For football fans, the longest month of the year is August. Their beloved gridiron is so close they can almost taste it, yet not actually arriving until September. Aside from the draft, which is almost always a disappointment from a viewing standpoint, our minds block out all football thoughts after February as a means of coping with weekends bereft of the greatest sport on earth. But alas, they are not strong enough to do so in August with a new season on the horizon. Training camp is as boring as it sounds and preseason games feel more unbearable to watch every year. That’s where Hard Knocks comes in.
It’s only five episodes, but oh my they are an incredible five hours of entertainment. Hard hits, heartbreak, fights, and family; Hard Knocks packs the drama of making a professional football team into a mini series that feels fresh every season. The storylines are the same each year, yet they never get old. Still, it takes more than just behind the scenes access to America’s favorite sport to capture the magic of Hard Knocks. Plenty of reality shows fail to realize some of the simple things HBO does to make football practice in August an annual delight.
It happens in real time: Unlike most shows, the cutting and editing happens in a matter of days, rather than months. It is incredible turnaround and there undoubtedly must be hours of entertaining material left out of each season given the 50 minute time constraint. Ninety percent of football practice is boring to watch — anyone who has been to an open training camp can attest to this. However, the Hard Knocks masterfully intertwines drill mash-ups with highlights of players goofing off and arguing.
It’s a new team every year: This was Jersey Shore’s Achilles heel. Yes, Snooki and The Situation were so outrageous that producers knew people wanted to see more of them. Ultimately though, it gave the show a much short shelf life. Once the gang became celebrities, they couldn’t just work at the T-shirt shop anymore. After watching that show, the world wants to believe that the Shore is full of Snooki’s and Situation’s. Every year on Hard Knocks, there are 21-year-old rookies battling 30+ year-old veterans for a roster spot. It’s also a nice blend of star players and guys no one has ever heard of.
It hits on many relatable themes: At the risk of sounding like coach, so many elements of sports carry over in life. For example, the power of consequences: if you don’t show up and do your best every day, or you act like a buffoon, it could cost you big. Likewise, competition and adversity bring out the best in all of us. The most painful lesson the show depicts is that life simply isn’t fair. Players careers are ruined by fluke injuries or freak accidents every week in the NFL. Hard work isn’t always enough, but it is essential.
There’s no façade: There’s no pretending these people live normal lives. Most reality shows want the characters to feel relatable, while simultaneously highlighting the most outrageous incidents they encounter. But the most outrageous aspect of celebrities’ lives is typically cut out of reality TV, namely, the fact that everyone stares at them when they’re in public or asks for their autograph. HBO reveals both the mundane and glamorous parts of being a professional football player.
It’s sports: At the end of the day, nobody cares about the realities of life in a cubicle. Sure, there are always memorable moments where the audience meets the family of a player or a coach that melts their hearts (last year it was the O’Brien family), but the meat and potatoes of the show’s content is 90 of the country’s finest athletes competing at the highest level. Balls are flying around, pads are crunching, and there’s always a winner.