Wednesday, April 21, 2010

30 for 30, "Silly Little Game": Turning fantasy into reality

A quick review of last night's "Silly Little Game," the latest film in the "30 for 30" series, coming up just as soon as I buy you a new dress shirt...

"Silly Little Game" directors Lucas Jansen and Adam Kurland faced a tougher challenge than most of the other "30 for 30" directors, in that there's no exciting archival footage of their subject to keep things interesting between the talking heads. So they decided to do re-enactments, and then spiced those up with a healthy dose of absurdity (the interrogation of the league's first female member, or roto players following real players around the base paths). After so many more traditional documentaries in the series, the dramatization approach could have been a disaster, but it worked. Those scenes were funny, and a nice reminder of the stupid level of obsession that comes with fantasy sports. (And I say this as a guy with too many fantasy teams.)

I knew something of the origins of the game, but the full details were a lot of fun, be it the other players detailing the level of Lee Eisenberg's evil or the revelation that in those early days, fantasy baseball was so exotic that strangers actually wanted to hear about it. (Whereas today, the first rule anyone with a fantasy team learns is "no one wants to hear about your fantasy team.")

But while most of this was played for comedy, there was a definite bittersweet tinge to it all, in the way Daniel Okrent and his friends never figured out how to cash in on their huge discovery, and also in the notion that Okrent never managed to win the original league. (Since Okrent compared the box scores to the Talmud, I may as well compare him to Moses leading the Jews through the desert but never getting to enter the Promised Land.) The scene where Meatloaf expressed complete ignorance to and disinterest in the origins of fantasy spoke to the millions of non-famous fantasy players who surely feel the same way, and I'd like to think at least some of those people happened to watch "Silly Little Game" last night, or will see one of its many later airings.

What did everybody else think?

25 comments:

Dascenzo said...

I think the quote that sums at fantasy was said by Matt Berry and went something like this, "Nothing is more interesting than your fantasy team and less interesting than someone else's."

Anonymous said...

I hated the first half of the documentary but it recovered slightly in the last 10-15 minutes.

The first 30 for 30 that i did not like.

Chris said...

The weakest of the series, but it had the ultimate misfortune to follow Steve James. I'm afraid that for the rest of the series I will be comparing everything to No Crossover.

The re-enactments were cheesy, but the line about too many coffee cups made it worthwhile.

Fans will likely be divided between the two halves of the film, as the second half moves into the more depressing realm. Both from the view of that the rest of the country was becoming just as addicted and the creators knowing they were doomed to irrelevancy. The light-heartedness is what makes this film preferable, though, as the recent Fantasyland is too heavy from delving into the obsessive aspect of fantasy sports.
http://www.snagfilms.com/films/watch/fantasyland/

cadfile said...

I was sort of familiar with the beginnings of fantasy baseball - a friend had bought one of the books back then - so the whole program interested me.

I am a more casual player - the most I had was 3 fantasy football teams - but I could identify with some of the obsession some of the people have in playing,

Garlicksauce said...

While its definitely a non-sequitur episode, I appreciate the content. If they're really going to document the sports world over the past 30 years, the secondary market of fantasy sports is too significant to overlook.

ps Its always a little unsettling to see the Sports Guy cameos in this thing (wasn't he in the USFL one too?), his voice is so familiar from podcasts and then he's on the screen.

The Chancellor said...

Have to echo anonymous @ 8:02AM that this was the first of the 30 for 30's I didn't really like. The reenactment's didn't really work for me, though it did get better as it went. As a fantasy geek, I was interested in the story, but I found the presentation to be lacking.

NJVin said...

I really liked it. As a roto player who had previously little knowledge of the history of thise 'sport,' i found most of the info interesting. I also enjoyed the different style of presentation they used.

GMan said...

Have to side with those who thought the presentation was over the top. I eventually flipped the channel. Sounded like the second half was better but too much gunk to get through in the first half to justify my viewership.

Hal Incandenza said...

Is that Okrent in the photo? If so, he hasn't aged particularly well since Ken Burns' Baseball (in which he was awesome).

Any fellow Canadians out there able to report when we'll be getting the new eps? They keep re-running "Guru of Go" and "The U," but I haven't heard anything about "No Crossover" or "Silly Little Game" air dates.

greebs said...

I'm a huge fantasy fan, wrote for several sites and I was eagerly awaiting this ... and it sort of sucked.

The re-enactments were way over the top, silly and distracting. As you say, Alan, I understand why they did it, but the "interrogation" scene when they were recruiting the lone woman was just nonsense.

renton said...

I liked it, if for no other reason, because it explained where the term Rotisserrie came from.

I always figured it was some sort of circular order of the draft.

Scott said...

I thought it was alright. I didn't like the recreations. I thought it was interesting how they were all over the Roto part, but not the stat formula. I wonder if they could have trademarked the scoring. That was never mentioned.

Gue said...

As a rotisserie player myself (since 1984), when I saw the 30 For 30 lineup I was excited for this one the most.

I used to buy their book religiously. Of the tens of dollars they made off the project, I imagine my money was able to buy them more than one cup of coffee.

But when I saw the trailers, with re-enactments, statistics flying everywhere, I cringed. After No Crossover (the best in the series so far), there was no way Silly Little Game could compete.

In the end, it was better than the trailers, but it was one of the poorer efforts in the series. Sure, there wasn't any action sequences in covering the birth of fantasy sports, but couldn't the producers take the route as Ken Burns did with the Civil War?

flem snopes said...

I really liked the show but I'm a baseball/football geek so I guess it was foreordained.

I couldn't get over the fact that 79/80 was the time frame for origination because I was a team owner of a fantasy football team in 1980.

We were the Boondock Football League in San Francisco, named after a bar near our office in which the game/league was conceived.

Our league was computerized, written in Basic, and scores were entered every Monday and Tuesday. This was before Thursday Night Football.

So... which came first? The Rotisserie or the Boondock.

David Simpson said...

I enjoyed it, as I have every one they've played.
This may sound weird, but my favorite part was when they were showing the different team owners talking from inside their own 1980 baseball card, and then pop up the faces of the players they drafted. I paused the TV, and took great pride to point out to my seven year-old and three year old the diffrent players I remembered. "That's San Diego Padres John D'Aquisto, there's Eric Rasmussen, and there's the Dodger's Ted Martinez...." Anybody else do that?
In the same way I was let down on two points... did they purposely make the guys playing ballplayers in the background unathletic? One guy threw like a girl.
And the worst offense... They showed a reenactment of a guy opening up packs of what I assume was 1980 baseball cards and throwing them to the ground. But there were cards from different years on the ground! And the one he threw down last was obviously from 1974! I mean, c'mon people, we have TiVo Hi Def. We can pause your shows. If you're gonna do it, do it right... :)
If anybody reads this who works on 30 for 30, I can't tell you enough how much I am grateful for this gift to me and my TiVo this year. I absolutely love the series...

Jayme said...

Garlicksauce - Sports Guy is one of the main guys behind the whole series. It was his idea and he's one of the main producers. He's bound to show up in a few more. I do agree, though, it is kind of weird to see him randomly pop in.

Rick said...

This was actually my favorite of the series so far. I'm loving the 30 for 30's, but it feels like so many of them boil down to "Remember this thing that happened and everything has worked out okay? Here's why it was SO IMPORTANT."
This one, on the other hand, continually pointed out that none of this really matters. Sure, it's blown up into a huge multibillion deal, but not for these guys.
Loved it.

Anonymous said...

The film was, at least, entertaining although the flying stats were a little unusual. I'm sure there were more pictures from the early years that would've made for a more realistic visual. That being said, "30 for 30" is the only outlet for a story like this to reach a large audience - and, in with today's ESPN culture, we should all be very happy about that.

I also loved Meat Loaf being completely zoned out; the unedited, full-length version should be a YouTube sensation.

Anonymous said...

the reenactments were torture

Anonymous said...

Well the Sports Guy is producing all these films and he plays an inordinate amount of fantasy so why couldn't he give his opinion?

Anonymous said...

I read the book in 1982 while in college, and a group of friends an I started a real "Rotisserie" league following all the original rules.

I quit playing about a decade ago when everything went internet based. Part of the allure of the original was having to look through the box scores in the real newspaper every morning, underlinin the stat lines for all your players.

For a few years I had the responsibility of doing the weekly tally of EVERY teams' stats, and updating the league standings -- manually using USA Today's weekly stat charts. I used nothing but a hand calculator and a pad and pencil.

When all that went to stat services on the internet, it took a lot of the "joy" out of it for me, and I haven't been involved in a baseball or football league since 2000.

Derek said...

Alan I'm shocked you thought the reenactments were anything less than brutal. Sadly I was excited for this one and ended up having to turn it off after about 20 minutes. I couldn't even begin to enjoy the history of rotisserie thanks to the over-the-top cheesy reenactments. I agree that they had a tall task with little to no archival footage but I feel like the correct decision would have been to not make the film.

Anonymous said...

Worst 30 for 30 to date. They can't all be winners.

Anonymous said...

Liked it. Very Meta. Which of course, Fantasy sports are.
A Derivative of the real sports experience, and a true fantasy...which those recreations were.
Read the book in the late 80s, but found it too labor intensive and obtuse as a game, still no fan of roto leagues, but got on board with Head2Head fantasy football.

Probably need to reread it again, since "The Founders" really did discover the addiction of Fantasy and the greatness of The Draft and wrote all about back at the beginning....

Puff

Anonymous said...

This was one of the more entertaining of the series. I loved everything about it, including the reenactments. Hilarious and informative. I can't wait to watch it again.