I have to admit, I had almost forgotten how much I love HBO 24/7. The show was appointment television upon its debut last year, and the Penguins and Capitals did not disappoint. This year lacked a bit of the sheen because that initial excitement of “ohmygodtheplayersareSWEARINGandtheyreallydohateeachotherandwaitaminu teisthatbbqsauceonbruceboudreausface” wore off, but it was still a pretty amazing installment of TV that was tough not to enjoy. Let’s take a look at the good and bad from the second season of 24/7, featuring the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.
Claude Giroux: For all that was made about Ilya Bryzgalov breaking out on the show, for me, the breakout star was Claude Giroux. In the wake of Crosby’s concussion setback and Ovechkin’s slump, the NHL might need a new, marketable face, and this guy might be it. He comes across as quiet in interviews, but clearly has a great personality, and his interactions with Steve Ott, Artem Anisimov, and his own team were some of the best parts of the series. When he told Brayden Schenn after his first NHL goal, “this isn’t the [expletive] World Juniors,” it was a sign the guy is a leader on the team, but goes about it the right way, and if Pronger’s career is in jeopardy, Philly could be looking at their new captain.
The Coaches: Last season, we were treated to a look at two of the NHL’s finer coaches in Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau, and this season was no exception. To watch how these two men live their job and complete the tough task of running a professional sports team day in and day out will always be endlessly fascinating for me. From Peter Laviolette telling the Flyers to rip out their heart to John Tortorella constantly switching back and forth from caring man to cantankerous crank based on what the situation needed, we were given another excellent show by these two gentlemen.
The Grinders: I’m not saying that third- and fourth-liners are completely ignored by the media, but the great part of this series is that we not only get to see how important these players are to their respective clubs, but that they’re great people, as well. Brian Boyle and Mike Rupp are two guys who stood out to me as character guys who are leaned on by teammates and who perform a function on the ice that isn’t easy. We already knew Mike Rupp was a family man from last season’s installment of 24/7, but seeing Brian Boyle and his 12 siblings interact was excellent.
The Importance of the Winter Classic: I am a big fan of the Winter Classic. It hasn’t got old for me at all, I think it’s a perfect showcase for the game, and while it may not always provide the best hockey, I think it’s an important staple of the NHL calendar. However, it seems to have a ton of detractors in the media and in general. I’m glad we were able to see, once again, how important it is to the players. Brandon Prust saying telling the bench he didn’t want to get suspended for the game, Wayne Simmonds looking anxious after hurting himself in practice, and the general attitudes of both teams post-game shows how important it is to the teams and players, which is fantastic.
Ilya Bryzgalov: While I worry about how damaging the series may have been to his obviously fragile mental state, hockey–and sports in general–deserve more characters like Bryzgalov. There’s nothing more I can say that hasn’t been said, really.
Tropes: While it might be a bit too early in the history of this show(and hopefully it continues past this year) to call something a “trope”, there were definitely a few things this season that seemed like retreads of the previous season. While showing the family background of certain players and giving us a glimpse into their personal lives is important, especially for the casual fan, this season felt especially like there was more focus on things away from the ice, and it left a few episodes, notably Episode 2(likely the weakest episode of the 8 we have seen) feeling rather weak. Which leads us to…
Not Enough Game Action: For the true hockey fan, there’s nothing better than the camera and mic work during the actual games, showing us a side of the game we don’t get to see on the generally antiseptic network broadcasts. Last year, a full half- hour of show time was devoted to the Penguins/Capitals match-up in the weeks leading up to the Winter Classic, and it was probably the best look at a hockey game the public has ever seen. This year struggled to give us the on-ice time they did last year, glossing over key moments in games and failing to really break down that fourth wall as well as they did during last year’s series. If the ratings are truly way down for this year, that could be a main reason for it.
Concussion-Gate: While concussions are a hot-button topic around the NHL, it’s likely that the League was behind most of the decision not to give much airtime to Claude Giroux’s concussion or virtually zero time to Philadelphia captain Chris Pronger’s head injury, but it still seemed odd and virtually inexcusable that the series completely glossed over both injuries. With Giroux returning in a timely manner, that wasn’t such a big deal, but Pronger is one of the biggest personalities in the game, and his absence from the series both in actual face-time and in being mentioned(you have to think Laviolette and Holmgren would’ve mentioned to the camera several times how big of a loss Pronger is) really hurt. An inside look into how the teams and players deal with concussions and the protocol surrounding them would’ve also been an amazing “open door” moment that would’ve really been something to see as well.
No Storyline: Last year, it felt like there was a clear thread running through the series, that being that the Capitals and Penguins hate each other, and when they play one another, the stakes are amped up. I didn’t feel like 24/7 this year really had a narrative, which hurt its overall quality. They tried to sell the Flyers/Rangers rivalry a few times, but while the teams play 6 times a year, it’s clear they have bigger rivals(the Flyers have the Penguins and the Rangers have the Islanders/Devils) and it never really felt like there was as much to work from in that regard. I’m not expecting every Winter Classic game to be a storied rivalry(this will again be true next year if TOR/DET are matching up, as is rumored), but there were some other missed narratives as well that don’t need a rivalry to sell, from the concussion stories I already alluded to, to the Flyers goaltending controversy(which was touched on, but not enough), to the Flyers trading Carter/Richards and anointing Giroux the next face of the franchise, there were places they could have gone, but instead ended up showing us Henrik Lundqvist playing guitar with John McEnroe and Sean Avery asking for bottomless orange juice.
Overall, the series is a true treat for any hockey fan and I sincerely loved all 4 episodes more than most things I watched this year. That said, there are still places the series could improve, and it would be really interesting to see someone come out and say exactly what they wanted to show, and what they were allowed to show, because I feel that played a huge role in this year’s episodes. Here’s looking forward to a third year, with the best unfettered access we get to a sport we all love.