We hear Tom Brady swear fairly often in "Man in the Arena."
For example, when describing David Tyree's famous catch in the fourth episode, Brady says "the guy catches f***ing ball on his helmet." About the game, Brady says, "we f***ing lost the Super Bowl." In the final moments of the fourth episode, after the credits, Brady is heard saying "Thanks guys, 'F*** the Giants,' on three."
If curse words are shocking to you, that'll get you going when you watch the 10-hour docuseries on ESPN+ that looks back at each of Brady's Super Bowls. Otherwise, there's not much.
The series streams a new episode each week and we're through four episodes. This week's episode was on the 2007 New England Patriots team that went undefeated in the regular season and lost in the Super Bowl.
The series isn't bad. It's a good time capsule for the greatest dynasty in sports history, and the greatest quarterback in NFL history. But that's a lot of time to fill, especially if you're not a Patriots fan, and there's not a ton of new ground that has been mined yet.
Tom Brady stars in his own 10-part series
The highlight of the first four episodes was probably hearing from Drew Bledsoe about the 2001 season when he got hurt and Brady took his job. Bledsoe's side isn't new, but this time it seemed a little deeper and introspective. The talking heads other than Brady — Lawyer Milloy, Randy Moss, Michael Strahan — have been entertaining. If you like reliving NFL history, it's a fun trip down memory lane. If you like the Patriots, it's wonderful.
But it's what you'd expect from a series co-produced by 199 Productions, which is Brady's production company named after his NFL draft position. Brady is listed as an executive producer. There isn't a lot of deep digging involved.
Each episode is a chronological look at each season from beginning to end. There haven't been any shocking moments, aside from hearing the normally polite and buttoned-up Brady drop some F-bombs. If you are a Patriots fan or know NFL history, you've heard most of the stories by now. If you're not a Patriots fan, it's unlikely you'd seek out the documentary to watch.
The production is slick, Brady and others offer good interviews, but it mostly feels like Brady using his production company to do some scrapbooking at the end of his career and he shares it with us.
Brady's docuseries doesn't break much new ground
There are certain elements that make a good sports documentary. Sometimes it's a great story that hasn't been told in full to the masses (for example, "The Two Escobars" and "Hoop Dreams"). It could be carried by phenomenal unseen footage of a famous person or event, like "When We Were Kings." Maybe the figure involved is so compelling it can't lose. That, and the hunger for anything new during quarantine, is why people loved "The Last Dance" on the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls. Maybe every element comes together perfectly for perhaps the best sports documentary ever, "O.J.: Made In America."
Brady really doesn't check any of those boxes. His football career is compelling, but he has never been a must-watch person off the field. There are a few new stories told in "Man in the Arena" but nothing that's incredibly edgy. We've seen all the clips of the highlight plays, even if it has been a while. It's a rehash, mostly for Patriots fans and Brady himself. It might have been better 20 years removed from Brady's career. But the final episode on last season's Super Bowl is going to air less than 12 months after the game. You can't even squeeze nostalgia out of that.
So, "Man in the Arena" is what it is, a solid, uncontroversial series that is way too long because ESPN must believe people want 10-hour epics like "The Last Dance" on any subject. Maybe we'll get a lot more pop with the final six episodes, like the fascinating relationship between Brady and Bill Belichick, though that seems unlikely.
But hey, at least Brady's victory lap will be more compelling than six episodes on Derek Jeter.