When the NHL (re)announced the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings would play in the next Winter Classic and HBO would reprise its groundbreaking series, 24/7, I fist-pumped. It was the perfect TV storm on paper. And then it aired. And it wasn’t.Episode rating: 2.5/5 Warning: Some clips in this post contain coarse language. It was the perfect TV storm on paper. And then it aired. And then it wasn’t. When the NHL (re)announced the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings would play in the next Winter Classic and HBO would reprise its groundbreaking series, 24/7, I fist-pumped. Two Original Six squads, both coming off surprisingly strong playoff showings, both pegged by pundits like us as teams on the rise, both hockey markets, ready to star on the best hockey documentary series ever made? Yes, please. It couldn’t miss. We had stars of the game like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, charming characters like Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson and quotable coaches in down-to-earth Mike Babcock and blunt Randy Carlyle. The season premiere aired Saturday and there’s no point sugarcoating it: we hockey people love this series, but season 3, episode 1 was somewhat of snoozer, more so than the eight episodes that preceded it. To understand what went wrong, let’s remember what made 24/7 Penguins/Capitals and 24/7 Flyers/Rangers so good: 1. Memorable characters. Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis are funny. Marc-Andre Fleury is a quirky prankster. Ilya Bryzalov needs no introduction in the sport anymore, and that’s because of the personality he showed on 24/7. 2. Fiery coaches. Bruce Boudreau put the series on the map in season 1, episode 1 with his profanity-laden tirades. Not to be outdone were the calculating Dan Bylsma, the prickly Peter Laviolette (just ask Steve Ott) and John Tortorella, who was yelling at the Rangers not to s--- their pants one minute and reaching out to a child in need the next. 3. Music. The tracks in seasons 1 and 2 were great. People rushed to Google the tunes they couldn't get out of their heads and came up with M83’s Midnight City and Fitz and the Tantrums’ Moneygrabber. 4. Rivalry. Penguins/Capitals was Crosby/Ovechkin and two teams who had played a seven-game playoff war a season and a half prior. The Flyers and Rangers…that one doesn’t even need explaining. While one episode doesn’t condemn a season, the opener of 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs lacks sparkle because it’s arguably missing all those elements. 1. Is there a single standout character yet? The closest is easily Lupul, who invites the HBO camera to watch him try to heal his groin injury as quickly as possible and, upon returning against L.A., is the best Leaf on the ice. He also gets the best lines of the episode, calling the Kings’ Slava Voynov a “piece of s---” after they fight. His famously good style and looks are on display and he flashes some charisma by grinning to himself after being sent to the dressing room early. An interesting personality? Sure. But he’s nowhere near the Bryzgalov/Boudreau zone. And that’s it for exciting characters. We can praise Stephen Weiss for wanting to watch his own highlight reel on the big screen during his return to Florida or Daniel Alfredsson for taking his kids for a skate at Joe Louis arena, but compelling television this ain’t. 2. Babcock and Carlyle disappoint, coming off as fairly easygoing and nice despite the fact their teams are mired in major slumps. Is this not fodder for some furious tirades? Carlyle is harder on a toaster than he is on any player in this episode. 3. No song remains in my head since I watched the episode. I couldn’t hum one note of one track for you. 4. Here’s the hindsight is 20/20 moment. In theory, Toronto/Detroit constitutes a good “rivalry” matchup. But these two teams are in the same division for the first time since 1997-98 and haven’t played each other yet this season despite being scheduled to meet four times. At least the rivalry can gain traction during their first matchup Dec. 21. The strange thing about the episode is it’s not like it lacks storylines to work with. There’s the aforementioned losing streaks, which in theory could breed drama, but instead seem to elicit wooden responses from many of the players. There’s Jimmy Howard’s knee injury and the brewing goaltending controversy with Jonas Gustvasson – but Gustavsson isn’t even quoted in the episode. Dion Phaneuf is suspended, too, for his hit on Boston’s Kevan Miller, but it gets relatively brief play. Of the incidents highlighted in the episode, only Lupul’s groin injury and subsequent return seem to get the in-depth 24/7 coverage we crave. That’s not to say this entire installment is a dud. A look at the odds and ends includes moments both amusing and disappointing:
- Of course Todd Bertuzzi is the lone guy we see slamming back a beer.
- Just as Carlyle’s toaster bit feels a bit forced, so does HBO’s attempt to build up Weiss’ return as dramatic. After Weiss high-fives BB&T Center staff and gets his video tribute, narrator
Ross Rhea Ray DonovanLiev Schreiber calls Florida a “hostile” crowd environment. That's like calling John Scott good at hockey. I checked the attendance for that game and it was 13,358 (69 percent capacity).
- I love Phil Kessel as a dynamically offensive player, but we know he all reminds us of our kid little brother, so it was fitting (and a bit endearing) to see him beating the big kids at ping pong and gloating.
- The Red Wings contingent of Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith, Darren Helm, Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader smartly change the subject on camera when someone tries to by them a shot in a Florida restaurant. Maybe they look down their noses at bottom-shelf tequila like Jose Cuervo. Or If they do oblige, it’s when HBO isn’t watching.
- Two seconds of Bozak? That’s it?