When NFL films announced that the L.A Rams were the focus of the second series of All or Nothing, the announcement was met with some derision, apathy and frustration, not least because they had already been the focus of NFL films’ other documentary series this season, Hard Knocks.
It was also because the premise of All or Nothing was that a team is either playing to win the Superbowl or is playing for nothing. The Arizona Cardinals, a legitimate contender in the 2015 season were literally fighting for All in Season One. In choosing the follow the L.A Rams during the 2016 season for series two, a team had been chosen for whom the ‘All’ was never possible, even in the wildest dreams of the most optimistic fan. Their choice undermines the entire concept of the show.
But it isn’t hard to see where the argument for the Rams came from. 2016 would be their first season back in L.A after 21 years playing in St. Louis, so there was the possibility of a romantic homecoming, and as they were also the Hard Knocks team there were undoubtedly some logistical factors at play too. However both of NFL films’ documentary series following the same team even – if they were successful – is overkill for anyone who isn’t a fan of that team; and the general feeling heading in was that the Rams 2016 season turned out to be one of the most depressing, frustrating seasons that no one could possibly want to relive.
Needless to say, expectations were low, and I wasn’t looking forward to reviewing this half as much as I was before the Rams were announced as being the team.
Thankfully these concerns vanish pretty quickly, and they do not stop A Season with the L.A Rams being any less of a thoroughly absorbing watch. The skill is in the editing and the ability of the program makers to find narrative hooks in each episode, even as, after a promising 3-1 start the Rams season turns dire. To be fair they do have much to choose from, big stories include the move to L.A, a international game in London, the inevitable start of rookie Quarterback Jared Goff and the firing of head coach Jeff Fisher; but they find other things to focus on too such as the Rams believing they have scouted a weakness in a formidable Seattle defence, for example, or the staggering commitments of the coaches workloads at the expense of quality time with the family.
The other strength is in the scheduling of its release. Coming amongst exactly halfway between the draft and the start of meaningful football, All or Nothing arrives at a time when most Gridiron fans would be happy to watch eight hours of somebody drawing X’s and O’s on the back of a beermat,so to have this quality of on field footage coupled with behind-the-scenes access to an NFL organisation is a dream.
Like last years season with the Cardinals, All or Nothing does go behind the scenes but it doesn’t go in-depth, so hardcore fans wanting total access and a greater understanding of decision making may be disappointed but in truth it is a strength that a casual fan can easily follow events; and as mentioned, in July a hardcore fan will take whatever they can get.
Jon Hamm does excellent work with the narration, despite a cliché-riddled script that often reaches desperately for relevance. It sometimes disappears for long chunks of time as if All or Nothing is more comfortable when it allows the Rams to tell their own story.
The main selling point of this season has turned out to be the firing of Head Coach Jeff Fisher and all the pre-publicity surrounding this season’s release has focused upon that. While Fisher doesn’t have the dynamic personality of a Bruce Arians, the series does show how much the coaches and some players cared for the man, and Fisher telling them about his firing are some affecting scenes that are better watched than discussed – the film-makers don’t appear to hold much back.
The final episode reflects on the transient nature of the profession as coaches take up new positions on other teams and players who imagined they’d live in California forever find themselves moving to opposite sides of the country. It also looks at the 2017 Draft and the hiring of a new head coach, Sean McVay (again indicative of the depth of All or Nothing that it pays no attention to the hiring process only the blunt fact McVay was hired), whose enthusiasm and charisma already makes the prospect of a season with the 2017 Rams more appealing than the idea of a season with the 2016 Rams initially was.
The Verdict: The depth is shallow but this should satisfy an itch for hungry NFL fans. Superb editing and a keen eye for a dramatic story will keep you watching even if you aren’t learning anything new. Despite early reservations the 2016 L.A Rams proved an interesting diversion, but the decision makers need to choose a genuine contender next time around.