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Quarterback Offers a Peek Under the Helmets of the NFL's Biggest Stars

Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Marcus Mariota invite cameras into their homes in Netflix's intimate docuseries.
  • Patrick Mahomes in Quarterback (Photo: Netflix)
    Patrick Mahomes in Quarterback (Photo: Netflix)

    As sports docuseries go, Netflix's Quarterback by no means reinvents the wheel. While the eight-part series boasts unprecedented access to NFL stars at the peak of their careers — including Super Bowl LVII champion and MVP Patrick Mahomes — it relies on a familiar format as it charts their respective journeys throughout the 2022 season. Episodes combine extensive game footage with commentary from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Mahomes, Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, and former Atlanta Falcon Marcus Mariota, who speak candidly about their successes, disappointments, and struggles. Swap in different sports and you get Netflix shows like Formula 1: Drive to Survive and Full Swing, or shift the timeline up to the preseason to replicate the league's long-running HBO series Hard Knocks.

    And yet, the fact that Quarterback isn't doing anything revolutionary is what makes it worthwhile viewing. With their $450 million contracts and massive endorsement deals, these elite athletes will never be "normal," but the docuseries goes a long way towards humanizing them by emphasizing their lives off the field. The value of Netflix's series lies in these ordinary moments, which are given equal priority as Mahomes' Super Bowl-winning drive or the Vikings' historic comeback against the Indianapolis Colts.

    It's not surprising that the docuseries is most successful when its subjects remove their helmets and head to the locker room. By now, five months after the Super Bowl, the football featured in the show is old news, a problem that plagues Netflix's other sports docuseries, particularly tennis-focused Break Point. The streamer tries to up the drama with a heavy score that wouldn't be out of place in House of the Dragon, but at the end of the day, fans know how these games end and which plays will (or won't) matter in the grand scheme of the season.

    As a result of that familiarity, it's easier to spot moments when the players are rewriting the narrative in their favor (Mahomes is an executive producer on the docuseries) or are reluctant to discuss something on camera. Super Bowl LVII ended in controversy due to a late-game holding penalty on the Philadelphia Eagles, but there's no mention of the widely-disputed call in the finale, "The Final Chapter," despite it all but clinching the game for the Chiefs.

    Producers also let Mariota off the hook after he lost the starting quarterback job to rookie Desmond Ridder and left the Falcons mid-season; Mariota claims he opted to have surgery to address a nagging knee injury, but coach Arthur Smith says that was never discussed in their initial (and seemingly only) conversation about his demotion. It's clear there's something more going on here, yet after just a few minutes spent with Mariota as he rehabilitates his knee — during which he complains about the "narrative" surrounding his sudden departure — he disappears from the show until the closing minutes of the finale, when it's revealed he's heading to Philadelphia to back up Jalen Hurts.

    The realities of Quarterback's lengthy production-to-streaming delay put extra pressure on the non-football segments to deliver something fresh and exciting, and they rise to the challenge. Of the three subjects, Cousins is most likely to get viewers talking. The signal caller developed a reputation for being eccentric during his time in Washington, and his recent success with the Vikings has only intensified his embarrassing dad energy. Despite being routinely mocked online, Cousins isn't afraid to show the world his true self: He invites the cameras into his closet of "Kohl's cash" shirts and the "memory room" where he keeps framed jerseys, game balls, and trophies. Prominently displayed between the football memorabilia are family photos and a T-shirt from Cousins' high school choir group, XTreme Tenors, which gets a special shout-out in the form of a clip from an old performance.

    For those who believe Cousins' good guy persona is an act, his effort to prioritize his marriage and children proves otherwise. Unlike many NFL quarterbacks, Cousins takes Tuesdays off to spend time with his wife, Julie, shuttle their sons to and from school, and answer fan mail, activities that help him "recharge the batteries" before the next game. Even when he's reeling from a difficult loss, family comes first: In one of the show's most tender moments, Cousins spends the hours after the Vikings are eliminated from the playoffs reading to his son and singing to him before bedtime. The season may have come to an unceremonious end, but life goes on; there are still children to bathe and trash cans to drag to the curb.

    Quarterback also spends a great deal of time following the players as they mentally and physically prepare for the grueling 18-week regular season and a potential playoff run. The stressful fourth episode, "Mind Games," centers on the hundreds of creatively-titled plays — "F-mode a trick, cluster right tuna scram, X-steel, Y-cash" — the QBs must memorize over the course of the season, while subsequent installments follow Mahomes and Cousins as they work through painful injuries and go to great lengths to get their bodies in fighting shape. (Mariota often feels like an afterthought, which, given the Falcons' poor performance, probably would have been the case even if he remained with the team to the end of the season.) These parts of the job aren't glamorous, but they're essential to on-field success, and viewers are likely to come away with a newfound respect for the immense amount of preparation that goes into each game.

    Football fans are so focused on performance — whether that of their favorite team or their fantasy lineup — that it can be easy to forget the men underneath the pads. "People look at them, and they think they're robots. They wear a helmet, that they're these modern-day gladiators," says Falcons coach Arthur Smith. "But there's life outside this building." Quarterback's greatest strength is its commitment to reminding viewers of this fact. With criticism from fans and social media abuse, much of it rooted in racism, at an unfortunate high, that message has never been more urgent.

    Quarterback is now streaming on Netflix.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Quarterback, Netflix, Kirk Cousins, Marcus Mariota, Patrick Mahomes, NFL