Thursday, August 09, 2007

Real World: River Falls

Richard Hatch. Puck. Flava Flav. The Donald. Rob and Amber. Kelly Clarkson. And now – Priest Holmes and Brodie Croyle.

The reality TV revolution has spawned a slew of small screen stars since Real World first took Manhattan almost twenty years ago. From regular Joe’s to Joe Millionaires (who ended up being a regular Joe as well, but that’s beside the point) the cameras have helped create and reinvigorate careers, which is why HBO’s latest edition of Hard Knocks is the best reality show on TV (or at least the best reality show to debut last night as Real World 19 from Sydney, Australia also introduced America to a few new strangers).

NFL Films and HBO have teamed up once again to give cable subscribers across the country an all-access pass to training camp in the NFL. The third edition of the series, which made its debut tracking the defending Super Bowl Champion Ravens back in 2001, literally rides shotgun with the Kansas City Chiefs as they prepare for the 2007 season (at least one cameraman rode with Head Coach Herm Edwards to camp in order to capture a solid 30 seconds of vital footage).

You may think the Chiefs would lack the star-power to sustain a nationwide audience, but who would have thought that 51 million Americans would stay glued to their TV sets to watch Hatch, Rudy Boesch, and Kelly Wiglesworth battle it out for a million dollars. So why is this season of Hard Knocks so compelling? Last night’s premier provided a few reasons to create a series recording on your DVR:

First of all, the team practices 500 miles from Kansas City at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. The team – and surprisingly all of their weight-room equipment – is bussed north across three states to set up camp for the month of August. Coach Edwards made the drive a day early, not so that he could get a head start on preparing for their upcoming scrimmage against the Vikings, but so that he could finish drawing his “Welcome to Training Camp” sign. Seriously, he colored in the bubble letters with a red sharpie and was standing outside the dorms when the busses arrived.

The real story, however, is the town of River Falls, where a penny still buys you 10 minutes on a parking meter and the part-time mayor greets the players on their way out to practice. The most awkward moment of the show was when Mayor Richards asked one of the players coming out of the tunnel, “When’s Larry Johnson coming back?” He just genuinely wanted to know. Speaking of LJ, the editors really outdid themselves in the episode as they cut to Johnson sitting on what appeared to be a luxurious white leather coach in a New York City apartment as an unidentified SportsCenter anchor announced from Larry’s flat-screen that he was holding out. Video evidence confirmed this theory.

Back in Alabama, Brodie Croyle, the Chiefs #2 QB who is vying to win the job from journeyman Damon Huard, was shown packing for his three weeks out-of-town with his new bride. In the first of presumably many ‘awe-shucks’ moments, the cameras caught Mrs. Croyle picking out boxers for the second-year gunslinger who apparently had trouble packing his rookie season. Brodie was perfectly cast for the role of “young hot-shot with the golden arm, short temper, perfect teeth, surfer shorts, and shaggy hair” in comparison to the equally dead-on portrayal of the “old-timer, knee-braced, not about talent, more about football IQ” played by Huard.

If Croyle is the potential emerging star, then Priest Holmes is the veteran looking to reinvigorate his career. After almost two years out of the game due to injuries, Holmes, the former Raven, is trying to make a comeback. His arrival was just in time for the Chiefs, whose #1 RB on the depth-chart was shown splitting time between the white couch in the Big Apple and a weight-training facility in Phoenix. Priest seemed determined and dedicated to take back the starting spot he lost two years ago, but his presence at camp just seemed to brighten the hopes of players and coaches alike. He’s yet to put on the pads, however, so stay tuned.

If all that wasn’t enough, the squad includes a Turk, a Tank, Tony G, and a Turley – all of whom have to ride a bike from the dorms to the practice fields. Of course Tony Gonzales does get some preferential treatment as his bedroom is on the first floor, where as the rookies have to hike up to the fourth floor each and every day – and that’s just the first year players who reported on time. First round holdout, Dwayne Bowe, had yet to report to camp as the show began. As a result, veteran wide receiver Eddie Kennison planned a little punishment for D-Bowe, which could include sending him to Krispy Kreme – in Minnesota – to get the receiving corp. some doughnuts. Here that Yamon? A run to the Apple Store doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Somewhere between Hell’s Kitchen and Trump Tower, River Falls, WI plays host to the Kansas City Chiefs, NFL Films, and HBO for the best reality show on television. That is until September 6th, when the 17-part NFL regular season gets started. Until then, we’ll just have to watch as 80 players are picked to live in the dorms of a small-town college campus to find out what happens when coaches stop being polite and the games aren’t for real. The Real World. River Falls.

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