If somebody says that Boardwalk Empire is the best show on HBO, I immediately discount all their future opinions. If they say The Newsroom, I automatically think they like verbal flexing. If it's True Blood, they love fleshy guilty pleasures. If they say Game of Thrones, they're... probably right. But! I would argue with them until the end of days that Hard Knocks, the fantastic documentary series on a NFL football team, is consistently better than anything else in HBO's lineup.
The two reasons people don't watch Hard Knocks:
- They're not sports fans
- They are sports fans but they're not interested in the current team (in this case, the Cincinnati Bengals) featured on Hard Knocks
But that's being as simple minded as saying I'm not watching Breaking Bad because I don't care about the dad from Malcom in the Middle, meth and Albuquerque. Or that just because I don't like fantasy, I won't enjoy Game of Thrones. Great shows are able to overcome people's preconceived notions of genres, actors, networks, etc. with layers and layers of story lines, characters, depth, cinematography, etc. Hard Knocks is a great show (that might be the greatest reality show, though that brings another stigma) that weaves beautiful storytelling and unprecedented access in a way that'll get you emotionally invested in a team and people you previously cared nothing about. It's not behind the scenes footage just tossed together as a highlight package, it's a crafted story.
For the uninitiated, Hard Knocks follows a NFL team throughout training camp for five 1-hour episodes. The MMQB reported that 300 hours of footage is condensed into each episode meaning you get an always vibrant show that's the perfect blend of work, entertainment, comedy, heartbreak, disappointment, competition and all the things that come along with playing a game for a living.
But the fantastic thing is that it doesn't feel like a game to anyone involved. Players are chasing dreams while dealing with normal life, coaches are strategizing while teaching kids how to live, family and friends are supporting those involved while obviously sacrificing themselves and so on. On the surface, it's not immediately relatable. You see the polished game on Sunday (or just the Super Bowl) and you forget that these helmeted, faceless giants are people. Hard Knocks makes you feel for them.
There's a scene when a defensive player named Larry Black—someone most NFL fans don't even know—suffers a dislocated ankle and realizes his dreams to play this upcoming season had just been crushed. There's another scene showing how alone an Estonian player can be playing football. And another scene showing a hardened veteran player quieting the room so he can hear another player sing. It's a personal story for each of these people, football may be the setting but it's real lives being shown.
It airs on HBO at 10PM on Tuesdays. You can also maybe, with very little effort, find it lying around the Internet too. [HBO]