I’ve always shied away from reality television. The artificiality bugged me. Especially since they sell themselves as “reality”. So it was with great skepticism that I dove into HBO’s Hard Knocks: In Season. But they were focusing on my favorite football team, The Miami Dolphins.
Even though that franchise has caused me more psychic pain than pleasure in my 30+ years of following them, I tune in every season chasing that high I got in my youth of a Dan Marino 4th quarter comeback.
And this year the Dolphins are playing great. They’re on pace for their best season since 1990. For once they’re offering more celebration than heartbreak. So I was game to tune in for an extra hour a week of all things Dolphins. And two episodes in Hard Knocks: In Season has me sucked in.
Each episode focuses on a week in the Dolphin’s season, culminating with that week’s game. I don’t know how they edit the footage so quickly. The games are usually played on Sundays. Somehow by Tuesday night a new episode is ready to be streamed for consumption. The highlight for me is the game footage. Even though I already saw the games in real time, it’s a thrill to rewatch the plays on more artfully filmed high definition.
The lowlight is what I worried about, the artificiality of the whole enterprise. The NFL and the Miami Dolphins have final cut of what gets shown, so you’ll only see what they want you to see. When wide receiver Tyreek Hill left the Oakland game with a hand injury, only to come right back in, I now have to wonder if he was merely hamming it up for the cameras.
Another injury on Hard Knocks: In Season was heart wrenching.
Against the Jets, linebacker Jaelan Phillips was carted off the field with a season ending Achilles tendon tear. Hard Knocks: In Season treats the injury the way Steven Spielberg treated Jaws. Just like you knew the shark was coming in that 1975 film, you didn’t fully see the beast until the movie was almost over, building and building the dread. Same with Phillip’s brutal injury. They talk up the great game he was having and how hard he had to work to get to the big leagues. So when he goes down, you can’t help but get teary eyed yourself.
The strangest character in this whole enterprise is head coach Mike McDaniel. I’m trying to figure out what game he is playing. Is he trying to come across as a Ted Lasso character, an unlikely sports figure who will lead his team to glory? He comes across more as a foul mouthed Napoleon Dynamite. We don’t get to see any of his actual strategies, so perhaps he is the smartest guy in the room. What we do see plenty of are his motivational speeches. He speaks with the charisma of a wet noodle. During his speeches his players are drooling with boredom and glazed out eyes.
Maybe the big reveal in episode 3 is we’ll learn his dialogue was written by ChatGPT?