Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
The Detroit Lions haven't had a winning record in the NFL since 2017. They haven't won their division since 1993 when it was the NFC Central (not the NFC North.) The last time the Lions won a playoff game was 1991. They traded their quarterback before last season, and he won the Super Bowl. Any Lions fan will tell you that the team has long been a mess.
I can't wait to see the Detroit Lions this week. That's because Hard Knocks, the award-winning NFL training camp docuseries, returns this Tuesday at 10pm and the Lions are this year's team of choice.
Sports has long been the best "reality television" to watch. There's a reason that the number one show year after year is Sunday Night Football on NBC. It's the only reason to watch live TV anymore.
I love football. I went to the University of Michigan in the late 80's and experienced Bo's final days as coach. The local professional team was the Lions, and they were not good. Detroit made attempts to "restore the roar" but the team just wasn't competitive or fun to watch. College football mattered more than pro.
When you root for a perennial loser, there's always hope for that one magic season to turn things around. The Lions have had legendary players like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, but a season where they win more than they lose often eludes them.
The beauty of Hard Knocks is that the team itself really doesn't matter. It can be any squad (except the Dallas Cowboys, who I can't stand). You get to know the players. The coaches. Their families. The training staff. Every aspect of what goes in to putting together a 53-man roster. You can't help but get caught up in it. And since the season has yet to begin, the wins and losses are irrelevant.
NFL Films shoots beautiful footage for Hard Knocks that makes every player look like a potential all-pro. You feel like a fly on the wall of the training facilities and meeting rooms. And Liev Schreiber's narration makes a casual observation about the smallest roster move feel like life changing news.
Hard Knocks has all of the elements of any great television drama. A high-profile franchise in an exclusive business. The ultimate goal of winning a championship. A more realistic goal of making the playoffs. High draft picks and long-time veterans. Tragic injuries and miraculous playmaking. Old coaches, young upstarts and a head coach trying to make it all gel.
The head coach is typically the star of the show. Lions coach Dan Campbell is in his second year and trying to establish himself and the team. Assistants range from long-time staff members to new blood trying to change the culture. Almost every coach gets fired in the NFL, so the jobs are always on the line. And Coach Campbell is intense.
The other key members of the cast are the players. The veterans know what training camp is all about. They're having a good time and trying to stay healthy. And of course, they're putting the rookies in their place. It's time for these kids to pay their dues.
Hard Knocks profiles late-round picks and free agents who are trying to make the team. You live and die with their struggles. These guys don't get many opportunities on the field, and when they do they need to make the most of them.
Here's the irony — these rookies were star players in college football. They're not used to being told what to do and humbling themselves. The smart ones keep quiet, do what's asked, and prove themselves on the field. The cocky ones often don't make the team. Humility is everywhere on Hard Knocks.
My favorite part of the series is when The Turk comes around in the final episode. This is the low-level employee tasked with visiting players to come see the coach and bring their playbooks. He is the bearer of bad news. The guy that no one wants to see. Watching these cuts can be heartbreaking.
The beauty of Hard Knocks is by the end of the season, you're rooting for the team that has been profiled. You know the faces under the helmets and all that goes into preparing for a NFL season. You cheer for guys to make the roster and get crushed when your favorites come up short.
In other words, there are going to be a lot more Lions fans heading into the 2022 season. Let's hope the roar is finally restored.
Here's what else is worth watching this week…
Five Days At Memorial (Apple TV+)
Friday, August 12th
This eight-episode book adaptation takes place at a New Orleans hospital dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The lack of resources (starting with electricity) forces the staff to make life and death decisions.
Carlton Cuse and John Ridley know how to produce compelling drama, and the tragedy of one of nature's nastiest events leads to fatalistic decision making and subsequent criminal charges. Watch trailer.
This Fool (Hulu)
Friday, August 12th
Hugs Not Thugs &mdash that's the theme of this autobiographical comedy set in South Central L.A.. Julio Lopez (creator Chris Estrada) is 30 years old, living with his parents, and working at a gang rehabilitation center where his message his often mocked.
Older cousin Luis just got out of prison and moves in with Julio and his family. The contrast in their lifestyles provides plenty of laughs as gang members make life choices leading to different results outside the prison walls.
The Princess (HBO)
Saturday, August 10th 8:00 PM ET
Yes, it's another Lady Di project. But this documentary consists entirely out of archival footage, so you can see what all the recent TV shows, films and Broadway musicals got right and oh so wrong. Watch trailer.
THIS WEEK'S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
Children of the Underground (FX) - Five-part documentary series about Faye Yager who taught women and children how to protect themselves by any means necessary from abusive husbands and fathers. Then the FBI gets involved. Friday at 8:00 PM ET.
A League Of Their Own (Amazon Prime Video) - A second attempt at a series based on Penny Marshall's hit movie. There is crying in TV adaptations. Friday.
South Park: The 25th Anniversary Concert (Comedy Central) - Hard to believe it has been 25 years since the premiere. Celebrate at Red Rocks with performances from Trey Parker & Matt Stone, Primus, and Ween. Saturday at 10 PM ET.
Tales Of The Walking Dead (AMC) - Six standalone hour-long episodes featuring new faces and familiar ones in Robert Kirkman's zombie filled apocalypse. Sunday at 9 PM ET.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: Rectify (AMC+) - After two decades on death row, DNA evidence frees Kevin Holden who returns to his Georgia hometown after being wrongfully convicted as a teen. Daniel attempts to put his life back together in this old Southern town in this hard-hitting intense drama.
House of Cards (Netflix)
Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu)
Downton Abbey (Peacock)
Banshee (HBO Max)
Police Squad! (Prime Video)
Party Down (Starz)
The Great (Hulu)
Magic City (Peacock)
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Prime Video)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster (or two). Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.