- Jul 8, 2001
Playmakers: The Complete Series
Studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment/ESPN
Run Time: 491 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 encoded 1.78:1 OAR
Audio: DD 5.1 English
Special Features: Behind the Scenes Featurette; “On Set with Snoop Dogg”; Pilot episode commentary.
ESPN’s Original Entertainment division has been producing sports-themed movies and programming for a couple years now, from daily talk shows (Pardon the Interruption) to a Bob Knight biopic. The centerpiece of their lineup last season was “Playmakers,” a soap opera set in the brutal world of professional football.
It was a controversial program in more ways than one: rough language and partial nudity pushed the basic cable envelope, while the behavior of the characters – a star running back smokes crack at halftime – earned a stern rebuke from the NFL. Despite solid ratings, the show was cancelled after just one season, due at least in part to the NFL’s objections (ESPN’s parent company, Disney, owns ABC, home to Monday Night Football).
The series follows the fictional Cougars through one tumultuous season. Each plot development mirrors a hot-button issue in pro sports today: steroids, spousal abuse, drug addiction, homophobia … the list goes on and on. It’s this over-dependence on buzzwords and controversy that drags the series down, as scripts that could’ve been interesting and even insightful circle the bowl toward the drainpipe of exploitation.
The acting is mostly solid, and if some of the characters ring hollow, well, that’s par for the course: this is a soap opera after all. Taken on its own, Playmakers is a modest entertainment. Those with no interest in professional football should steer clear.
[C]PICTURE[/C] :star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
“Playmakers” was one of the first programs to air on ESPN’s then-brand-new High Definition channel, ESPNHD. As such, it’s presented in it’s original anamorphic 16:9 aspect ratio. The transfer, from these high definition masters, is simply stunning. There is simply very little to complain about. If the picture is occasionally soft or washed out, it’s either by design or the fault of the production. Clarity and depth of field are excellent to spectacular. In many scenes, the image is more crisp and punchy than nearly all theatrical releases. The only issue: blacks occasionally tend slightly toward gray, but not to distraction.
While the video quality is above reproach, the audio is sadly lacking. Though mastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, the surrounds are almost completely inactive. This would be a bigger problem if the series centered on game footage; it does not, and in fact precious few seconds of screentime are devoted to the playing field.
The LFE channel kicks in at awkward moments, usually overemphasizing a fairly benign moment on the soundtrack. Worst of all, dialogue is occasionally muddy and nearly unintelligible at anything but high volumes.
The meager bonus features include:
1.First-episode commentary from producer/creator John Eisendrath
2.“On Set with Snoop Dogg,” who appears in episode ten
3.A behind the scenes featurette.
None of the three offer much if any value, and serve more to fill out some open time on the third disc of this three disc set.
It’s not immediately clear where the market for this set lies. Few who followed the series through its broadcast run will bother picking up the discs, as they offer nothing new. Those who didn’t might be disappointed in another respect: though raunchy and rough for basic cable, “Playmakers” doesn’t play nearly as well on home video, where the occasional curse word is par for the course (oops, wrong sport). Unless this really sounds like something you’d be interested in – and you thought “Any Given Sunday” was far too subtle (!) – eight and a half hours seems like a lot of time to devote to “Playmakers.”