(Ed. Note: This review contains spoilers.)
Now that Season 2 of "HBO 24/7: Road To The NHL Winter Classic" has dropped its final F-bomb, the essential question: How did it compare to Season 1?
Before we answer, know this: It's the question the producers knew every viewer would be asking by the end of the run, and they've worked their asses off to try and develop characters, story arcs and narratives from two teams that simply didn't offer the same clarity of plot, and star power, that the Capitals and Penguins did.
By Episode 4, their successes were evident: Players like Ilya Bryzgalov, Claude Giroux and Ryan Callahan mattered to us, as did the coaches. And the finale did a really fantastic sell job on the importance of the Classic itself, despite it being just another regular season game: From the general animosity between the teams to players concerned about whether or not they'd be able to take part in the spectacle.
The story told on the ice during the 2012 Winter Classic was more compelling than last season's finale under the lights in Pittsburgh. It was, overall, a better episode. It wasn't, overall, a better season — and the fact that some of the beats in this and other installments now feel like part of a "24/7" template made for some predictability that the debut season didn't possess.
Season 2 couldn't sniff the jock of Season 1 from a dramatic storytelling perspective. But Season 2 might have produced a greater variety of players you cared about by the time skates hit the ice inside of a stadium.
It cracked the veneer of some of these players to the point where they seemed like old friends by the fourth episode. We felt like we understand the dynamics of their camaraderie. We felt like we know their families. We felt like we've taken a journey with them, running the emotional gamut from ferocious competition to the joys of The Game.
Coming up, a recap, some clips and images from Episode 4. What did you think of the show, and Season 2?
This Week On 24/7
It's the day the clown cried.
The first image we see is that of Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, the space cadet who provided this season's most sublime and huMANGous laughs, with his hands over his mouth. He's surly and sarcastic after another loss. Trumpeted as the team's biggest offseason acquisition back in Episode 1, he's been humbled (and we've been foreshadow'd) as the Flyers prepare for Jagr Night in Pittsburgh, with a side helping of Talbot Evening.
Hey, remember Sean Avery? The HBO producers did. Avery and Brandon Prust share breakfast in Washington, DC. Avery can't get on the Internet. Avery doesn't want to take off his sunglasses. Avery wonders if the orange juice is unlimited. #SeanAveryProblems
(Later, his being placed on waivers becomes a side-plot before the Winter Classic, including Coach John Tortorella addressing the decision. This story was very important to the "24/7" viewer, who was likely on pins and needles wondering what Avery would wear to Citizens Bank Stadium as a healthy scratch for the Rangers before his demotion.)
The Rangers travel to Miami to face the Florida Panthers, where "24/7" cameras take advantage of the beach.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the Flyers visit "The Town That Max Built, I Mean, Jagr Built" according to Scott Hartnell. Previously, we saw the positive reaction to Talbot being back in the city, as he's mobbed by fans outside of the Flyers' hotel (one of whom has him sign a "Shhh!" photo).
Later, we see him takin' it all in. Really wonderful moment here:
Talbot gets a video tribute and a nice ovation from the Penguins crowd.
Jagr gets this:
Then things get really fun. Scottie Hartnell calls Evgeni Malkin the "ugliest guy in the league." Tyler Kennedy gives Talbot a welcome back with a stick between the legs, prompting this classic from Max:
"[Expletive] spear there. Right in my [expletive] penis."
Jagr scores. Talbot gets the empty netter (and a really nice shot of that from HBO). The Flyers head back home victorious, and we see our first glorious shot of Winter Classic rink 18 minutes into the program.
Back in Florida, it's the Rangers and the Panthers. Ah yes, the Tomas Kopecky sucker-punch on Michael Del Zotto; once again, HBO brings us some amazing context to an infamous highlight:
• Michael Rupp saying "what the [expletive] are you doing? What the [expletive] are you doing, you [expletive] piece of [poop]. You [expletive] suckered him!"
• Brandon Prust saying he would have beaten up Kopecky but that "I didn't want to get suspended for the Winter Classic." (And who said supplemental discipline wasn't a deterrent!)
• Del Zotto, bleeding back in the trainers room, asking who jumped in to defend him. The answer: "Rupper."
On the plane to Philly, Ryan Callahan messes with a sleeping Marc Staal by sticking an HBO boom mic under his nose. THE MAN HAD A CONCUSSION YOU BRUTES.
Meanwhile, Wayne Simmonds gets hit in the hand at Flyers practice by a Claude Giroux shot. He goes to the back and … OK, fair warning about how awesome and gross this is.
Yum. Who wants a V-8?
The next segment covers an important part of the Winter Classic experience: Family. Laviolette hangs with his brood in South Jersey. On a table there's a plate that reads "We Interrupt This Marriage To Bring You Hockey Season." The family poses on a staircase for a photo, saying "Rangers Suck" instead of "cheese."
The Rangers celebrate with family too. Brandon Dubinsky's grandfather tells the world to "drink up." Grandson's apparently way ahead of you, old timer …
There's more family time during Winter Classic practices on the eve of the game, leading to this heartwarming message of togetherness from Laviolette before the game:
"If your life is complicated with people in town, make sure you get rid of the people."
Back on the Flyers locker room, Bryzgalov gives his infamous "don't forget my thermos" speech about not playing the Winter Classic and ... wait a minute ... hellllllooooo gorgeous!
The Rangers hang out in the third base dugout — Brian Boyle does a little Ferris Bueller "swing battah" routine — before practice, and then hang out with OMG BRANDON DUBINSKY'S LADYFRIEND friends and family after their afternoon skate on Jan. 1.
Gameday. Really cool moment: We see the 'A' getting stitched onto Marc Staal's jersey as he's cleared for the Classic. Little Liam, the Rangers fan with cerebral palsy from Episode 2, rolls into the stadium for the game. The coaches give their speeches, including Laviollete's "You Get One Crack At This" mantra. (Max Talbot's inner monologue: "Or two in two years ...")
Winter Classic time for "the best in the world at what they do," according to HBO. (Chris Jericho fan on the writing staff perhaps?) Among the highlights from a gorgeously shot (and really, really brutal) game:
• The referees discussing the way the wind is affecting the puck; acting as if they're unaware of the incredible weather machine NBC is using to keep the game close. They must have missed a meeting ...
• Claude Giroux asking Hernik Lundqvist if he can "just have one tonight." Foreshadowing!
• Giroux calling Artem Anisimov a "[expletive] piece of [poop]" before warning the officials about his interfering on faceoffs.
• Jagr getting injured, going to the back and shooing the camera away from the trainer's table.
• Hartnell to Del Zotto: "I don't even know your name." Del Zotto (we think, or maybe it was Brad Richards) to Hartnell: "Go rip your own teammates again."
• Brayden Schenn scores; Giroux: "We're not at [expletive] world juniors here, jumping into the glass."
• The Mike Rupp Jagr Salute. James van Riemsdyk, after saying he'd do the Anisimov gun salute if he scored, tells his teammates at the start of the third that Rupp "did the Jags salute … that's why we gotta respond." Giroux: "How is that cool? It's his second goal of his [expletive] career." Moments later, Rupp ties the game. Whoops.
• Callahan blows a gasket over the "holding the stick" call late in the third period. And then after the puck is covered by the Rangers in the crease, we get the essential moment from the Winter Classic: Danny Briere vs. Henrik Lundqvist.
Every penalty shot should have the music from the "Prometheus" trailer.
The next scenes were very familiar from last season: The locker room celebration contrasted with the locker room depression. Special visitors (Liam! Sather! James Dolan!). And then the big dramatic essay, as Sigur Ros's "Festival" plays:
"Never get caught telling a hockey player it's just a game." (Irony: They show Bryzgalov, who is a hockey player that told us it's "only game.")
"Never get caught trying to explain to him all the things in the world that matter so much more. His mind might well acknowledge the truth to your point, but his soul would be powerless to accept it, considering the immensity of what he gives to the sport and the immeasurability of all it offers in return."
"Nothing ever feels as perfect as a moment of flawlessness on the ice." (We see Dubinsky score against the Islanders.)
"No bond as strong as one that compels brothers to bleed for one another." (Zac Rinaldo player skates away from a fight, getting the crowd riled.)
"Not many leaders as this versed in the craft of motivation." (Laviolette and Tortorella are shown.)
"Not many pursuits can evoke such visions if brilliance." (Lundqvist, raising his stick to the MSG crowd.)
"This is why it hurts so much when skill falls short of what the will desires. This is why it's so unforgettable when absolute passion yields ultimate reward."
"And that's all still just the start of what the Game can do to you."
There's a final montage of the people we've met, from the players to the coaches to Grandma Callahan.
"Hockey may in fact be just a game, but it's also who they are."
Check out the glorious symmetry of the clips that began and ended Season 2 of "HBO 24/7".
They did the same thing in Season 1 with the laundry bookends, but going from battle scars to child-like smiles is a really genius way to tie this up -- as we said, they got the humanity and the characters right this season.
Unofficially 67, and no we're not going to add one just to get to the Jagr.
None. What, no Hartnell?
Hockey Geek Moment
The entire film session with the Rangers in Miami had some cool insight and interplay, but it also had the projector breaking. That led to Torts getting angry, and some singing about assistant coaches being in a "pile of [poop]" because the machine broke and Dubinsky, ahem, "looking for gold."
Mandatory hockey meetings: They're just as problematic and annoying as yours at work!
Missing In Action
Chris Pronger, NHL ice builder Dan Craig, Gary Bettman, Dancin' Larry, The Roots.
Top 5 Quotes
5. "Is the orange juice unlimited?" — Sean Avery at a D.C. hotel
4. "What kind of question is this? Everybody knows how I'm going to be received." Jaromir Jagr, when asked about Pittsburgh fans.
3. "You had your night off. So there's no more for a while here. There's gonna be another one, I'm sure. Not for a while. And it better not be [expletive] tonight." — Tortorella.
2. "What the [expletive] are you doing, you [expletive] piece of [poop]. You [expletive] suckered him!" — Mike Rupp to Tomas Kopecky.
1. "[Expletive] spear there. Right in my [expletive] penis." — Max Talbot, after a Tyler Kennedy spear.
3. John Tortorella. Can we hire this man to motivate us in everyday life?
2. Michael Rupp. The hero of the Winter Classic, he was also a veteran sage in the locker room and a protector of Del Zottos.
1. Scott Hartnell. The catalyst for many, many on-ice altercations; his play brought his story full circle after Laviolette slammed him for being too casual in the previous episode. Great stuff, Sideshow Bob.