TV Review: '30 for 30' - 'Four Days in October'
The 2004 Red Sox comeback was inspiring, but this doc is by-the-numbers
Normally, Sepinwall does his reviews for the "30 for 30" franchise. Through this whole ESPN series, he has at least offered a few words on nearly every one of the documentaries.
But Sepinwall isn't watching this week's "30 for 30" doc, "Four Days in October," focusing on the 2004 Red Sox and their unlikely comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against the New York Yankees.
Now I'm gonna leave aside the number of times I've watched Bill Buckner and Aaron Bleeping Boone, often willingly, usually unavoidably. I'll also leave aside that Sepinwall's beloved Yankees have a more recent World Series title than the Sox and that, unlike the Sox, they're still alive as baseball heads into the 2010 postseason.
I'm not going to get into that, because "Four Days in October" isn't about the rational. It's about an unimaginable thing that happened 2004, something that had never happened before in baseball. But it isn't about understanding a new version of what happened or getting a new perspective on what happened. It's just about reliving that thing that happened. I can see why one wouldn't want to necessarily relive those four days, if you happen to be a Yankees fan (or a Red Sox hater).
Because of the lack of perspective and the lack of insight, "Four Days in October" doesn't really have very much reach. If you're a Red Sox fan, there is no chance that it won't push all of the right buttons and leave you emotional and misty-eyed.
I am and it did.
If you aren't, it'll just remind you of that four-day period where the Red Sox (and their Nation) went from lovable underdogs to frequently insufferable bullies, but it won't push any deeper than that.
That's a simple explanation for how I found "Four Days in October" to be both utterly satisfying and frustratingly disappointing.
[More thoughts after the break...]
As I've said more than a few times, the "30 for 30" franchise has worked best when a filmmaker has been able to deliver a passion project that was practically bursting from their chest.
So what artiste channeled their love for the Boston Red Sox into "Four Days in October"?
What auteur was determined to put their own stamp on an oft-retold underdog tale?
What storyteller couldn't sleep before spinning a yarn about this group of self-described Idiots?
The title card reads "Directed by Major League Baseball Productions."
I could basically stop this review right there. You don't need to know anything else.
"Four Days in October" wasn't a passion project for anybody. It was a pandering project for ESPN and MLB Productions, who know that you can always get ratings by catering to Red Sox Nation.
It kind of boggles my mind that given the number of A-list creative types who count themselves as Red Sox devotees, ESPN wasn't able to track down somebody who wanted to steer this ship, either as a director or as a talent-wrangling producer. Affleck Brothers? Matt Damon? Denis Leary? Stephen King? Did somebody approach PBS to see if Ken Burns had an hour-long Red Sox edit from "The 10th Inning" that he wanted the world to see? Heck, why didn't "30 for 30" team captain Bill Simmons step up to the plate and try to see if he could direct a 51-minute documentary about his beloved squad?
In short, how did the task of bringing this emotional story to screen fall to a corporate entity?
Yes, the Red Sox comeback was a great story. And yes, I'm awfully relieved we didn't get a predictable documentary about The Curse of the Bambino.
But how could somebody not have had a more intimate or slightly left-of-center approach to the tale? Don't get me wrong, if I ever stop getting choked up watching Dave Roberts steal second or Papi going deep or Curt Schilling's bloody sock, that's a bad sign. But I've already got an MLB-produced documentary about that post-season.
"Four Days in October" definitely doesn't lack for basic access. The game footage is tremendous, albeit familiar. I don't think there's anything here that you haven't seen before, at least from the game action. There's some pre-game footage and locker room stuff that captures the behind-the-scenes excitement and that may be new, some of it at least. You know what MLB Productions has available and that's what you get. The documentary is then punctuated by predictable talking head interviews with many/most of the key participants on the Red Sox side.
You walk away reminded of how big an emotional piece Kevin Millar was to that Red Sox puzzle. You're reminded, once again, of the humor of Pedro Martinez. You salute Roberts and the unlikely hero he was. And this documentary seems every bit as integral to Schilling's Hall of Fame candidacy as "Winning Time" was for Reggie Miller.
And every once in a while you get Simmons and Lenny Clarke sitting at a bar reminiscing, but not with any real insight. It's just a bunch of, "Yeah, could you believe when *that* happened?" excitement. It turns out that like most Red Sox fans, Simmons and Clarke were skeptical that the Red Sox could come back from 3-0 down and then when it happened, they were rather overjoyed.
"Four Days in October" is exactly the story it sets out to be, which happens to be a story that absolutely everybody already knows by heart. It's not like this was a great opportunity for Schilling to unburden himself and go, "Yeah, that was soy sauce on my sock" or for Alex Rodriguez to pop up and go, "Ooops, maybe trying to slap the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove really was a pathetic, bush league move." The perspective from the other dugout is lacking, not that I expected A-Rod or Jeter or Joe Torre to be eagerly effusive in discussing this season. It still might have been nice.
I guess my problems with "Four Days in October" boil down to these questions: What do I know that I didn't know before watching this film? And what do I understand better now or see differently now than I did before watching this film?
The answer? Zero.
And it's sad, because I don't have to think hard to come up with angles or approaches that could have used 2004 as a backdrop for complimentary stories. A couple quick options...
*** Old people. Focus on the 2004 ALCS through the eyes of a group of senior citizens born after 1918 and familiar only with Red Sox heartbreak, fans who were convinced they'd die without ever seeing the Sox win a World Series. In the months after that World Series, I have to bet that literally dozens of obituaries mentioned that the deceased were Red Sox fans who were finally able to have that moment of celebration, that they held on for just long enough. That's a good story, isn't it?
*** The bloody sock. Talk to William Morgan, who pioneered the procedure that stabilized Schilling's ankle. Talk to conspiracy theorists convinced that Schilling made a red splotch on his sock just for drama. Talk about Willis Reed. Talk about the things athletes are willing to do for glory. It's the same story, but it's the micro version, rather than the macro version.
*** Take the darker perspective. Look at Damon, Pedro and Manny and their departure from the Red Sox. Look at the dumbass Red Sox fans who booed those beloved players when they returned in other uniforms. Explore why that 2004 postseason bonded fans to players in such a way that any departure was seen as a betrayal, even if it wasn't the choice of the players.
*** The Red Sox Nation as media mosaic. Tell the story of fan reactions as filtered through message board comments, YouTube videos, talk radio snippets and news footage. We know how the series was won. How did people react, both in the despair of 0-3 and the triumph of 4-3?
*** The Red Sox Nation as obnoxious phenomenon. Simmons has ranted about the pink-hatted, fair-weather Sox fans for years. Why not do a documentary on the genesis of a bandwagon?
*** Pedro's Little Friend. Would you watch a documentary about 2'4" Nelson de la Rosa, the late actor who went from Marlon Brando's mascot in "The Island of Dr. Moreau" to being a central figure for the World Series run? I sure would.
Anyway, that was five minutes of brainstorming on how to do a documentary on the 2004 Red Sox without just repeating the same "When all hope was lost, these Idiots said 'Why not us?'" tropes. That's all "Four Days in October" is and that's why it's both utterly satisfying and frustratingly disappointing.
"Four Days in October" premieres on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. on ESPN.