TV Recap: Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons (Season Premiere)


Plot: HBO’s sports docu-series focuses on the training camp of the pro football team, The Atlanta Falcons.

Hard Knocks doesn’t have to do much to impress. The long-running HBO series cover show about the most popular sport in America, employs brilliant cinematography and the godlike narration of Liev Schrieber. It really doesn’t need to ever stray from its tried and true formula to suck longtime viewers in and entertain the hell out of them.

Yet, the series decided to take a new approach to their brand new season and it pays off big time.

Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons eschews from the formula the series employed with its look at the Miami Dolphins in 2012 and Cincinnati Bengals in 2013. Gone is the emphasis on “the rookie who’s inevitably getting cut by episode’s end” or “the veteran trying to make a comeback.” Gone is the over-extended, in-depth examinations of player’s home lives. These are all touched upon, but the focus of this season is more about the Atlanta Falcons as a team rather than the players who make up the Atlanta Falcons.

The Atlanta Falcons are a team in search of redemption, in search of a tougher identity and in search of what every team strives for — a Superbowl win.

The emphasis on being tougher permeates the entire episode, particularly in the scrimmage footage as we’re shown multiple fights that break out between offensive and defensive players. There’s been plenty of “fights” throughout the years in the NFL but none of them have really escalated beyond chest puffing and a couple half-hearted punches. In this season of Hard Knocks, there’s so damn haymakers being thrown. Guys grappling at each other like they were headlining Wrestlemania. Despite all its shine and gloss, this “in the trenches” view of the Falcons makes this season of Hard Knocks a bit more raw and intense.

If the premiere of this season did have two personalities that stood out it would be head coach Mike Smith and current reality star Kroy Biermann.

Smith, who was featured on the very first season of Hard Knocks, comes off as this wonderfully charming and funny man who despite his outward joviality, has a burning passion and desire to turn his team around. Smith comes off super-likable and he immediately becomes a figure that you’re rooting for in the series.

As for for Biermann, he’s shown in a light mainstream TV audiences will be stunned by. On the Real Housewives of Atlanta spin-off, Don’t be Tardy, we see Biermann as this pretty relaxed, easy-going husband to bombastic and brassy reality star Kim Zolzniak-Biermann. On Hard Knocks, we see a different side of the man — an intense, take no prisoners, in-your-face defensive player who talks a lot of trash and is not afraid to brawl with anyone. He swears like a sailor and fights like a mad dog and it’s a nice dichotomy to cut between those scenes and scenes where he’s being a dad to his two little boys who’ve come to visit him. The series really takes his new-found stardom and adds a new dimension to it and it really is one of the bright spots the episode.

Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons, like its predecessors, is a fascinating look at life within an NFL training camp. The new approach the series has taken this season is brilliant and this writer is more compelled than in seasons past to tune into subsequent episodes (instead of eventually catching them on HBO Go). The premiere episode leaves you wanting more and that’s always the mark of a great series.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Hard Knocks airs every Tuesday night on HBO.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites