I am a big fan of Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, better known as the Men in Blazers. Like many soccer fans, I discovered their terrific podcast on Grantland two years ago and haven’t missed an episode since. Their appreciation of all things soccer, their insightful analysis, and above all their contagious sense of humor – which runs the gamut from intellectually witty to schoolyard silly – continue to amass fans that they refer to as “GFOPs” (“Great Friend of the Pod”).
The British expat duo’s popularity soared during the World Cup this summer thanks to their often hilarious, rapid-fire segments during ESPN’s World Cup Tonight show. The success of those segments and their weekly podcast led to their recent move from ESPN and Grantland to NBCSN where last week they launched the first episode of their new weekly TV show that airs Monday nights at 10:00 PM EST.
The Men in Blazers TV show is a sort of re-launch for the duo as they introduce themselves to a presumably larger audience on NBCSN than they’ve had for their Grantland podcast. Through the first two episodes that has meant plenty retreading of jokes and lingo that listeners of their podcast are already thoroughly familiar with. As for the look of the show, the Blazers aren’t messing with success as they’ve essentially copied the “panic room” set from their World Cup Tonight segments: Davies and Bennett squeezed together in front of a single camera, wearing headsets, with bookshelves and a random assortment of quirky photos and knick-knacks in the background. The show’s format is also a continuation of their shtick from the World Cup 2014 broadcasts, which primarily involves showing clips of players, managers, and fans from the previous weekend’s Premier League matches as the Blazers comment, and poke fun at all aspects of the game they love.
After viewing the first two episodes of the Men in Blazers TV show, the biggest question is whether the show is too much of a good thing. If the general entertainment adage of “always leave them wanting more” applies to the Blazers, then that’s precisely what made their World Cup segments so successful. The manic pace of their World Cup Tonight segments worked because of their brevity. So far, I’m not convinced the same approach translates well in a half-hour format. The same frenetic pace used in their World Cup segments begins to feel a little stretched by the time they reach the interview segment that concludes the new TV show.
One of the great things about the Men in Blazers podcast is the yin/yang quality of “Rog” and “Davo”. You get plenty of silly and witty, but also plenty of reflective, more serious analysis. They naturally flow between the two. The TV format, at least so far, is mostly silliness/wittiness, with their “Wow!” segment even resembling Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in their fictitious show Wayne’s World.
Don’t get me wrong, Davies and Bennett are funny and they mostly pull off the silly, but they do seem more comfortable in the podcasting format, which allows them more opportunities to venture off-script. For the TV version, Davies serves as the host, keeping the topics flowing as he cues video clips and peppers Bennett with questions, seemingly content to allow Bennett to deliver the zingers and snarky asides. The TV show seems scripted to the hilt, so much so that it doesn’t allow the Blazers to chase rabbits or have much organic banter between them.
The main problem with the new show is its claustrophobia, both in the cramped set and shoulder-to-shoulder Blazers placement in-frame, and in the restrictions of the half-hour TV format, which doesn’t allow much breathing room in their dialogue. Things get even more claustrophobic during the interview segment in which the guest is wedged in behind Davies and Bennett so that the Blazers either have their heads turned away from camera to address the guest, or awkwardly talk to the guest with their backs to him (the first two episodes’ guests were Food Fighters host Adam Richman and New York Yankees pitcher Brandon McCarthy). To borrow one of the Blazers’ jokes, their set is tighter than an Arsenal jersey.
The one advantage the Men in Blazers TV show has over the podcast is of course the video clips aspect. Being able to watch Brendan Rogers roam the technical area, for example, as the Blazers riff on his teeth, cuffs, and everything in between is a lot of fun. It’s the Mystery Science Theater version of Men in Blazers. Perhaps we’ll eventually see a merging of the TV and podcast formats, something akin to the Mike & Mike show on ESPN2.
If you only know Men in Blazers from their World Cup appearances last summer, you’ll probably love their new TV show. If you were a fan of their podcast first, you’ll find the TV version much less substantive, as it’s a more polished, rehearsed version of the Blazers (they would probably find it humorous that any aspect of their self-described “sub-optimalism” would be called “polished”). While the TV version isn’t as thoroughly entertaining as the podcast, there is still plenty of fun to be had. Regardless of format, it’s definitely worth tuning in to these unique Blazer-loving connoisseurs of hearty laughs and fine football.
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