korn often reveals. It’s not a stretch to say that Coach’s bark is far worse than his bite.
Overall, the result is an uplifting, feel-good show with a lot of heart, appealing to people of all ages. Children see who they want to be, and adults realize who they can be.
One of Coach Korn’s threads of advice is that good players make themselves better, but great players make everyone around them better.
Similarly, a good show continues to grow with each episode, but a great show helps you grow from watching.
Big Shot has the potential to be a great show if it continues to grow episode by episode and ultimately offers something unique to the genre rather than rehashing stereotypical stories.
Big Shot premieres on Disney+ on Friday, April 16.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.