' ' Cinema Romantico: The Most Boring ESPN Documentary

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

The Most Boring ESPN Documentary

“I’d watch that,” My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife said despite being a notorious Yankees hater when she first saw an ad scroll across the TV screen for ESPN’s documentary on Derek Jeter named for his sobriquet “The Captain.” Until she saw it was seven parts, that is, and then immediately reneged. Who on earth needs a seven-part documentary about Derek Jeter except for already established Derek Jeter fans who desire nothing more than a gauzy recycling of all his greatest hits accompanied by a talking head Jeter interview in which he speaks strictly in banalities where all the in-the-bag Captain-heads nod along and say “Really makes you think.” A reviewer shouldn’t review without seeing, duh, of course, but c’mon. If that initial ESPN 30 for 30 series was sometimes interesting, and on occasion even aesthetically daring, the more recent crop of ESPN-produced movies are so uninspiring in their blasé talking head-heavy house style. I wanted to like the recent one about the 1996 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball team, I really did, but the end result called to mind the lyrics of “Last Midnight” from “Into the Woods.” It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just nice.

“Derek Jeter remains ‘The Captain’ of his narrative,” goes the headline of Candace Buckner’s review for The Washington Post, surprise, surprise, making it sound a lot like “The Last Dance.” Really, Buckner draws a not uninteresting conclusion about Jeter in that piece but that’s more about Buckner drawing that conclusion from the doc being, as Daniel Fienberg put it for The Hollywood Reporter, “resolutely styleless.” And that’s pretty much where we are with ESPN documentaries now. Seven styleless parts to tell us that Jeter is boring, betraying the seven parts as an opportunity to fill airtime, content, as they say. And whatever, watch, don’t watch, form you own take. I’m so much less interested in how boring The Captain is, quite frankly, and how much more boring ESPN documentaries can get. How can we make the most boring ESPN documentary ever?

Tim Duncan is generally considered one of our most boring athletes, belied by his humdrum nickname The Big Fundamental and evinced by so many Onion articles. But is he that boring? I always thought he came across more interesting than boring in John Feinstein’s 1998 book “A March to Madness,” though that was when Duncan was still playing at Wake Forest University. As a professional, he became more guarded, not wrongly, which can be mistaken for boring. So, I say we have ESPN’s version of Werner Herzog (I don’t think this person exists) and have him make a movie about trying to get Tim Duncan to open up, to try and make Tim Duncan say just one interesting thing. He never does. The documentary itself concludes: “In the end, we confess, this movie isn’t much.”

A 6-part documentary of 80 and 90s NFL journeyman Dave Krieg, one part for every team he quarterbacked. Possible Variety review: “Somehow, we come to know this person we didn’t know in the first place even less.”

Pete Sampras was a total bore, this isn’t me telling tales out of school. That boredom was epitomized in his drone-like serve and volley approach, from which we will construct something that is less documentary than avant-garde art film, 45 minutes in the metronome-like image of a Pete Sampras serve, the Metal Machine Music of ESPN, our guiding artistic principle to get people to cut the chord and cancel ESPN+ in droves. 

A golfer who may or may not be Brooks Koepka.

Golfer Brooks Koepka shows up on boring athlete lists a lot and, honestly, I couldn’t pick this dude out of a lineup. You could make a golf documentary about Harris English, Corey Connors, Luke List, or Keegan Bradley, tell me it’s Brook Koepka, and I’d say sure. Honoring the famed phrase A Good Walk Spoiled, I think that in the middle of the Brooks Koepka documentary, when he’s playing a round at some scenic course, the camera should just wander off on its own, transform into a nature documentary of the fairways and foliage, with Koepka, whoever he is, never to be seen again. 

I love Roger Federer, don’t get me wrong. In the Big Three tennis debate, I’m totally Team Federer. But he’s often cited as being boring in so much as he is very guarded and very reserved. No problem. Let’s make an hourlong Federer movie to premiere ahead of next year’s Wimbledon as a kind of European remix of the video of Nick Offerman literally just sitting in front of a fire and sipping scotch for 45 minutes by having Federer sit at an outdoor table with a Swiss Alps backdrop and sip espresso and eat chocolate for 45 minutes. Undoubtedly, that would be the most boring ESPN documentary ever made. Wait, did I say boring?

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