Missed the recaps of the first two episodes? Find them here.
Whereas episodes 1 and 2 of HBO’s Hard Knocks exploded like a filthy-mouthed cannon, the most recent installment felt like a slow clap that no one joined in on. You know? The show’s still mesmerizing, don’t get me wrong, and it’s great that the hometown team finally getting some media love, but man there was some slow spots in episode 3.
To recap: Things start promisingly enough with a jolting pep-talk by none other than heartthrob JJ Watt, who probably surprised a lot of his fans by dropping no fewer than six F-bombs. (After Bill O’Brien’s rallies, perhaps he didn’t think he’d be able to hold the team’s attention otherwise.) Next we meet free agent safety Quintin Demps, the newest man added (back) to the roster, and he looks to be in fine shape. On the other hand, it’s time to say goodbye to rookie defensive end Jasper Coleman, the first cut of the season.
Even more interesting is the long-awaited arrival of Jadeveon Clowney on the practice field. Disappointingly, he looks rusty and a little timid. Cue Coach OB’s entrance for another brief sermon, followed by yet another slow-mo montage in which JJ Watt pulverizes one offensive lineman after another. (Aside to HBO: the tropes are getting a little repetitive.) Then Texan receiver Uzoma “E.Z.” Nwachukwu enters stage right, making his first appearance on the show. As good as he is on the field, he might be even better off of it—the guy’s hysterical. His first five minutes, in which he and a few other teammates tour NASA—and ask space station astronauts hilarious questions via satellite—may be the highlight of the episode.
Is it already time for another How Can JJ Watt Be Human moment? Apparently so. This time, the awesomeness involves catching 17 balls in a row from the passing machine at about 3 feet away. Meanwhile, will Charles James II end up this season’s underdog hero? That’s the vibe I got, or one of the vibes, the other being that things are looking downright scary for the Texans running back-wise. Please, Coach, we found ourselves shouting at the TV, give him a shot. It couldn’t hurt. Our desperation appears justified just one scene later when Brian Cushing throws up for nearly 30 seconds straight. (Thanks for giving us the vicerals, Hard Knocks.)
Aren’t we late for another JJ update? No worries, here he is, ensconced in what is apparently a hidden nap room in the equipment storage facility. Next, the rookies perform skits for the rest of the team. From this we learn that 1) Khari Lee does the best Bill O’Brien impression we’ve ever seen, to roars from the team, and 2) Coach OB can turn red as a beet if provoked, and laugh so hard he cries. Back on the playing field new running back Chris Polk gives us a preview of his game and personality (“Bang, bang, chicken and shrimp!” anyone?), and Hard Knocks producers seem to be giving viewers a preview of his future role—as a starter—when they take us to meet his mom for story time. Then we switch over to linebacker Kourtnei Brown, who, despite having had his ups and downs so far in training camp, was impressive in the 49ers preseason game, and even more so against the Broncos, scoring the Texans’ only touchdown of the game. Which is another way of saying that while the defense looked stout and promising, the offense looked disastrous—barely moving the ball all game. Coach OB’s frustration was evident, and another tirade seemed imminent unless someone starting making some plays this season. Charles James and his crazy socks perhaps?
Even as the second preseason game ended in a deserving loss, however, Coach OB still seemed hopeful. Things are tough for him both on and off the field, we learn. He’s raising a handicapped son and seems to be an amazing job. I’ll say it again: if anyone stands to gain from this HBO business it’s him. Notwithstanding the F-Bombs, the guy has a grace about him, as we see in the episode’s final scene, in which he names Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback over Ryan Mallett.
So there you are. The series’ third installment wasn’t the thriller of the first two, but I’m not willing to give up on the show just yet. If Bill O’Brien can find a way to be optimistic about things, well, so can I.