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Complex Networks

Is Peter Berg's Docuseries QB1: Beyond The Lights A Touchdown?

A 'real-life Friday Night Lights' follows the fortunes of three high-school quarterbacks. Should you follow the show?

What is this thing?

Kind of a real-life Friday Night Lights (not least because it's exec-produced by Peter Berg), QB1 follows the fates of three high-school seniors, quarterbacks all and all committed to Division I colleges, as they begin their final years on the HS field and start thinking about the future -- and the NFL.

When is it on?

I don't think I knew what Complex Networks was before getting a PR email about the series, and I can't swear I have this right, but from what I can tell, the 10-part series drops in its entirety Wednesday 15 February on Verizon's go90 and/or Complex's Rated Red channel. The app is free and available to non-Verizon subscribers; you can probably watch online here as well.*

Why now?

The football season has just ended, and while it's kind of an all-seasons interest for fans of the NFL, a related docuseries might fill the gap until the draft in April.

What's its pedigree?

Berg and his production company, Film45; three of the top QBs in the country in Tayvon Bowers, Tate Martell, and Jake Fromm, committed to Wake Forest, Ohio State, and Georgia respectively.

...And?

The first episode feels a little choppy and hectic, particularly after a somewhat overproduced opening sequence that shows the QBs working out with a babble of radio commentary about them mixed together on the soundtrack; it does bring to mind Friday Night Lights and the device of bringing viewers up to speed via Dillon radio broadcasts, but it's 32 minutes that has to introduce us to three different young men and their various accomplishments and challenges, so maybe QB1 should have gone with longer episodes -- or fewer QBs.

And you can't tease us with a VO about Martell's attitude problems in the opener, and pair it with him using half a can of hairspray to get ready, then yawning in class, and not follow up promptly.

2017-02-14-qb1-tate

You can, however, zoom out a little if Fromm's going to get out of bed wearing that snug a pair of boxer briefs. The lad is a minor and I felt weird about seeing all of that.

...But?

The quibbles I've just mentioned are just that; Berg is an expert constructer of sports narrative, and the drama inherent in high school, in sport, and in high-school sport -- especially when the players labor under such high expectations, in such public and regimented conditions, in a game with known dangers -- carries the show over the occasional rough patch. When Bowers is obliged to tell his offensive line to "take some pride in this blocking," for instance; it feels like he got prompted, and neither he nor the barber who core-dumps Bowers's stats while freshening up his edges sounds particularly natural.

But it's not that bothersome, and in fact it's preferable to the kids or their parents or coaches sounding too rehearsed. Martell Sr. talks with a family friend about balancing Tate's need to help the team win and reducing his exposure to injury by leaving games against crap opponents early, and it's a calculus all these families need to run, not least given what we're learning about CTE. Fromm isn't taking great care of himself in early practices, either, and ends up at a medical clinic getting rehydrated...for the third season on a row. He has the same Georgia heat to look forward to in college; when's he going to learn?

...So?

It's a little rough around the edges, but if you liked Last Chance U, you'll probably like this.

*Update 2/15/17: QB1's press team says new episodes will roll out every Wednesday, in three segments.
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