The mark of a great documentary is its ability to make its subject matter strike an emotional chord with the audience. A great documentary can do this no matter what its about — surfers looking for the next big wave, penguins annual mating rituals or the decline of the American public school system.
Or The Cincinnati Bengals.
Yes, outside of the greater Ohio area, people don’t give much thought about the orange and black attack. Sure, there have been players like Boomer Easion who will remain forever emblazoned in our football memory or outlandish characters like Chad Ochocinco or the master of the “Ickey Shuffle” Ickey Woods who have garnered some fleeting mainstream attention, but as a whole, unless you’ve got someone from their squad on your fantasy team, you’re not giving the Bengals much mind.
Hard Knocks changes all of this.
This brilliantly produced hour-long documentary series makes you give a damn about teams you might never watch outside of an ESPN highlight reel. It takes you inside the locker room and into the minds, the hearts and souls of players. For years this series has taken teams like the Chiefs, Dolphins and Jets and given them a platform to shine…and a reason for people outside of their area to care about them.
And no matter who your team is on Sunday, whomever Hard Knocks is featuring, you’ll be pulling for — whether it be the team or an individual player.
This is the second time Hard Knocks has featured The Bengals. Luckily, the 2013 Bengals aren’t the notorious bad boys they were back in the day. They were more of a train wreck to watch then anything. In 2013 they’re treated as a team on the cusp, filled with likeable and even some loveable players and coaches. Oh, and James Harrison, who might the scariest human being ever to play football.
Probably the most magnetic and charismatic personality on the show is running backs coach Hue Jackson. (Some of you might remember him as the former hard coach of the Oakland Raiders.) Jackson is straight up hilarious, talking more trash than the players and throwing out terrific one-liners. A show on Hue Jackson alone would be worth watching.
Yet, what really makes Hard Knocks so good is the production. Everything is shot in beautiful high definition. You feel, as cliche as it sounds, like you’re on the field with the players. The filmmakers know the right people to focus on, whether it be for the positive or the negative. They come up with the best storylines, sometimes a bit cliche (the off the street free agent, the veteran, the injuries, the promising draft pick, etc.) but they’re always compelling.
Then there’s the narration. It’s simply amazing. Liev Schreiber should narrate everything not just in sports, but life. He can definitely give Morgan Freeman a run for his money. He’s got this wonderfully warm yet still serious and authoritative way of speaking. Not since the late, great “Voice of God” John Facenda, has there been such an amazing, definitive voice for the NFL.
Hard Knocks, plain and simple, is must-see television, especially if you’re a football fan. It’s just fascinating to learn the behind-the-scenes stuff about an NFL team and also to actually get to know players. For you non-pigskin fans, if you love documentaries or even reality television that’s more documentary-esque (and not a game show), there’s something here for you too.