Guest Blog: HBO’s 24/7 Series

Dear Couchtimers,
Let me introduce myself. You may know me from my past work on this blog as “the boyfriend”. To date, my resume has included such works as “the boyfriend who wouldn’t have been able to walk the office-tower high-wire in the Amazing Race” and “the boyfriend who thought that Adam probably should have told Kristina about kissing Rachael (but not when he did!).” Perhaps it is best to think of me as Statler to Jill’s Waldorf – except in this case, one of us is much younger, wears lipstick, and has a collection of fashionable footwear that grows ever greater by the day. Nice to meet y’all. Now, let’s get down to business…
Fiction over Fact
As you all know, Jill is somewhat of a superfan when it comes to Friday Night Lights. You could say that a working knowledge of FNL is a requirement for dating our lovely host. However, until recently yours truly had never seen an episode. Since then, we have worked our way through the first four seasons on DVD and have just three episodes left to watch in the series.
(Ed. Note: I was a little late in posting this, so we’ve now finished FNL. Man, that series finale is still amazing.)
On more than one occasion over the past few months I have suggested to Jill that she might be interested in checking out HBO’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic series once it began airing this winter. Much like FNL, the focus of the series is on the plotlines that develop around individual players and coaches within a game more than the game itself. Except, you know…FNL is fictitious, while 24/7 is not. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t convince Jill that a series about hockey players would be worth the time on her already busy TV viewing schedule (seriously folks, there is a spreadsheet). As an alternative, she suggested that I give guest blogging a try. So, here I am. Maybe next season the producers will choose Nashville vs. Toronto (i.e., Mr. Carrie Underwood vs. Mr. Elisa Cuthbert) and that will spark her interest – but until then, you are stuck with me!
Recapping the Original
Guest Blog: HBO's 24/7 Series As some of you may know, this is the second year for the series. Last season, HBO followed members of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals around for several weeks prior to the NHL Winter Classic (an NHL game played outdoors, usually in a football stadium, on or near New Year’s day). Billed as a battle between the league’s brightest young stars in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, it made for some pretty captivating television.
For the most part, hockey fans know very little about the behind-the-scenes lives of NHL superstars. A typical broadcast might tell us something about a player’s upbringing. There are the odd reports of bad behavior after a night-on-the-town, or good behavior when working with charities on their days off. And of course after/before games there are the standard soundbites: “we need to give 110%”, “the bounces just didn’t go our way”, or “we are grabbing our sticks a little too tight right now”. While there are some players that thrive in the media spotlight, many would rather avoid it all together. Many players would rather duck out the back door of the arena than talk to journalists after a game. No one wants to be the guy that blurts out something that becomes billboard material for other teams.
Given the prevailing culture in the game, it is somewhat amazing that HBO was granted the access that they were. Cameras followed players and coaches into the locker rooms, while they were getting treatment from trainers, on flights between games, at home with their families, and in their hotel rooms on road trips. Everyone seems to be wearing a microphone on and off the ice. Some of the highlights last season included:
  • A contrast in coaching styles. Bruce Boudreau (coach of the Capitals) swore like a drunken sailor and often looked like steam would blow out of his ears at any moment. Dan Bylsma (coach of the Penguins) came off as very passionate, but somewhat more calculated in his approach.
  • The highs of winning and the lows of losing. During filming, the Penguins were on a rather remarkable winning streak. The excitement and enthusiasm emanating from the players was extremely palpable. Pens players were all smiles as they attended team Christmas parties and other events. At the same time, the Capitals were underachieving. Injuries were mounting. Expectations were high and the team was not meeting them. After an early exit from the playoffs, the coaching staff switched to a new system and the early results were not encouraging. Every individual was feeling the pressure to perform. The way in which individuals dealt with the situation as the losses piled up was definitely worth watching, as was the elation at finally coming together.
  • Hotel hijinks. While most of the team goes out to eat, some Penguins players stay behind at the hotel. This leads to a prank where they move EVERY piece of furniture out of the hotel rooms and into the hallway. Hilarity ensues.
  • Max Talbot. Talbot has some great moments during the series. For example, while at a team Christmas party, he whispers to “Santa Claus” that he would like his two very blonde and very female helpers in his stocking. Or when the son of Matt Cooke (who is known as somewhat of a goon) spears him with his hockey stick during a family skate.
  • Making the grade. In the second episode, we watched as the Coach and General Manager met to assign grades to the performance of every player after a game. Not only is this something that a fan would not normally have access to – but something a player wouldn’t either. It was interesting to watch the two men critique the play of each individual and contemplate pending roster moves.
  • All in the family. Throughout the series there were some pretty touching moments between the players/coaches and their families. For example, Craig Adams’ son walking by a picture with all the Penguins players in it and being able to name every player on the team. Or Bruce Boudreau taking his sons to the mall to find a gift for his wife on Christmas Eve. Or Dan Bylsma at home with his kids, disco dancing while playing XBOX Kinect.
  • Lovejoynot as pretty as it sounds. In episode three, Ben Lovejoy, a young member of the Penguins, scores his first NHL goal and gets into a fight in the same game. Later, he takes a puck to the face and leaves the game a swollen mess. On the plane ride after the game his face swells beyond recognition. Cringe-worthy stuff for sure.
  • Lights Out. The series ended as the two teams played each other in the Winter Classic. It was during this game that David Steckel delivered a hit that left Sidney Crosby with a concussion. A concussion that, to this day, is keeping the best hockey player in the world out of the game. Cameras followed Sid as he left the ice.
Season Two: What’s Ahead
This year, the NHL picked the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers as the two teams to participate in the Winter Classic, so this is who HBO will be following around for the next several weeks. Some of the plotlines to watch for this season include:
  • Philly Fanatics. Philadelphia is known for having one of the most rabid, passionate, possibly insane fan bases in sports. Like, jump over penalty boxes and try to fight opposing players crazy.
  • Team Building. In the off-season, the Flyers traded arguably their two biggest stars – Mike Richards and Jeff Carter – and totally rebuilt the team. There were rumours that the team was not happy with the off-ice behaviour of the two players. Will we gain any insight into what happened? And more importantly, how will all the new players fit in?
  • Jagr Bomb. Jaromir Jagr, one of the most talented people to ever play hockey, has come back to the NHL after playing in Russia for a few years. Rather than take the safe route and sign for the team where he formerly had the most success, the Pittsburgh Penguins, he decided to play with the arch-rival Philadelphia Flyers. What is it like for a former superstar in the twilight of his career? How will he be accepted by the fans in Philly that used to curse his name?
  • The “C” Word. In the early weeks of filming, Claude Giroux, the Flyers star who is leading the league in scoring, is concussed when he accidentally collides with his team mate, Wayne Simmonds. How will Simmonds react to injuring his friend and team mate? What is it like for a player trying to battle back from a head injury? Head injuries are a significant point of discussion in the NHL right now – in large part as a result of the injury to Sidney Crosby. How will HBO handle this? Will we be given access to the doctors that treat these injuries?
  • Big on Broadway. In the off-season, Brad Richards was the most sought-after free-agent in the NHL. After several teams made a pitch for him, the Rangers ultimately secured the services of the first-line center and former Stanley Cup winner. Can he bring some leadership to the Big Apple?
  • MSG. No, not the stuff in your Chinese food… Madison Square Gardens. The arena is legendary and has been the home of several gigantic sporting events through the years. To what extent will the building be a character in this show?
  • Sean Avery. Avery is the reigning bad-boy of the NHL. In the past, his antics include: calling his ex-girlfriend Elisa Cuthbert some pretty degrading things, insulting French-Canadians, bending the rules on the ice and infuriating his coaches. But then again, there is the Sean Avery is an outspoken advocate of gay-marriage, interns at Vogue in the off-season, and does modelling on the side. Which (or both?) version of Avery will appear in the show? How will Avery react to an early season demotion to the minor leagues? Avery has seemingly had a very strained relationship with his coach in the past. How will this play out?
  • Staaled out of the Gates. Rangers defenseman Eric Staal has been out of action this season due to a concussion. The drama? The hit that injured Marc was delivered by his brother Eric Staal. As the series opens, Marc may be nearing a return to the ice – his brother Eric is in the midst of one of his worst seasons ever. What sort of insight to we get into the injury and how it has affected the two brothers?

Watch for my review of Episode #1 tomorrow. As a teaser, may I note that the episode features Ryan Callahan’s 95 year old, wheelchair-bound grandmother threatening to set the referees straight after they make a debatable call against her grandson. Grandma Saracen anyone? Maybe, just maybe, I will get Jill to watch an episode afterall…


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