Inspired by this list of one-sentence reviews of ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series, I figured now was as good a time as any to give you my take on the whole thing.
1. King’s Ransom: Peter Berg got to hang out on the golf course with Wayne Gretzky. Isn’t that cool? Look at me!
2. The Band That Wouldn’t Die: Well done. I know the whole Colts-as-Community-Fabric thing has been done to death, but this was good.
3. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?: Loved the USFL, so I dug this.
4. Muhammad and Larry: Very well done and poignant.
5. Without Bias: Chilling. I did not know half the stuff in this.
6. The Legend of Jimmy the Greek: Very sad.
7. The U: Hate Miami and hate thugs, so I didn’t watch it.
8. Winning Time: I’m actually in this film, very briefly, and covered some of these games, so I loved it.
9. Guru of Go: Missed this one.
10. No Crossover: Iverson proved that sometimes shorter is good. If only the filmmaker had taken that to heart.
11. Silly Little Game: Got through about five minutes of this before I said, “This is a cartoon, not particularly well done, and these people are dopes.”
12. Run Ricky Run: Ricky Williams is a complicated guy. This was a little slow, but still kind of interesting to see someone’s mind work this way.
13. The 16th Man: I knew nothing whatsoever of this story and it was absolutely captivating.
14. Straight Outta LA: Ice Cube is a filmmaker like Elvis was a black belt. Also, Al Davis passed away sometime around 1997 and his reanimated corpse features prominently in this film.
15. June 17, 1994: The storytelling technique was refreshing. But I didn’t care about Arnold Palmer then and don’t now.
16. The Two Escobars: Absolutely the best of the bunch. Gripping, compelling, masterpiece.
17. The Birth of Big Air: I would rather have a broken glass enema than watch this.
18. Jordan Rides the Bus: Ron Shelton could have done so much more with this.
19. Little Big Men: This was interesting and well done, but a little long.
20. One Night in Vegas: Missed it.
21. Unmatched: I always liked Evert and came away understanding more about and liking Martina more than I ever did. But the constant “Here we are in the car just talking to each other” technique wore on me.
22. The House of Steinbrenner: Crap. Couldn’t watch the whole thing. YES Network couldn’t have been more pro-Yankee than this.
23. Into the Wind: Slow and sad, but inspirational. I (like most Americans, probably) didn’t know the story.
24. Four Days in October: Don’t know how I missed this one.
25. Once Brothers: I’ve heard it’s good, but haven’t seen it yet.
26. Tim Richmond: This one looks interesting, but I haven’t watched it yet.
27. Fernando Nation: Well done. Fernando’s an interesting guy.
28. Marion Jones: Marion Jones should be hit with a shovel, so I had no interest in watching this.
29. The Best That Never Was: Was really, really good at two hours. Would have been fantastic at 90 or 60 minutes.
30. Pony Exce$$: They tell me this one is really good, too, but I haven’t had time to watch it yet.
So I have a few left to watch yet. I welcome your thoughts on this series, which, overall, was really good and worthy of whatever accolades it receives.
Here’s what I fear will happen, though: ESPN will get away from the one thing that really made this work – staying the hell out of the way of the filmmakers and just aiding, not controlling, the process. They say they’re going to do more documentaries under the “30 For 30 Presents” banner, which is great, but I have a suspicion the ESPN suits, having seen that this can be lucrative, will grab onto it and bastardize it and do what they do to everything. They’ll suffocate it and make it into ESPN instead of just recreating what made this so successful this time around. I hope I’m wrong, but ESPN would have to totally go against what’s in its corporate DNA to not screw this up going forward.