Going beyond X’s and O’s and wins and losses, HBO Sports’ “State of Play” brings much needed reflection and a wider lens to the sports universe — each episode tackling a topic in a cinema-verite-style documentary, followed by a panel discussion moderated by producer Peter Berg. Admittedly, it will be hard to top the premiere, “Trophy Kids,” which focuses on obsessive parents pushing children to excel in various sports — a brainier version of “Toddlers & Tiaras,” made all the more unsettling by the participants’ apparent obliviousness to how terrible they come across onscreen. If nothing else, it should become required viewing for youth-sports leagues nationwide.
“Trophy Kids” finds parents living vicariously through their offspring in various endeavors — golf, tennis, high-school football and basketball — in a manner that frequently proves uncomfortable, particularly in those portions of the show that involve the youngest would-be stars, who hang their heads and pout as their dads (mostly) hector them.
“Would you shut up or leave?” one of the older kids finally snaps during his basketball game, as his dad — who has quit working to devote time to landing his son a Division-1 scholarship — loudly berates the officials from the stands. In another sequence, a father named Josh screams at his teary-eyed son, Justus, when the kid asks him to stop discussing football, shouting — questionably, given the available evidence — “You are not the adult here!”
Berg, who has already collaborated with HBO Sports by producing boxing docu “On Freddie Roach,” clearly knows the territory, given his involvement with “Friday Night Lights.” But he also proves a more-than-adequate moderator in the 20-minute discussion, which in the opener features sports psychologist Larry Lauer and Todd Marinovich, the former USC and Oakland Raiders quarterback whose father consciously sought to mold him into a champion, thus earning the younger Marinovich the disparaging nickname “Robo QB.”
As Marinovich notes, while things are fine when the kids are enjoying the thrill of victory, based on the way these parents suffer and fume when their children struggle or lose, “the proof is in how do you react when I play poorly.”
HBO is already home to the Bryant Gumbel-hosted “Real Sports,” which is among the few regular franchises on television to bring aggressive and serious journalism to the world of sports. Based on this first of four installments, “State of Play” augments that profile, at a time when sports has become such big business that it’s incumbent on the media — often grappling with conflicts by being in bed with the various leagues — to step up their games.