I have a pretty set routine with the podcasts I listen to. On my Monday commute to work, it’s always (barring repeats and clip shows) Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. On the Friday commute home from work it’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Many of the others regulars — WTF, The Leonard Lopate Show, Fresh Air, Hang Up and Listen — depend on the topic and/or guest.
Then there’s Extra Hot Great. I have a hard time with this television-centric program only because it’s almost always, well, great. Usually I don’t want it to be over, knowing I have to wait a week for the next one. And when it’s not on because of one reason or another, I go through withdrawal.
Almost every EHG includes “The Canon,” an inside-baseball analysis of one episode of a TV program meant to be indicative of the best of the series as voted on by that week’s panel which usually consists of hosts David T. Cole, Tara Ariana, and Sarah D. Bunting, plus a revolving “valued guest.”
In the latest podcast, Bunting — an unabashed baseball fan surrounded by seemingly non-fans; I’ve written about her in the past — offered “The Unnatural,” an episode from the sixth season of The X-Files.
Now, I was never a regular consumer of the cult classic show, but if I catch wind of anything that has to do with baseball, I’m in. Well, just about; I never watched Baseball Wives or the season of The Bachelorette which featured a former pro ballplayer.
Long story short, “The Unnatural,” written and directed by David Duchonvy (FBI Agent Fox Muldur) tells the tale of an extra-terrestrial who visits earth in the 1940s, falls in love with baseball, and decides not to return to his native planet. At least I assume it’s a male ET; who knows if such a construct exists on the home world. He shape-shifts into the form of Josh Exley, an African-American (Josh Gibson nod?) so he can excel at the game yet play in relative obscurity in a pre-Jackie Robinson world. In the episode, Excley is challenging the single-season record of 60 home runs set by Babe Ruth.
Trying to avoid spoilers, for both the X-Files and EHG episodes, here’s my two-bits:
- The baseball-loving alien (an extension of the late 19th/early 20th century immigrant/assimilation experience?) is played by Jesse L. Martin, perhaps best known for his role on Ally McBeal, Law and Order, and The Flash. For someone who’s supposed to be an elite great athlete, his on-field scenes looked less than such. He’s certainly no Charlie Sheen or Kevin Costner (although he is better than Tim Robbins, Anthony Perkins, and William Bendix).
- Am I the only one who finds actors wax way too poetical when discussing baseball. Listen to both M. Emmett Walsh and Duchovny’s soliloquies, especially when the latter tries to “convert” his partner, Agent Scully, to the joys and deeper meanings of the game. Maybe it’s because I’m already sold that I find such dialogue a waste of time.
- Exley’s team is based in Roswell, of course. Was New Mexico a bastion of social progress? It would appear so, based on the very deferential treatment he receives from his bodyguard, a white cop portraying Walsh at a younger age.
- At the end of the episode, Muldur is taking batting practice. The balls seem to come in quick succession, don’t they? It’s only later in the scene that we see they’re delivered via a hand-fed pitching machine.
- His batting lesson with Scully is miles behind the Costner-Susan Sarandon version in Bull Durham. (And the line describing the bat as a fine “piece of ash?” Really? What are we, 12?)
- I would have preferred this as a longer episode; things just moved a bit fast for me and seemed rushed. Just sayin’.
You can watch “The Natural” on various on-line streaming services, as well as Netflix and Amazon.