Today at 3 p.m., NBC will air the NHL Winter Classic, a game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, and one I would not have cared about had it not been for HBO’s exceptional series 24/7: Flyers/Rangers: Road to the Winter Classic. The series works for both fans and non-fans, thanks to its incredible access; gorgeous photography, sound design, and soundtrack; Liev Schreiber’s narration; and compelling storytelling.
The primary appeal is the access the series offers, from players and coaches wearing mics during games to locker room footage to after-hours bonding. Games are condensed into highlight reels that feature slow-motion footage and revealing audio that pulls us into the action in an entirely different way than watching a game on TV. It almost makes the games seem less interesting by comparison, especially since the footage looks less dramatic.
The series is both a documentary and advertisement for the sport it’s covering, and the access highlights some negatives–such as concussions players suffer during fights or play–but ignores others. And perhaps because it is following professional athletes, whose skill set is not necessarily introspection or verbal communication, there is not always a lot of insight from the players. But those seem like expected consequences for the kind of access we do get, and the footage is edited and the narration written in such a way that it’s captivating and feels both epic and intimate at the same time.
If you are without HBO, last year’s series, the first 24/7 to follow the lead-up to the Winter Classic, 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to NHL Winter Classic, is on DVD.
Even better, the first episode of this year’s four-episode series is online, free; watch it now: