24/7, Episode One Recap: In Mid-Season Form Right Off the Bat

Last year’s premiere episode of 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic spent a lot of it’s time pontificating (through Liev Schreiber’s narration) about everything that makes hockey great set to a hypnotizing shot of the washing machines in the Pittsburgh Penguins dressing. It was a fantastic, striking, defining shot of the first season of the series. You’re kind of glad, however, that there is no similar set piece to begin the second season of the show, titled 24/7 Rangers/Flyers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic. Not only would it have paled in comparison to that beautiful opening scene, but it would’ve just felt wasteful. We all get it, hockey’s amazing, get to the cursing!

Not that f-bombs and such are the main draw of 24/7, but I’ll tell you for sure, after watching VERSUS’ NHL 36: Patrick Kane earlier in the evening (more on that later today), it was nice to hear the players flat-out uncensored again. One of the great things 24/7 really put an end to were years and years of boring “Mic’d up” segments on National Hockey League TV broadcasts. They knew there was no use competing unless they had something real good. Fact is, none of them have anything as good as what HBO’s got here, in many ways.

The first episode of the new season of 24/7 is yet another smash, however, because it begins – to use a hockey analogy – in mid-season form, instead of defining this as a beginning. Just a few quick explanations of where the two teams are in the standings, and geographically (New York and Philadelphia are just fantastic cities to use as a back-drop to this) and we are off and running. Whereas, perhaps portions of the first series went at their own pace, and stopped to explain certain things, the cameras are constantly keeping up with the action this time around. Much like hockey, there are points where the show moves at breakneck speed, and times when it’s slower and weirder. I felt like I almost went through a full game as a viewer from watching. Hockey is always moving, it was here before the cameras get there and it’ll be there when they live in January. Just in terms of pacing, this may have been better than any episode from either series.

So what are some of the moments I liked? First off, the coverage of the hit on Michael Del Zotto by David Steckel. Thank goodness Del Zotto wasn’t seriously injured on that play, or else we might not have been able to hear his thought process after the hit. Claude Giroux could just be a quiet character, but you’ve got to imagine the fact that he’s still on the sidelines prevented us from hearing much of what he said following the collision with Wayne Simmonds. It was the biggest bummer of the episode, the first time a door had been slammed in the camera’s face on the show. It made the Del Zotto scene, in retrospect, seem even better executed.

But oh man, you guys, now we’ve got to talk about Ilya Bryzgalov, as I’m sure everyone in the sports world will be today. How amazing was hearing his ruminations on “the universe” and how humongous it is? His description of that random bottle of liquor the trainers had brought in was even funnier, with his quote of the night: “If you kill the tiger and they find you, you’re dead that’s it.” You have to think the trainer knew the cameras would be there and just thought to himself, “Oh hell, I bet if I bring this in and show Bryzgalov it’ll be the best thing ever.” And it was.

Probably the moment that I bet HBO thought would be way more exciting than it was became the focus on Sean Avery, who was probably not actually doing a photo shoot for any actual magazine. HBO, just admit you set up that photo shoot yourselves and we’ll be cool. The thing about Avery is this: he’s a really boring guy with interesting tastes. You can be into some more “out there for an athlete” things like modeling, but it doesn’t make you not a really dull person. I hope they avoid focusing on Avery just because of his pop culture cache in future episode. He did, however, have the best shot of the episode when he shot a look at Artem Anisimov after his stick-gun incident during last week’s game against Tampa.

That portion of the show, which focused on the Anisimov incident, was something I don’t think we’d seen before. What happens to the guy who gets the 10-minute misconduct? It was fun to see him have the sort of “stuck in the principal’s office” look until the Rangers came back. Also great was seeing his apology to his teammates after the game. Who’d have thunk Artem Anisimov (aside from the heartwarming look at Ryan Callahan and his family) would be the breakout star of this show for the Rangers?

As for the two coaches, we got an interesting view into each coach’s mind. While Flyer headman Peter Laviolette is sort of a combination of the best parts of Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma and the entertaining profanity of former Washington head-man Bruce Boudreau, I felt like Tortorella was a little more compelling. His thoughts about the state of athletes in the modern age seemed like something they could’ve gone way more into. Tortorella’s known for being not thrilled with this whole thing, but he gave the most interesting coherent interview of the whole show.

Overall, it was a great show. Almost all of the big scenes (Anisimov, Del Zotto, Bryzgalov, Simmonds, Callahan) worked. The only thing that came off as completely dull and wasteful, in my opinion, was the brief, droll focus on Ranger star Brad Richards. While they obviously didn’t think Gaborik would prove very interesting and kept his screentime down to a minimal moment when Tortorella reamed him out and eventually scored a goal, there didn’t seem to be much reason to show Richards. If they were going to do this piece about the “New Big Important Star” on Broadway, why not actually show him on the town, like they did with numerous Rangers taking underprivileged youths to the Radio City Christmas show?

However, while most of the big moments work in episode one, the best part of the show comes on a little more micro level. Stuff like the Rangers team dinner where they played credit card roulette, John Tortorella’s thoughts on Phil Kessel, Scott Hartnell calling Matt Cooke the dirtiest player in the league, the supremely cringeworthy Dan Bylsma/Max Talbot confrontation, and much more. 24/7‘s fast start meant an episode that felt like it rushed by in the span of a hockey shift, and it left you craving another chance to get back out on the ice.


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