"Today's the start of a long, hard journey…"
As Being: Liverpool begins, those are the words of Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers to his players in the visiting dressing room before the team's opening English Premier League fixture at West Bromwich Albion. A month later, those words are etched into stone. Liverpool fell 2-0 to WBA at The Hawthorns and are off to their worst start since 1962 with a solitary point in three league games. The poor start follows a calamitous end to the summer transfer window and three straight seasons out of the EPL's lucrative Top 4.
As a Liverpool fan, I was excited to be granted a review copy of Fox's Being: Liverpool, the first behind-the-scenes look at a major EPL club. Fox partnered with Liverpool on the six episode series and was given unprecedented access inside the club. It's a true win-win for both parties. Fox and Fox Soccer are granted a terrific subject for a high-profile documentary series while LFC have an opportunity to reach new fans, especially here in America where their Fenway Sports Group owners reside. The series debuts on Fox network television this Sunday around the network's NFL coverage (check your local listings). After the debut episode, the series continues on Fox Soccer Sunday nights at 9 PM.
Make no mistake about it, Liverpool are a proud, historic club in the beginning stages of a massive rebuild. After Rodgers' speech, the action picks back up in a Liverpool pub during LFC's 2-1 defeat in the 2012 FA Cup Final against Chelsea at the end of last season. The depressed smattering of applause in the pub after Liverpool's loss perfectly captured the underwhelming 2011-2012 Liverpool season. Although the club won their first trophy since 2006 with the League Cup (the fourth most important trophy at best in English soccer), it was another disappointing season.
For anyone anticipating the raw insights and drama of HBO's Hard Knocks and 24/7 or the impressive storytelling of ESPN's 30 for 30, you'll have to adjust your expectations. There's no scene akin to Chad Johnson getting called into Joe Philbin's office to be cut. There's no chalkboard tactics or background into why Rodgers was the choice of Liverpool's boardroom. The documentary flashes through a tumultuous offseason in warp speed.
Perhaps this is understandable. The series is being promoted as a first of its kind with Liverpool giving Fox unfiltered access into the club. However, that access doesn't come in the gritty moments that have come to define the genre. We're not there when club icon Kenny Dalglish is let go as manager or when a key transfer decision is made. With so many compelling stories surrounding the club, there were a number of possibilities for captivating, dramatic television. While that lack of a spellbinding, transformational moment is undoubtedly a disappointment in the pilot episode, Being: Liverpool's strength is in its access to the players and manager.
Being: Liverpool focuses its energy on the lives of the men involved at the football club. This decision doesn't make it a success or a failure, but rather different than many other docs in the industry. We go into Rodgers' home to meet his family (and see his amazing Cribs-worthy pool). The same is true with star midfielder Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva. The essence of the documentary is discovering how Gerrard met his wife and the joys of raising his three daughters, not how he and Lucas fit into the Liverpool midfield and Rodgers' system.
Both the club and the documentary rely heavily on manager Brendan Rodgers. The Northern Irishman is being asked to lead a revival at Liverpool and take the club back to the Champions League and just maybe win an EPL title.
Rodgers captures your attention in each scene. He's a man who never made it as a player, but has climbed the coaching ranks to the pinnacle of the sport. That drive is on display as is Rodgers' managing philosophy and quest to play the beautiful game that is his heartbeat. Rodgers doesn't just want to win games, but win them elegantly. "It's not about winning" Rodgers says, "it's about how you win. On and off the pitch." The manager is a decent soundbyte, too. When speaking about the importance of practice time, Rodgers bluntly remarks, "For me it's not just about training players, it's about educating players. You train dogs."
From there, Being: Liverpool shines brightest in the quality of production and the little moments. Rodgers shaking hands with the Melwood kitchen staff and the groundscrew at Anfield and asking some time to walk around Liverpool's empty stadium alone. Lucas and his fellow South American players enjoying each other's friendship with a game of Monopoly. New signing Fabio Borini squirming impatiently on the medical examiner's table. A visit to the Red Sox clubhouse where Adrian Gonzalez explains the 162 game MLB schedule and lack of off days. Seeing the awkward interaction when Rodgers' Michael meets Bobby Valentine's Fredo.
But in terms of some of the club's more serious dealings, Being: Liverpool drifts wide of the mark. Andy Carroll's eventual departure on loan to West Ham has led to this Rodgers statement appearing as a relic. "It's going to take something incredible for him to leave the football club" are now ironic words and perhaps even a cruel twist of fate.
How close the Being: Liverpool presentation is to reality will shape whether or not the series is ultimately successful. It's a fine line to walk. Is it a true look inside one of England's most historic clubs? The answer lies in the middle. There are many times when Being: Liverpool feels too carefully crafted. It'd be an enormous shock to see last year's Luis Suarez controversy with Patrice Evra mentioned at all during the series. There are also times when Being is endearing and fascinating.
The show ends with a very hopeful and uplifiting note that the club is building a foundation and establishing a unified winning vision. As a supporter I can only dream of that day coming, but in reality I know it's well off in the distance. So while we're here, will the tough questions be asked? Will we go back to those incredible circumstances that allowed Andy Carroll to leave without a replacement arriving in a later episode? That will ultimately be the difference in deciding whether Being: Liverpool is just an entertaining series for soccer fans and a must see for Liverpool supporters or another elite documentary series.
The fallout from Liverpool's opening loss at West Brom and the unfolding of that long, hard journey awaits.