24/7 Episode Four Review: The Best Hockey Television Series Ever Reaches An Apex
January 6, 2011 3 Comments
Come on, it isn’t like there was much competition.
Looking back, I think it might be impossible to see 24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic as the greates idea ever. A series that would steamroller hockey diehards with the eagle eye they so desperately wanted to the inside goings on of two of the NHL’s best franchises. The final episode of the show leaves without much left to say that likely won’t be said over the next few days. It is simply a remarkable achievement of television, hockey or not, further signaling TV’s ongoing superiority to movies in producing true televised art that makes a mass cultural impact. Hockey got it’s close-up, and while as Liev Schriber says the sport “won’t stand still for a picture,” it still gave you a hell of a blur.
I’ll try to keep it short and sweet here, but everything 24/7 did was remarkably detailed, thorough, exhilarating and fun. It is indeed, the best the sport of hockey has ever been presented on television or any medium. It took the vision of the NHL and John Collins and the commitment of HBO, with the cooperation of the Penguins and Capitals, and together they created something lasting and special. Something that you felt immediately comfortable getting into, and begging the television to give you more when it ended. Everything about it was perfect. It’ll become one of those select few things of hockey culture (Slap Shot, Foster Hewitt, ESPN’s NHL theme song) that is entirely unassailable.
Again, the series showed a remarkable flexibility and desire to give you something new in episode four. The look inside Dan Bylsma’s meetings with Jordan Staal led us to comment that most of the off-ice stuff gave us a vibe of the very best of The Office. The on-ice action – enhanced this time in the great outdoors – continued without a blemish. The microphones were used less this time around, and to less effect, but what they did get was great. Did anyone not think of Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or any television show’s snobby, know-it-all child when Sidney Crosby told the refs that he watched 80 hockey games on TV each year, making him an expert on penalty shot calls? Or the ref exasperation at the fighting at the end of the actual Winter Classic? Anything a referee said in this episode killed me, and overall, while a lot of this episode featured a little less speaking, it was no less impactful.
Another thing I’ll miss about this series is the neverending quest to scout out every angle. One of the funniest scenes in this episode was the segment with the weatherman, concerned at actually getting his job right with the pressure on for the first time. Regardless of humor, it was still some much needed local flavor without having to pander to Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis throwing footballs into a goal. Pittsburgh gets solid treatment in the series overall, depicting it as a passionate city with a buzzing downtown life.
The NHL also comes off pretty darn good here, too. The look into the NHL’s decision-making process in postponing the game was excellent, along with Dan Craig and his ice crew working harder in a few weeks than I work in a year. The NHL looks like a cool, calm, collected league capable of making the right call at the right time. I bet you’d have never said that before the show began.
Overall, I can’t see who doesn’t look good through this? I’ve grown to like Dan Bylsma over the course of four weeks as much as I like any character on television. Matt Cooke, Mike Knuble, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Hendricks, George McPhee and many others involved with this both got a personal boost in my favor during the show. I even enjoy Bruce Boudreau’s goofy grandpa routine most of the time. I was a little disappointed in how little depiction there was of the supposed “rock star” lifestyle of Alexander Ovechkin, but the view into Crosby was a much-needed attempt at dragging out some interesting out of the ultimate Canadian homeboy.
Like I’ve said before, there’s little to criticize about the series if you aren’t uptight about foul language. The cinematography (the Heinz Field stuff in the rain was awesome), the music (Muse’s “Exogenesis Symphony: Part 3” most notable in this episode), the interviews, the off-hand jokes. Everything about this show worked like outrageous clockwork. It was television’s version of hockey’s controlled chaos. A beautiful game trapped in a hazardous, breakneck-paced setting. Sure, it is a blur, but it is a beautiful one. From the opening shot to the final view of the Penguins jerseys being washed for another game – a surprisingly poignant symbol of the series ending and the notion that hockey goes on, no matter what – HBO’s 24/7 just plain got it right. See you next year?