The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/29/13 at 04:52 AM ET
Warning: This entry includes "spoilers" and lots of cursing, and "Gilding the Lily" refers to the literal term in which lillies were covered with gold, irking some folks who think that lillies are beautiful enough on their own.
I've been pretty blunt about the fact that I have "issues" with HBO's 24/7: Red Wings-Maple Leafs, Road to the Winter Classic series over the course of two episodes' worth of attempting to share my "takes" on what's been presented to an international audience, and episode 3 didn't resolve any qualms or "beefs."
Without getting into too much detail before the "jump," I will give you a simple illustration of its breaking of the cardinal rule of storytelling, "Show, Don't Tell": It took HBO and Liev Schreiber 25 minutes to set up the Red Wings' 5-4 shootout win over Toronto last Saturday, but the program spent approximately 8 minutes (and the program is 55 minutes long) actually showing footage from said game and a wee bit of post-game stuff. They then moved on to talk about the teams' losses following said game, the Christmas holiday, and what would have been incredibly forced, "And now we're about to go outside" set-up scenes had the protagonists thereof not been so sincere.
I think HBO's problem--and maybe hockey fans' problems--is that these kinds of "behind the scenes" programs titillate us and promise to reveal the next Ilya Bryzgalov, the next Bruce Boudreau, to show us the incredibly revelatory, shocking and offensive moments and "characters," the kinds of people you might expect to find in major league baseball, the NBA or the NFL...
And most hockey players just aren't that flamboyant or openly egotistical.
You're not likely to find the next Duck Dynasty rant coming out of a hockey locker room. Even the Florida Panthers' locker room, with Tim Thomas trapped in the room with the cameras for 48 hours without a bathroom break.
Its not that hockey players are any less interesting, any less intelligent, funny, quick-witted or willing to reveal who they are than any other athlete or person. It's that hockey players are a little more subtle in terms of their personalities, and HBO's 24/7 series has never really adapted itself to anything less than WAITING TO SHOW YOU THE NEXT BIG SHOCKING MOMENT, which rarely exists in hockey--and when it does exist, it's generally frowned upon.
Three episodes in, I'm not buying the, "Oh, the Wings must be hiding from the cameras" (fun fact: Steve Yzerman was a wonderful captain, but he was not enamored with the media, and under his reign, it was fine to duck out of availabilities; Nick Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg don't operate that way, though they're obviously a lot more, "It's team line or bust" insistent in terms of how they manage the party line), or, "Oh, the Wings must be bland as *#$%@&" stuff.
Even during my limited interactions with the team and coach, I've found the Wings to be nothing less than incredibly intelligent, witty as hell and plain old fascinating (not all of them but most of them), and I've also found them to be surprisingly willing to give their time to people who ask for it. Four weeks in, the HBO cameras cannot be that unfamiliar anymore, and while the Wings may be Team Bland compared to most, they are most certainly not store-bought 5-gallon vanilla ice cream.
The first time we heard from Henrik Zetterberg at any length was the ending of this episode. We still have yet to get more than 90 seconds out of Pavel Datsyuk. The ever-earnest and intense Niklas Kronwall's been silent.
HBO seems to have chosen to stick with its chosen protagonists--Daniel Cleary, Daniel Alfredsson, the "group" of Brendan Smith, Danny DeKeyser, Kyle Quincey and Justin Abdelkader on the Wings, and Dion Phaneuf, David Clarkson, Joffrey Lupul and "the group" of Nazem Kadri and whoever's mic'ed up and gets in a fight on Toronto--and HBO continues to have the coaches drive the narrative ad infinitum.
To the latter point, I will at least say that I would much rather deal with Mike Babcock's death stare, intensity of a thousand burning sons and relentless positivity than Randy Carlyle's gravel-and-sourpuss agitation and hostility...
But it wasn't surprising at all--as Greg "Puck Daddy" Wyshynski noted--that the reason the Maple Leafs haven't announced Dion Phaneuf's 7-year, $49 million extension is because HBO wanted to drop at least one bombshell along the way, to deliver one made-for-TV moment prior to the Winter Classic itself. Those "moments" are what 24/7 is about, and I think its structure is poorly-suited to hockey's subtler moments, personalities and "revelatory" situations.
THIS, not the story of the Red Wings' remarkably dramatic 5-4 shootout win over Toronto, was the narrative thrust (and this is per Wyshynski):
Otherwise, as NHL.com's Dan Rosen notes, we got to know the Smith family, but the five minutes spent in the Smiths' home in Mimico didn't feel nearly as genuine as the 2 minutes spent finding out that Danny DeKeyser eats at the same place every day, or that the man who apparently cannot be lit from the front says that his parents are bigger Red Wings fans and fans of "65" (yes, hockey players do refer to themselves by numbers) than himself:
One of the unique aspects of the "24/7" series is that the viewer occasionally gets to go home with the player. We were taken to Daniel Alfredsson's suburban Detroit home in Part 1. Early in Part 3 we went to the Etobicoke, Ontario home of Deidre and Lester Smith, parents of Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith.
The Red Wings arrived in Toronto to play the Maple Leafs the following night, and Smith went to check in with his mom and dad, who are parents of Boston Bruins forward Reilly Smith and professional lacrosse player Rory Smith.
The best part of the segment is when Deidre and Lester are interviewed and asked what it's like when Brendan's Red Wings play Reilly's Bruins, an event in the Smith household that has happened three times this season.
"When Boston plays Detroit we root for both of them to play well," Lester says.
"But we don't like it when they're against each other," Deidre responds.
"But it's fun," Lester chimes in.
"It's better when they're against other people," Deidre says.
Then you hear a voice from off camera. It's Brendan talking about Reilly.
"He hit me from behind," Brendan says.
"He did hit him from behind, Reilly did, by accident," Mom says laughing.
"Yeah, but Brendan went down like a cheap suit," Dad responds.
The saying is he folded like a cheap suit, but Deidre was laughing hysterically anyway.
We learned that Daniel Cleary is indeed bemused as hell with the fact that Pavel Datsyuk is "the Magic Man"...
We got to see Daniel Alfredsson enjoy Swedish Christmas with his sister and their kids in Birmingham, and found out that in addition to being an IKEA commercial, Swedish Santa Claus comes on Christmas Eve, to your front door, he gives each child one present (when they're not stabbing Santa in the belly with lightsabers), and then Santa gets the hell out of dodge...
As noted by Yahoo Sports' Dmitry Chesnokov on Instagram, Matt Martin "owned" Drew Miller in an exchange when the New York Islanders forward responded to Miller's, "It's the *#$%@& national league, keep that shit in the minors..." with...
Martin saying, "You were in the minors longer than me you dumb *#$%@&!"
Miller responding with, "Don't *#$%@& do that shit!"
And Martin "owning" the day with, "Go *#$%@& dye your hair"
To which Miller had to respond, "Good one."
We also found out that Mike Babcock was more than willing to tell his players to, and I quote, "Show some *#$%@& balls and dig yourselves out of the hole you're in" when they were down 3-0 to the Islanders...
We saw that Johan Franzen's son Luke Bo is adorable...
And Randy Carlyle's Toast metaphor may have been matched by a certain Todd Bertuzzi, whose ability to agitate the hell out of his opponents was summarized in an r-rated manner by the Free Press's Steve Schrader:
A marked increase in the quotient of F-bombs — that “24/7” staple — like when David Clarkson didn’t like Todd Bertuzzi messing with the water bottle at the Leafs’ goal.
“It’s our bleeping water bottle,” Clarkson said. “Don’t bleeping touch it.”
CBS Sports' Chris Peters captured the exchange in full:
Clarkson: "[Expletive] off. Don't hit his bottle."
Bertuzzi: "His water bottle was on the [expletive] ground."
Clarkson: "I don't give a [expletive]."
Bertuzzi: "Don't worry about a [expletive] water bottle."
Clarkson: "I am worried about a [expletive] water bottle. It's our [expletive] water bottle. Don't [expletive] touch it."
Bertuzzi: "I'll buy you one."
Clarkson: "OK, perfect, you buy me one."
Later in the game with Clarkson and Bertuzzi lined up for a faceoff… Clarkson still wouldn't let it go.
Clarkson: "I don't care whose bottle it is, you always do the same [expletive]."
Bertuzzi: "It shouldn't have even [expletive] been there to begin with."
Clarkson: "Doesn't matter. The [expletive] ref knocked it off. I don't give a [expletive]."
Bertuzzi: "It shouldn't [expletive] matter."
Clarkson: "It doesn't matter to me neither."
Words to live by: DON'T WORRY ABOUT A F*CKING WATER BOTTLE. There are more important bottles:
HBO also tried as damn hard as it could to contrive the, "OUTDOOR HOCKEY IS UPON US" ending, but it turns out that James van Riemdsyk's outdoor skate on Christmas Day was sincere, as was that of the Red Wings' captain, who apparently owns a frickin' lake as well as a house in Bloomfield Hills, as noted by NHL.com's Rosen:
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg was filmed skating on his frozen backyard pond with narrator Liev Schreiber providing the information that it was the first time he had ever skated there.
"This is how we started back home in Sweden," Zetterberg says. "I didn't have a rink until I was 7, so holidays, Christmas or Easter, we did some ice fishing and skated around on lakes. To have a chance to do this as a job over here, to play in the best league in the world, it's special. It's something that when we were younger you wished for and you dreamt about. It's pretty special to live through it."
This wasn't Zetterberg BS'ing. It was Zetterberg being himself, and it was wonderful.
Here are the last 8 minutes, including Swedish Santa and the van Riemsdyk and Zetterberg scenes. I hope you get to see it before it's taken down:
I love the part when Alfredsson explains that he's balancing Swedish traditions, the traditions his family established in Ottawa and both American and Canadian traditions.
(Something tells me that Tomas Holmstrom was Santa, but that's my guess)
Anyway, the other air times for Episode 3 are as follows...
Other HBO playdates: Dec. 28 (3:25 a.m.), 29 (8:45 a.m.), 30 (7:00 p.m., 2:30 a.m.) and 31 (2:30 p.m., 10:00 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates: Dec. 29 (11:30 p.m.) and 30 (1:30 p.m.)
But if you're not utterly shocked by people using f-bombs, and you're looking for genuine insight as to who your Red Wings really are--and you love whatever sport you're following to not need to also be motivated to watch it by "shock factor"--Fox Sports Detroit's Wingspan, FSD's game-day stuff and videos captured by the Wings, the Free Press's Helene St. James, the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness and the rest are probably more revelatory than anything HBO could ever try to deliver to us.
I will say this, though: I did adore the fact that the music which accompanied the Wings on their flight to Toronto was stuff I actually listen to: Black Rebel Motorcycle's "Evol":
HBO also made sure to frame their DeKeyser at home feature with this hometown ditty:
As the Red Wings let us know, just like the protagonist in the White Stripes' "Ball and Biscuit," Danny DeKeyser is the seventh and youngest son of Linda and Mick DeKeyser.
The Wings would be a wonderful subject of an "inside the whoever" program that wasn't so wrapped up in itself, they'd be a wonderful subject for an "inside the whoever" program that wasn't all about forcing the coaches to drive the narrative, they'd be a wonderful subject for an "inside the whoever" program that wasn't waiting three episodes to show you why Dion Phaneuf can buy as many suits and cufflinks as Elisha Cuthbert wants him to, and the Wings would be the wonderful subject of an "inside the whoever" program that LET THE STORY TELL ITSELF instead of "selling" a pre-packaged narrative directed at non-hockey fans.
The truth of the matter is that the title tells it all--HBO is giving you HBO's, as they like to remind us, Sports Emmy Award-Winning take on what the "Road to the Winter Classic" should look like when a big cable TV network gives it the "embedded" look and feel.
This is all about look and feel, style, not substance, and we didn't need HBO's cameras to tell us that Mike Babcock believes that the morning skate is "way overrated."
It would've been nice to hear a player follow that up with, "Damn straight, I hate that shit." But that's not convenient to the narrative.
Showing David Clarkson on the subway like a "working man" or skipping right over the unintentional hilarity that is Joffrey Lupul saying how he loves, loves, loves to be in New York, loves every moment he's there--but that doesn't mean he wants to be traded to the Rangers! (which was cute, genuinely)
HBO 24/7 is pretty good stuff for what it is--a prepackaged THIS IS THE ATHLETIC STRUGGLE storyline that's just being imposed upon the Red Wings and Maple Leafs as part of their admission to the Winter Classic.
The truth of the matter is that you and I both know the Red Wings better than HBO does, and we didn't need to be shielded from f-bombs to tell you that what you see is what you get.
Sometimes the best part about a good hamburger isn't the guacamole and wasabi topping--it's the damn burger.
Hockey isn't fillet mignon, and it isn't fugu sushi--it's *#$%@&' hamburger. Let it be what it is and let it shine for what it is.
Babcock noting that Reimer tends to "roll over" in the butterfly when you're coming on the rush, so go over the blocker when you can (which Joakim Andersson did).
The fact that both coaches,' "We're better than the other team!" line seems to work.
The fact that you've got college professors preparing lesson plans for players who sometimes choose to implement the plan by fingerpainting and using half-eaten crayons.
The fact that some athletes are indeed very, very different from you and me, and the fact that others, despite their immense salaries, aren't all that different when it comes down to brass tacks.
It's too bad that HBO's too preoccupied with itself to try harder to show us how really interesting and really genuine and really cool the players are instead of spending two thirds of the time telling us things we already know--or didn't need to waste time finding out that we already knew.
If anything, I will say this: I'm someone who has learned that "the story," "the angle," the hype, the spotlight and the hook to draw in readers or generate hits are not backbones of my "storytelling," as it were--I'm more interested in letting the people on the ice write the story themselves, and to just give you my take on what happens regardless of what you or I or anyone might say or think or believe will happen, even if my prediction blows up in my face, because all I really care about is this team doing well--and if I ever turn into an HBO-style blogger/writer/journalist-type-person-whatever, man, is it ever gonna be time for me to *#$%@& hang it up.
HBO's 24/7 may be your thing, but everything about is "storytelling" goes against every instinct I have and everything I've been taught in my attempts to become a better writer, and in a way, I'm very glad that it's going to be over soon.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.