‘NFL Road Tested,’ watching grass grow
Viewers hang out with the support staff of the Cleveland Browns
December 4, 2012
Sometimes the real drama happens behind the scenes. But it usually doesn't.
The Travel Channel's new documentary series "NFL Road Tested" is based on the hope that the jobs of the Cleveland Browns' support staff — for example, an equipment assistant, the grounds crew and a special-events person — will be worth watching. They're not. The show ranges from dull to ludicrously dull.
The premiere episode, airing tonight at 10, covers the week of the Browns' game with their rival the Baltimore Ravens. Since this is a home game, the episode lacks the travel element, which would justify the series' presence on this particular channel.
The episode kicks off with a long segment lionizing the team's new owner, Jimmy Haslam, who is presented as the force behind the team's likely turnaround from decades of disappointing performances. Even the team's greatest running back, Jim Brown, is seen praising Haslam's leadership skills. The narrator doesn't say whether this lionizing was part of the deal the producers signed with Haslam to get his permission to make the show.
The narrator does point out that Haslam isn't going to turn the team around all by himself. "The key to success in the NFL is to build an organization that is strong from top to bottom," he says, then adds redundantly, "and everywhere in between."
Most of the episode focuses on preparation for the game. A groundskeeper says that rain from Hurricane Sandy is forcing his crew to keep the tarps on a little longer than usual. The grass, he says, is starting to yellow.
Two players and their families go out for dinner together. One player asks the other, "Have you had those Buffalo spring rolls?"
An equipment assistant named Mike Thatcher, a retired salesman, is seen cleaning the players' shoes and putting them away. At one point he counts a pile of them and finds 14 left shoes and 10 rights. We don't see how this problem is resolved.
The team's veteran placekicker, Phil Dawson, is the featured player in the episode. He gives us a tour of his shoe cabinet, pointing out that he'll use different shoes for different field conditions. Sometimes, he says, he even changes his shoes at halftime.
Dawson watches a staffer laboriously prepare the team's balls. Kickers, he says, like their balls rubbed smooth, while quarterbacks prefer more "nubbies." But then the team's new quarterback, Brandon Weeden, says he likes his balls a little more "worn in."
The action picks up slightly at the game on Sunday. The NFL as a whole was playing tribute to the military that week, so we see the special-events person directing a soldier singing the national anthem. A family whose son died in action gets a special surprise.
Dawson has an eventful game, but the footage of actual play is skimpy.
Normally, in this kind of documentary, the action would build to a crisis just before a commercial break. Usually, after the break, the crisis turns out to be nothing special.
In this show, it's clear that the crises are nothing special before the break. One such moment consists of the groundskeeper saying that his crew is a little behind schedule.
Normally, critics object to fakery in documentaries, but by the end of the episode most viewers will be begging for distraction.
"NFL Road Tested" should have been road-tested before it aired.
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