Once again, HBO's "Hard Knocks" is pounding at the edges of your TV screen, bringing you right inside an NFL team's training camp ... or a faithfully executed and decently-acted facsimile of one, anyway. This year, the team of choice is the Atlanta Falcons, a squad which recently ranked among the NFL's elite but last season settled into their usual role of mildly intriguing mediocrity. Will 2014 be the year Atlanta returns to prominence? Will anybody leverage a new ad campaign or reality show out of this? We shall see, but until then, we'll be bringing you weekly recaps. And hey, since we're often at training camp when the cameras are running, maybe we'll goose the storyline a bit as needed. Away we go ...
• The promos for "Hard Knocks" have featured Falcons players staring intensely at the camera, sweating like it's Georgia in July (appropriate), then transforming into actual football-skinned men. It's kind of weird, and it's kind of pump-you-up, and it still doesn't make Matt Ryan look all that tough:
• If you're at all familiar with "Hard Knocks," or reality TV in general, you know the drill by now: focus on a few key players as they make their way through training camp, craft their "stories," give us a look "behind the scenes," and punctuate it with several dramatic moments of conflict, whether real or, uh, "encouraged."
It's a highly sanitized NFL product, as all NFL product is, but if you watch closely enough, you might get a glimpse of what life's really like in training camp.
• Or not. We didn't have to wait long for the first "conflict," as DE Kroy Biermann and rookie Jake Matthews got into it on the first day of camp. I witnessed this firsthand, and the prevailing sentiment on the sideline, as cameras raced to catch the action on-field, was a not-at-all shocked "Hey. They're fighting. What a shock." Biermann, who's married to "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Kim Zolciak, knows how this reality TV schtick works.
• The Biermann-Real Housewives connection makes for an essential look into 21st-century American culture. Ever hold up two mirrors to each other and look into them, seeing reflection upon empty reflection fade into infinity? Yeah, that's what a "Hard Knocks"/"Real Housewives" crossover is like. (Unless, of course, it's like an Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy crossover. Roger Goodell would make a hell of a good Thanos.)
• Of all the recent pathetic characters in television history — pre-Heisenberg Walter White, Gabe from "The Office," that whiny sister from "The Walking Dead," Duck from "Mad Men" — none has even approached the level of impotent inadequacy shown by Dave Campo, then-Cowboys head coach when Dallas was on "Hard Knocks." Campo possessed all the inspiring charisma of a wet bag of grass clippings, and everyone both above and below him laughed at him. Clearly, Mike Smith watched that season and decided he wanted no part of that kind of ridicule, so he's running these Falcons with a telegraphed authority: barking commands, instituting hard-contact drills, bringing in borderline-lunatic assistants. Sure, he wears sandals, but he means business, y'all.
• Everybody's angling to be that one breakout star of the show, and wide receiver Harry Douglas might be it. He's lived in the shadow of Roddy White and Julio Jones for some time now on the field, but Douglas off-the-field is more loquacious than Jones and more laser-focused than White. Plus, Douglas revealed that he uses women's deodorant because he likes the smell. That's coming strong right out of the gate.
• "Hard Knocks"' version of the bachelor ditching the unwanted-lady-of-the-week is the old "Coach wants to see you, bring your playbook" sequence, in which some poor player gets his lifelong dream ground into powder on national TV. That didn't happen this week; instead, tackle Peria Jerry took himself out of the equation by quitting. "There's no turning back when you make a decision like this," Smith says, and you wonder if there are a few ex-players who might be ready to strangle Jerry for making a move like this on his own, without being pushed.
• Steven Jackson, running back and burgeoning artist, brings us this year's first double-dose of weird with a) an art show and b) a Terrell Owens cameo. Jackson may have an impact on the Falcons this year in, you know, actual games, but in this show he's carrying his weight.
• Falcons owner Arthur Blank is facing a bit of a crossroads of his own in Atlanta. Once revered as the man who revitalized the Falcons and turned around an entire section of the city as a result, Blank is now drawing heat for both the Falcons' sputtering performance and the decision to build a brand-new dome right next to the existing, and still perfectly adequate, current one. He'll be a figure on "Hard Knocks," but will he be a factor?
• Much more to come, though the entire enterprise would be better served if HBO found some more camera time for Roddy White. He's the Tyrion Lannister of this whole deal, the most compelling figure because he knows how absurd this whole endeavor — the entire game of football, not just this show — really is. Though if the Falcons were to bring in The Mountain for a few days, that wouldn't be bad either. Would keep those rookies on their toes. Don't let him grab your helmet!
Quote of the week:
"You catch that, you're going to eat steak. You drop that, you're going to keep eating Kentucky Fried Chicken." -Roddy White