Being: Liverpool: TV Review

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This engaging and stylish documentary exploring the inner workings of one of England's most historic soccer clubs should appeal to fans and non-fans alike.  

The makers of this compelling docuseries had unprecedented access to an English Premiere League soccer club.

To create Being: Liverpool, unprecedented access was given to a documentary film crew to cover the inner workings and behind-the-scenes action of a major football (or in our American case, soccer) club. With 18 League titles, 5 European championships and 3 UEFA wins to call their own, Liverpool FC seems at first a natural choice to introduce Americans to the highs of Premiere League soccer. Except for the past three years, Liverpool has wallowed in mediocrity, which makes picking up with the club now perhaps an even more compelling story than ever.

Any question as to whether the series is accessible to non-Liverpool fans or indeed those without much interest in soccer altogether can be put to rest after the its inaugural episode (the first of six that will follow the club from last May's FA Cup Final through the summer and beginning of the current season). Background on the club, the city of Liverpool, the meaning of the FA Cup and other matches are extensively but seamlessly woven into the narration, allowing those without much knowledge of the subjects to feel engaged while managing to not be overly remedial for current fans.

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There are sure to be those who dismiss the project as a marketing ploy or as pandering to an American audience, but though the series is exceptionally stylish, it doesn't necessarily lack substance. The premiere episode is clearly a welcome mat for the rest of the series; as such, there weren't many specifics about new manager Brendan Rodgers' style or interactions with the players or even the behind-the-scenes of the matches themselves (though promos suggest it is perhaps to come). It did, however, paint an intimate and engaging portrait of the club, and introduced some of the team's key players (decorated captain Steven Gerrard, injury-prone midfielder Lucas Leiva, young and enthusiastic Jon Flanagan, new signing Fabio Borini) and their personal lives. We see how the South Americans tend to group together, and how Rodgers even plays up to this, creating a mini World Cup in training that pit Scousers against Cocknies, and South Americans against the Rest of the World (spoiler: the Rest of the World came out on top). Rodgers too is profiled, introducing his family and spitting out soundbites with astonishing ease, revealing himself an affable though tough manager, with plenty of media savvy. 

Rodgers is in a tough position, which the series chronicles, of having recently taken over from one of Liverpool's more heroic figures, "King" Kenny Dalglish, who was let go by the club's new American owners (Fenway Sports Group, who also own the Boston Red Sox) after the FA Cup loss in May.  Though Dalglish has not (yet) appeared on screen, his presence is distinctly felt. It's a shadow that Rodgers must step out from underneath, and despite Dalglish's questionable second run as Liverpool's manager and Rodgers' stunning rise as a former manager for Swansea City, Rodgers still has a great deal to prove. "It's not going to be easy," Rodgers tells the team. "it's going to be a long, hard, journey."

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The fun of the first episode doesn't give too much sense of that difficult journey yet. Though quick editing and upbeat music colors most everything -- including just training for a friendly match -- with high stakes, there are breaks in the grandeur and tension that ground the series; for instance, the team is shown practicing yoga, which leaves most of them grinning and giggling like, well, just lads. Overall, there is a comfortable and casual feeling as those interviewed lounge on couches or slouch in chairs as they would if you personally dropped into their offices or into their homes for a chat.

The mysterious colon in the title suggests that there may be a focus on other teams in the future, like Showtime has done with their Major League Baseball documentary series The Franchise. Though I personally feel that Liverpool as a subject is more compelling than some (in the interest of full disclosure, I am a fan), had this been Being: Manchester City or Being: Newcastle United, it would have likely been just as appealing, because the series does so well in immersing viewers instantly into the club's world.

For Liverpool fans though, the series will be candy, and the premiere's gilded, starry-eyed introduction is a magazine-like approach that should attract a larger audience as well. Still, if that gloss is scratched and broken through as the series moves on, and Liverpool's struggles are documented more closely, it could become more than just the joy of seeing, and more truly the ups and -- particularly -- downs of "being."