Playing like a real-life version of the movie “The Fighter” (which, yes, was fact-based itself), HBO Sports’ new half-hour series “On Freddie Roach” certainly ought to score points with the channel’s boxing fans. Yet while Roach is undoubtedly a fascinating character — a topnotch trainer, plagued by tremors from Parkinson’s disease likely brought on by his years getting pummeled in the ring — the cinema-verite style makes it difficult to get under his skin, offering an incomplete snapshot of what makes him tick.
Produced by Peter Berg, the show takes its time exploring Roach’s backstory in the first couple of half-hours — how he stumbled into being a trainer, then went on to handle champs like Manny Pacquiano and Oscar de la Hoya. Roach also discusses his father (a talented boxer himself) beating the crap out of his mother, and how his mom and brother now work at the gym Roach manages.
With its grainy imagery and tough, unsparing approach, “On Freddie Roach” certainly feels like HBO’s version of a reality show (including some gratuitous nudity following a fight in Vegas). Nevertheless, it’s a show for a very narrow slice of the channel’s subscribers.
After two half-hours, anyone who admires boxing will certainly come away with an appreciation of Roach, and perhaps want to know more about him. (Don’t look for much insight from the subject in his direct-to-camera interviews.)
In terms of really opening up, in fact, this docu-series barely lays a glove on Roach initially. It might be a case where people eager for clearer answers have to wait for the movie.