At the age of three years-old, Scott Towler caught a BBC mini-series adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewitt. His life was irrevocably altered.

The mini-series….TV’s long lost step-child. Once a staple of the programming block, over the past 15 years, the medium has drifted increasingly further from the format. More frequently, the mini’s become the jumping off point for future serialized shows (a la the reincarnation of Battlestar Galactica). Once upon a time we got Roots, The Jacksons (starring Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington as Joe), and the Dinosaur killing meteorite that ended them all: Ted Danson’s hair-metal version of Gulliver’s Travels.*

The sole life raft in the shallow pool of mini-series’ today is HBO Documentaries’ “Hardknocks,” a program that follows a NFL team from training camp to opening day. This season, they’re profiling the Dallas Cowboys, the second time they’ve done this since the show’s inception, a pretty transparent ploy to attract the rabid and massive Cowboys fan base (or the over-60 population who continue to have yet to discover Internet porn and thus continue to see the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders as the pinnacle of salaciousness).

Granted, I’m not exactly the Cowboys’ biggest fan, but somehow I found it difficult not to love the show. Maybe it’s as simple as the post-Labor day shift into fall and the nostalgic return of football. Or perhaps it’s the beautiful duality that exists between the show and the sport. The brief nature of football season (20 days tops to watch your team each year) mirroring the scant episode order. HBO’s only airing five “Hardknocks'”and accordingly, it heightens the impact and import of each. You sympathize for the rookies and free agents scrambling for the 4th string spot. You get wonderful insights into what it takes to run an NFL squad. Football transforms into more than sport, it becomes theory and a way of life.


Yet His Hair is So Lustrous

It’s about guys like Pacman Jones, a player whose career has been completely over-shadowed by an arrest record longer than Yao Ming’s arms. Sure, everyone remembers the infamous “makin’ it rain,” comment, but what about his game? He’s spent so much time behind bars, it’s hard to remember if he was any good to begin with. Yet seeing Pacman as a real person, dealing with the NFL commissioner in an attempt to get his life back, made him seem almost decent. Almost. Granted, I never shot up a Denver strip club, so what do I know?

Then there’s rookie wide receiver Danny Amendola, widely considered much too short and small to play (coincidentally, he’s 5’11” and 183 lbs., a size white women like to call ‘just right,’ the skinny bitches!). In the end, he was relegated to the practice squad, but that wasn’t what mattered. Watching him make the team at all seemed to epitomize the difficulties inherent in being the underdog.

Surprisingly, Tony Romo barely played a role in the series, a fitting metaphor for just how irrelevant any one man is on a football team. While the Cowboys might boast that they’re the most “Hollywood” of any team, Romo never gave off that impression (and certainly looked better than Tom “GQ” Brady or Matt “Creative Artists Agency” Leinart ever will). Mind you, dating Jessica Simpson doesn’t help your cause much, but when the show cut to the booth during pre-season game play, the focus was on Romo’s father, and not his Dukes of Hazzard partner in crime. That makes sense though, I’m sure Jessica had a lot on her mind. “Maybe I should eat that taco. My sister is a hack. Oooh, John Mayer sure got my jeans wet, but he doesn’t play football. My dad touched me.”

Pac-Man: Heroic Yellow Blob or Psychotic Ghost Killer-You Be the Judge

Sadly, the show has already wrapped up for this season, but it’s merely left my appetite whetted for the next five months of football. Really, I can’t wait. As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Then again, Ferris Bueller was a rich prick who coaxed his friend into a mental breakdown after he trashed his father’s car. Some friend he was, the schmuck.

*OK, so I can’t directly trace it to Ted Danson, but I’d like to. Had Gulliver been Woody Harrelson, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

MP3: Jay-Z-“Hard Knock Life”

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