Showtime debuts “McEnroe” on Sept. 2.courtesy of showtime
Summer has traditionally been a slower time of year on the sports calendar, but there have been plenty of streaming options available for fans who can’t get enough.
On Aug. 12, Amazon Prime released “A League of Their Own,” a re-imagining of the hit 1992 film about the real-life, World War II-era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The new series stars Chanté Adams and D’Arcy Carden and has been Prime’s No. 1 show since it arrived.
Three days later, Hulu debuted the 10-episode docuseries “Legacy: The True Story of the L.A. Lakers,” which highlights the franchise’s “Showtime” era of the 1980s and features interviews with a long list of team legends.
The very next day, Netflix dropped the latest in its Untold series. “The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist” is a two-part documentary that revisits the catfishing saga around former Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o from 2012. The honesty Te’o displayed about the way it impacted his life both on and off the field has struck a chord with viewers, who have kept it a steady presence in Netflix’s top 10.
And just last week, FX and Hulu premiered “Welcome to Wrexham,” a docuseries that follows a pair of clueless Americans who take the reins of a soccer team. Unlike the Emmy-winning “Ted Lasso,” of course, “Welcome to Wrexham” is a true story. Actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney invested 2 million pounds to buy Wrexham AFC, a fifth-tier Welsh football team, but they don’t pretend to know much about soccer. But they do know how to connect with the club’s passionate fans.
The next major arrivals on the calendar are a pair of documentaries: The first takes a closer look at one of the most fiery and compelling personalities in sports, and another uses unprecedented archival footage to revisit one of basketball’s greatest teams.
Release date: Sept. 2
Production companies: Sylver Entertainment, Dogwoof
Where to watch: Showtime
Three summers ago, director Barney Douglas took the elevator up to John McEnroe’s apartment in his Central Park high-rise and was greeted by the former top-ranked tennis player in a robe. They went to the kitchen, where McEnroe proceeded to pepper Douglas with open-ended questions about what a documentary about him might look like. After 30 minutes, Douglas got the impression that McEnroe, who’s known as much for his seven Grand Slam titles as he is for his confrontational on-court behavior, was a bit bored with tennis.
“Everyone wanted to talk about tennis with him. Tennis, tennis, tennis,” said Douglas, who admitted he’s never been much of a big fan of the sport himself. “I was like, ‘Well, I want to talk about love and connection and family.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ That was more what he was about. Obviously, I’m aware that an audience wants the tennis element as well. But it was about building that into the narrative and not making it everything.”
In that way, “McEnroe” is a reflection of both the tennis star’s tumultuous career as well as his personal life. It features archival footage from key matches, but also home video provided by McEnroe. The 63-year-old said he was heavily involved in the creative direction of the documentary, “but I didn’t have the final cut or anything.”
The film, which had its world premiere at Tribeca earlier this year, features varied voices like tennis legend Bjorn Borg and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
“This is not a tennis story. This is a human story,” said Stephen Espinoza, Showtime president of sports. “This is a profile of a complex, multilayered personality who happened to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
“I think everyone remembers the brashness and the outbursts. But I think there’ll be many people who are surprised by the self-examination, the self-analysis, the candor, the acknowledgement of past failings and this sincere commitment to not just recognize some of those flaws, but to address them and become a better human being.”
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (from left, with Carmelo Anthony) are executive producers on the new Netflix offering.getty images
The Redeem Team
Release date: Oct. 7
Production companies: Olympic Channel; The Kennedy/Marshall Company; Mandalay Sports Media; 59th & Prairie Entertainment; NBA Entertainment; Uninterrupted; USA Basketball
Where to watch: Netflix
With access to unprecedented footage, director Jon Weinbach goes about painting a portrait of team building with this closer look at the 2008 United States Olympic Men’s Basketball Team that came together to reclaim gold after the demoralizing loss at the 2004 Olympics. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, the leading scorers on that team, served as executive producers on the project.
“I think it’s a really fascinating portrait in team building,” Weinbach said. “It’s also a snapshot of a moment in time that is not that long ago, but the prism of this team allows us to see how much the world has changed, even since 2008. I love the interplay between culture, history, sports and identity.”
It represents the first time the International Olympic Committee has produced a film exclusively for a global streaming service and made available archival footage from 70 years of Olympics history.
“There’s something like 58,000 hours of Olympic archive, so it’s less about opening up and more about knowing where to look,” said Greg Groggel, a producer on the documentary who is the Olympic Channel’s executive producer of originals. “After years of producing award-winning original programming, we had a sense of what existed and where to find it.”