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George’s HBO 24/7 quick take, part 3: don’t f***ing gild the lily so damn often, HBO

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.

Put bluntly?

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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Comments

Vladimir16's avatar

Meh, fuch that shat.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 12/29/13 at 11:26 AM ET

Tracy from T-Town Hockey 's avatar

Yeah kinda disappointed I paid for HBO for 2 months to watch this.  Looking forward to cancelling it after next week.

Posted by Tracy from T-Town Hockey on 12/29/13 at 11:28 AM ET

Avatar

Funny how some can turn the fun of 24/7 on HBO into a negative. Bunch of @##$$#$ sour bitches.

Posted by timbits on 12/29/13 at 12:03 PM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

Funny how some people need to see all the ins and outs of other people’s lives. Maybe their own life is that feckin boring

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 12/29/13 at 12:31 PM ET

Tracy from T-Town Hockey 's avatar

Wow harsh.  I don’t care about the players home lives.  That’s private and should be.  I would like to see more of the ins and outs of what it takes to be a hockey player.  What goes into the training and building a game plan.  To get some better insight on the game itself.  Does that make my life feckin boring? No! It means I love the game and would like to understand it better.

Posted by Tracy from T-Town Hockey on 12/29/13 at 12:44 PM ET

Red Winger's avatar

Clarkson has been a spectacular failure for the Leafs so far. Glad to see he has accepted a role that fits his diminishing talents: Keeper of the Water Bottle

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 12/29/13 at 01:09 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Clarkson just gave us Wings fans ammunition.

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 12/29/13 at 01:20 PM ET

Kate from Pa.-made in Detroit's avatar

Fuchin’ water bottle tongue wink

Now that’s Hockey talking. Neat.

Lets Go Red Wings!!!!!

Posted by Kate from Pa.-made in Detroit on 12/29/13 at 03:24 PM ET

Avatar

Good read, and thanks to George for putting something comprehensive together about the goals of 24/7 and how they have or have not been realized following the Detroit Red Wings.  I agree with about 85% of what George said about the disappointing aspects, but I guess I disagree with the reasons why that is happening.

Simply put, I don’t think that HBO has the unfettered access that people seem to expect they have.  This isn’t like Deadliest Catch or some other reality show where the producing network “owns” the product and the participants.  There have been several examples where the cameras were thrown out or otherwise restricted.  And those are just the ones we SEE. 

I refuse to believe that HBO could get Elisha Cuthbert on camera within 5 minutes, but wouldn’t WANT to get endless Datysuk material instead of following around Smith and Abdelkader.  I think the team (and the star players themselves) are extremely private, and that people who want to be on camera are seen on camera.  Also, Datysuk had a brain injury for Episode 1, which is the one where they really get to plan out the narrative and have the most time to assemble the human interest stuff.

Overall, it’s obviously still a great watch, but I don’t think it’s been disappointing due to a lack of trying on the NHL’s part.  I just don’t think they can get “The Private Life and Routine of Pavel Datsyuk” any more than they could do the “Redemption of Todd Bertuzzi” story.

Posted by StormJH1 on 12/30/13 at 11:42 AM ET

CaptainDennisPolonich's avatar

The thing I dislike most about 24/7 is that it makes Buckets seem like an indispensable part of the team, when he should be a Black Ace for the rest of the season.

The thing I like best about 24/7 is that it reveals Babs true self. Cursing at a camera crew and telling your team they suck? Way to coach ‘em up Uncle Mike. I know the key to these types of shows is how they are edited, but I can’t recall Babs actually coaching the team. It’s always the assistants going over video and different schemes. Seeing Babs between periods, I now understand why the Wings never seem to make adjustments; he is too busy with the rah-rah or ranting crap to actually do any coaching. That horse’s ass, Crylyle, does more coaching. Didn’t you love how Crylyle told his guys to cross check on the face offs? No wonder the Duck were so dirty.

Shouldn’t he face some sort of discipline from the league for telling his players to do illegal conduct?

Posted by CaptainDennisPolonich from The Land of Fake Boobs and Real Nuts on 12/30/13 at 12:31 PM ET

Avatar

Babcock has been a little different that I expected, but I can’t pretend to know how that does or doesn’t translate to on-ice performance from snippets of practices and intermission speeches on an HBO special.  The guy has won one (almost two) Stanley Cups and an Olympic Gold under immense pressure, so either he’s a very good coach, or he knows how not to get in the way of very good players.

...Or coaches actually have very little to do with on-the-fly performance, which is what I feel like when I watch 24/7.  Don’t get me wrong - personnel decisions, defensive systems, power play strategies, and even line changes are very important aspects of coaching.  But the idea that Datsyuk failed to dangle around 3 guys, or that Brendan Smith only blew a defensive assignment because Babcock didn’t talk to him correctly during the intermission…no thanks, I’m not buying that. 

As for “private lives remaining private”, I guess we’re defining that differently.  Even if you get a very sanitized “aware of the cameras” version of life away from the rink, that’s still access you only get on 24/7.  Seeing players in any type of activity outside the rink goes a long way towards humanizing players who are normally defined only by stats or contract numbers.

Posted by StormJH1 on 12/30/13 at 02:45 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

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.