For a sport as popular as football is, it’s rather surprising that it isn’t really dramatized that much on television. There have been critically acclaimed shows about funeral homes and advertising firms, but can anyone name a television show about professional football players?
Amazon is looking to change all that with their new pilot The Rebels, executive produced by Matt Alvarez, Ice Cube and Michael Strahan. But is it any good?
Before we get to The Rebels, it is necessary to go into a bit to detail about the lack of television shows about professional football.
Way back in 2003 ESPN tried to get into the original drama business. Naturally they opted to create a sports show centered on a professional football team. Playmakers featured the fictional Cougars and played for a fictional professional football league.
At the time Playmakers was a success, both critically and in terms of ratings. But despite the show being a fictionalized account of professional football, the actual NFL pressured ESPN into cancelling the show. The NFL didn’t appreciate the portrayal of drug use, violence and other such unsavory things.
In 2007 ABC, commissioned then passed on an adaptation of the British show Footballers’ Wives. Since it was an Americanized version, Football Wives focused on American football wives and their player husbands. Some people believe that the series was passed on as an effort to avoid conflicts with the NFL since ABC and ESPN share the same parent company.
Which brings us to The Rebels.
The Rebels is a comedy that centers on the L.A. Rebels. After the death of her husband, Julie Levine finds herself having to deal with being a single mother and the sole owner of a professional, thought bottom ranked, football team.
The league wants Julie to sell the team to a guy who wants to move them to San Antonio. The Rebels have the fewest season ticket owners and the oldest stadium. They also lack a GM and are basically a team of misfits.
Julie appoints her late husband’s assistant, Danny, as the new GM and hilarity ensues. Some of that hilarity involves a stereotypically outlandish receiver and a coked up monkey who shoots someone. Two notes; that last point is actually a plot point that genuinely moves the story forward and hilarity should definitely have quotes around it.
The Rebels suffers from a lack of identity. On one hand it wants to be a show about underdogs who triumph despite the odds (for Julie it’s old guard sexism, for the team it’s diminished expectations, for Danny it’s inexperience) but it also aims incredibly low when it comes to the comedy. Calling the jokes in the show “base” would be giving too much credit.
Of all of Amazon’s second slate of pilots, The Rebels feels like the one that proves why a pilot season is effective. The show has potential and could be good, if it were retooled and reworked into something that had a more consistent tone. Case in point, Affion Crockett is easily the weakest part of the show, partially because so much of the comedy is supposed to come from his antics. It's always unfortunate when "the Black guy" is the weakest part of a show.
The Rebels isn’t great or even really good, but it’s not bad in that it’s beyond redemption. The Rebels has a seed of something that could potentially be a noteworthy show. And at the very least, wouldn’t you like to see a show about America’s most popular sport?