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HBO and the Rams missed their big opportunity with this Hard Knocks season

The season finale of Hard Knocks, like the Rams so often do, fell short of expecations and underscored some missed opportunities earlier in the season.

Well, we’ve made it through yet another season of Hard Knocks. The main takeaway here is that even in their new home of Los Angeles, the Rams, who have finished under .500 the last nine years in a row, are not any more interesting than we thought they were before we invested five hours total of our Tuesday nights into watching their trials and tribulations at training camp. Which is disappointing, because this team does have a ton of potential—particularly on defense—and there was a chance here to shed some light on that.

But I thought overall, these five episodes were unmemorable. Maybe it’s the fact that the show has been around so long that it’s come to rely on convenient tropes rather than devote any significant time to really interesting people. Aaron Donald, for example, has a legitimate shot to win Defensive Player of the Year this year, but he hardly got any screen time. Many are already making the argument that Todd Gurley is the best running back in the game even though he’s only entering his second year, yet other than a few amusing lines here or there, there wasn’t a lot that showed us his interaction with coaches or how he’s dealing with newfound fame. There have been a few intriguing moments with Jared Goff, but even those seem a little dull now that we know he’s entering this season as the No. 3 guy. Even William Hayes’s obsession with mermaids and dinosaurs got a bit tired after a while (though I laughed watching him react to Jimmy Kimmel’s suggestion that he get his own show on Animal Planet).  

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I’d have to take a closer look back at past seasons of Hard Knocks to see if this has always been the case, but this season seemed particularly overstuffed with dramatic montages of players staring wistfully out at the field while pop songs that all sound like they are sung by Ellie Goulding played in the background. Those work fine for the first ten seconds, but then you realize the amount of information that you have about these players is incredibly low. That’s been the main issue with this season—a lack of really feeling like you’re learning anything more than the absolute basics about all of them. There are the exceptions, of course—as I said last week, the cut scenes always hit hard, but I still felt like there was more to discover about guys like Paul McRoberts and Ethan Westbrooks as both players and people. Maybe this is expecting too much from an NFL reality show, as the amount of personal information you’re going to get is never going to be astounding. But there have been seasons of this show that have been successful at drawing the audience in and shedding some new insight on the team at hand. This wasn’t one of those seasons.

I went into last year’s NFL season thinking that the Rams had a real chance to be a dark horse contender, and thought a closer look at them through this show would reaffirm that view for ’16. And maybe this will be the year they snap out of their spell of mediocrity after all. But after spending five weeks watching this, (which admittedly is about as outside of a view as one can have), I don’t feel particularly inspired.

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Some other notes on the finale:

Biggest Cut of the Episode: Entertaining tank top enthusiast Eric Kush is one of those exceptions to the aforementioned lack of accessible players. He was an easy guy to root for, so when Rock Gullickson approached the center in the weight room and told him coach wants to see him, it was a tough one to swallow—and it seemed like that feeling reverberated throughout the team as well. In his conversation with GM Les Snead after he finds out he’s cut, Kush says “I’ve just had a lot of fun here. I’ve had a lot of fun here, and that’s what hurts the most.” The Bears signed him almost immediately afterward, but as narrator Liev Schreiber tells us, they will be his sixth team in two seasons.

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Paul McRoberts vs. Austin Hill: These are the other two bubble players who’ve gotten the most focus throughout the season, and neither gets a true happy ending. In an attempt at a mid-episode twist, there’s a cruel moment during the Rams’ preseason game against the Vikings where the show builds it up to make it seem as though rookie receiver McRoberts is going to return a punt for a touchdown in heroic fashion. The ball comes at him in slow motion! Everyone is looking on intensely! Dramatic NFL Films music is playing! And then he gets hit immediately and fumbles instead. He reacts by muttering, “I’m cut, bro” as he walks off the field. And then, in yet another twist, McRoberts hauls in an impressive touchdown catch at the end of the game, which seems to twist the fate back in his favor over teammate Hill. In the end, Fisher tells McRoberts that the Rams want him to occupy a spot on the practice squad.

Hill is not so lucky—he simply gets cut yet again. But fear not: His very adorable daughter Rielyn still gets one more appearance at the end as (surprise, surprise) more slow, sad music plays in the background while Hill pushes his daughter on a swing and talks about dealing with the consistent limbo of his football life. 

Quote of the Night: “That’s my godbaby, she supports the mermaids.” That’s Dinosaur-denying, mermaid-loving William Hayes on his goddaughter, Robert Quinn’s very cute baby daughter, who is wearing a shirt that says ‘Mermaid Vibes.’

Record Prediction: And with the end of this episode, we’re on to real football with no pop music montages in between. There are a lot of things to like about the Rams, but it’s still tough to see them breaking out this year with their current QB crop and a lack of any really stellar receiver. Being in that division doesn’t do them any favors either. I’ll say they begin their new era in L.A. just like they ended it in St. Louis—with a 7–9 record.