Review: “Last Days of Knight” is flawed but essential

Cross-posting at duresport.com 

ESPN is gambling these days.

The new “30 for 30” documentary, Last Days of Knight, gambles on three levels:

  1. It’s being shown exclusively on ESPN+, the company’s new pay service, a good way to draw attention to it but not the best way to get this film the wide audience that many previous 30 for 30 entries have found.
  2. It tells the story of a journalist, CNN’s Robert Abbott, who pursued the story for months. As an Awful Announcing review says, the film attempts to tell Abbott’s story and Knight’s, and it sometimes falls between the two stools.
  3. A lot of people still maintain loyalty to Bobby Knight after all these years.

Others can debate No. 1. The questions here are No. 2 and No. 3, and the disappointment of Last Days of Knight is that we get too much of No. 2 and not enough exploration of No. 3.

Like all 30 for 30 films, LDON is a slick presentation. And the story is compelling, even with the unusual focus on Abbott. CNN’s reporting became part of the story itself, for better or for worse, and you don’t have to be a journalism junkie to appreciate the insights on how everyone involved interacted with the media — Knight as one of several bullies, players and staffers afraid to speak, administrators being weasels, etc. Abbott’s reflections and the nitty-gritty at CNN, including some clumsy threats by people working on Knight’s behalf, provide a new angle to an old story.

But that story bogs down with an extended, guilt-ridden take on the post-scandal life and death of Neil Reed, the player Knight assaulted in a video that hastened his downfall. It’s a sad and yet sweet story of someone who reclaimed his own life and was clearly loved before his untimely death from a heart attack, but its placement in this film is odd, as if it’s suggesting Reed’s death was somehow collateral damage from Knight’s antics and/or the media coverage. Abbott regrets making Reed uncomfortable in his pursuit of the story, but it seems a bit much for him to interpose himself in the family’s mourning process.

And we’re left wanting something more. Abbott and some of his colleagues are seeing the old story in a new light. Anyone else?

Perhaps it’s me — I wrote about irrational mobs in my review of Jesus Christ Superstar — but I really wanted to see some reflection from the people who defended Knight when he was quite clearly indefensible. Knight, predictably, wasn’t interested in participating. But what about the students? Former players? Now that the heat has died down, what would they do differently?

But even if we don’t see such reflection on camera, we have to hope it’s happening elsewhere. It’s not happening in this dismissive review from The Daily Hoosier.

The value of a story like Knight’s is that it holds up a mirror to us. How much are we willing to excuse if a guy wins some basketball games? Can a man impart military-style discipline and behavioral values if he doesn’t live up to it himself or hold himself accountable?

We see hints of these questions in Last Days of Knight. Just not quite enough.

 

Jenna Fischer’s wonderful new show … and why it won’t last

I checked out the first episode of Splitting Up Together today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

That said, I’m not sure I’m interested in watching another episode.

Of course, I’m *rooting* for it because I just love Jenna Fischer. She was wonderful on The Office, and I enjoyed her WTF podcast interview talking about her book. And she is, as you’d expect, absolutely terrific in this. Maybe TOO terrific. There are times you want to reach through the screen and slap Oliver Hudson for taking her for granted. What were you THINKING, dude?

But Hudson is good, too. While things may seem a little stereotypical — Mom fastidiously assembles every ingredient for the kids’ breakfasts and lunches, while Dad gives them some lunch money and lets them fend for themselves — it’s not that Hudson is a neglectful jerk. It’s the “free-range vs. helicopter” parenting dilemma at play here, and it’s done with both earnestness and good humor. Fischer’s character really thinks parents can and should solve everything for their kids; Hudson’s character sees reasonable limits for that concept.

So if this were a short-run series — one of those British shows designed to run six episodes — it would surely be worth watching.

The problem: There is no way they can drag this out to a full sitcom for multiple seasons.

Some of the reviews I’ve seen pick up on the issue. It’s an unrealistic long-term premise. Money is part of it — we can understand why a newly divorced couple in the era of overpriced real estate can’t afford separate places, but some reviewers have pointed out that both parents have lax attitudes toward employment and financial restraint, undermining the “financial necessity” point.

The other part is that we’re going to like both of these characters, and we’re not going to wish a divorce on either of them. Even in the first episode, we see Hudson starting to realize what a great life he has thrown away. What will we see in episode 45?

Even in The Simpsons, where they can create and then destroy an alternate reality in each 22-minute episode, they’ve gone to the “Homer and Marge split up” well far too many times over the years. Imagine if Homer was living in the garage, pining for a reunion with Marge for 10 seasons.

It’s a pity, because the first episode is certainly worth watching. The scene in which they inform family and friends over dinner is priceless. I like the supporting cast, too, especially the guy who worships his wife and can’t comprehend why Hudson didn’t do the same. (But again — he makes such a convincing case that the writers are going to have to contrive ways to make Hudson not listen.)

They could surely get about six good episodes out of this, ending either with a reconciliation or one of the parents finally moving all the way out. But we’re probably not even going to get six good episodes out of it because they’re going to have stretch things out and rely on sitcom cliches (oh, no — a misunderstanding and jealousy!) to keep this couple apart long enough to make a second season.