Ferrell Takes the Field – Review


HBO has found success in the docu-style comedy this year. Earlier this summer, Andy Samberg starred in the documentary epic that followed fictional tennis greats Aaron Williams and Charles Poole. The next HBO special to follow that formula is Ferrell Takes the Field.

Ferrell Takes the Field is a documentary-style look at comedic actor Will Ferrell’s day-long journey to play all nine positions, plus the designated hitter, for ten major league baseball teams. Questions linger before Ferrell gets to his first game. Can he do it? Does he have the skill? Can the crew physically make it to all five games in a single day?

The trip begins in the early morning hours in Arizona during MLB’s spring training. The plan is to go to five games and play for all ten teams, playing one position for each team. Ferrell visits the Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A’s, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants in the 24-hour period.

Ferrell takes spring training seriously

From the documentary’s opening scene, it’s made clear that this stunt is for a good cause. Ferrell isn’t doing this to promote future projects, or just as a funny bit. It’s produced by Funny or Die and in part by Ferrell’s college friend Craig Pollard. Pollard, a cancer survivor himself, is the founder of Cancer for College, a charity that funds scholarships for cancer survivors. Ferrell Takes the Field helped raise a million dollars for the charity, which funded scholarships for over 100 students.

After the early explanation of the documentary’s motives, Ferrell is its rock. The comedy machine is kept running solely by his unwavering dry wit. What makes Ferrell Takes the Field work is his ability to play his role as a straight ball player. He plays it as if he’s a top prospect for these ball clubs. Ferrell plays it to a T, from outrage at the GM when he gets traded to disappointment when he misses a play.

Ferrell is all business from his first role as shortstop for the Oakland A’s: high fiving players and runners for a good play, signaling fake signs at the dugout. It’s all handled in classic, sarcastic Ferrell fashion. He never cracks a smile to break the illusion. His footage on the field is edited with on-camera testimonials about the team and position from Ferrell himself. This narration provides the most laughs throughout the show.

Will Ferrell ends his MLB journey as a San Diego Padre

Ferrell fills space for his first two outings for the A’s and Mariners. He sees his first action during his turn at center field for the Reds. He fields the ball well and makes the routine play to the cutoff man. The crowds are all in on the bit and give him a standing ovation.

Ferrell ends his journey as a San Diego Padre, and with a rousing speech about his brief time in the MLB. It’s a highlight of the special, with clever bits comparing his career to baseball greats. It would’ve been even better if the speech hadn’t been the narration of the promotions leading up to Ferrell Takes the Field. I had heard the speech several times before the air date thanks to the show’s trailers.

The running gag of Ferrell as a struggling rookie wears thin midway through his journey, as the the routine becomes predictable. Ferrell plays his position for a partial or whole inning, Ferrell gets traded, Ferrell gets outraged. It’s played well well, but there isn’t enough variability to the formula. Fortunately, it’s hard for a 45-minute special to overstay its welcome.

Ferrell Takes the Field doesn’t quite match the zany hilarity of this summer’s Seven Days in Hell, but it does provide steady laughs throughout its tenure. It’s not easy for Ferrell to be the sole driving force behind the comedy for an entire special, but he’s as game for that role as much as the baseball positions he’s shown playing. After all, the purpose of this was to raise money for charity. Entertaining the audience was a secondary objective.
HBO Binge Review Grade: B