Whenever TV shows incorporate sports as a central theme, plenty of catchy and inspiring dramas are imminent. This will then be coupled with intense training montages and even scenes of heartbreaking emotion. For sports comedies, these themes are subverted, reinterpreted, or simply associated with fun moments of team spirit. Of Ballers at Ted Lasso, Cobra Kai at Friday night lightsevery sports TV show has its fair share of tropes.
But besides the familiar cliches, some of these shows can also take an unexpectedly realistic look at the game they portray. In that sense, they’re a must-have watch not just for those who need a show to binge, but for sports fans who need a break from the real world.
Ballers (2015-2019) – Stream on HBO Max
Starring Dwayne Johnson as a former football star turned NFL CFO, Ballers deals with its protagonist’s struggles to give their best to budding new talent in the game. The subplots deal with the lives of these gamers and the price of stardom in their rising careers.
Along with offering one of Dwayne Johnson’s best roles, the series does justice to a behind-the-scenes image of the NFL business. Even if the financial interactions between managers and players can be slightly dramatized, Ballers is doing well overall. As Ken Gunsberger, Senior Vice President at UBS Financial Services said Market watch“the producers have done their homework so there’s an element of truth to that… The heart of the show about gamers spending money and people profiting from it is essentially true.”
Cobra Kai (2018-) – Stream on Netflix
The All-Valley Tournament and internal politics between Danny and Johnny’s dojos may be a little over the top, but Cobra Kai also has its quota of credible elements.
While martial arts expert and vlogger Sensei Seth broke down the karate-centric show, he enjoyed how the dojo scenes showed the fighters’ reliance on equipment like weights and punching bags instead. than focusing solely on melee duels. Another interesting aspect that he found realistic was that “the more martial arts teachers they are, usually the less business they are.” And this is true in the case of the main Cobra Kai character Johnny Lawrence, who is a great teacher but ignores business and safety rules when installing.
Friday Night Lights (2006-2011) – Stream on
Given that Friday night lights was inspired by a non-fiction book of the same name, there is an ounce of reality present throughout the series. Dealing with the day-to-day issues of a high school football team in small-town America, these struggles build up until every Friday, which is game night.
Journalist HG Bissinger’s original book is a documentary look at the 1988 season of the Odessa, Texas high school team, the Permian Panthers. Along with the real-world issues some Panthers players faced during their growing-up years, the show accurately portrays the obsession behind state championships. To quote a Hustle Mallory Carra’s piece, “going to ‘the state’ is big business… ‘the state’ can make stars. In the same article, Carra attests that the show’s depiction of college football scholarships and an entire town’s obsession with high school football comes close to reality.
Haikyu!! (2014-2020) – Stream on Crunchyroll
As for the best sports and fitness anime of all time, Haikyu!! often at the top of the list. The show deals with the matches and exploits of an underdog volleyball team, specifically series protagonist Shoyo Hinata, who wishes to be the tallest player in the game despite his short stature.
Like other anime, Haikyu!! relies on over-the-top physical mannerisms, but Hinata’s pursuit seems to carry a touch of reality. Japanese volleyball player Yuji Nishida is often nicknamed an actual “Hinata” because he too is shorter than the average player with a height of 1.86 meters. And yet, he is praised for his jumping abilities as a talented striker for his team. In fact, as ComicBook.com reported, Nishida called Haikyu!! his favorite anime in an interview with Weekly Shonen Jump. “There are so many scenes in Haikyuu that I can [empathize] with as a biter.”, he added.
GLOW (2017-2019) – Stream on Netflix
GLOW aka the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling documents the beginnings of women’s professional wrestling, with the costume antics and rampant sexism of that era. While the show features a fictionalized version of an actual professional wrestling TV show of the same name, GLOW carries a sense of reality by presenting the flashy 1980s.
As Former GLOW and WWE Legend Lisa Moretti Described Netflix’s Main Characters GLOW for For victory“The first two seasons were built around girls like me who were like Ruth and Debbie… The girls in season one were living in Las Vegas – which parallels the Netflix show – of us having to give up our lives having to move somewhere so they could have us 24/7 to produce the show.
Ted Lasso (2020-) – Stream on Apple TV+
With Jason Sudeikis as the beloved titular character, Ted Lasso deals with an American football manager who is accidentally assigned to take over a British football team. Although such an interesting training case has not been reported in real life, Lasso’s club AFC Richmond appear to be based on real British clubs such as Premier League participant Crystal Palace. The two are based in South East London and even share the same shirt colors.
Aggressive team captain-turned-assistant coach Roy Kent seems to be very realistic given that football has no shortage of brash and foul-mouthed players. As showrunner Brendan Hunt himself confirmed on IrishCentralformer Manchester United manager Roy Keane is an obvious source of inspiration, as both figures are brilliant players but also known for their fierce opinions.
Hajime No Ippo (2000-2002) – Stream on Retrocrush
Hajime No Ippo (Where fighting spirit as it is known by Western audiences) is a boxing anime that has stood out as one of the greatest of its kind.
A little like Haikyu!!, Bakiand other anime associated with sports, Hajime No Ippo also has its share of fast action which can sometimes reach superhuman levels. At the same time, the show is hailed by boxing fans for incorporating real player techniques and moves like Jack Dempsey’s rolls, Alexis Arguello’s straight cross and many more.
Kingdom (2019-) – Stream On Peacock
With Frank Grillo, Nick Jonas and others as MMA fighters, Kingdom is a must-have watch for anyone who wants a grounded, personalized look at sports instead of just caged hyperviolence.
The fact that the main cast trained extensively in Joe “Daddy” Stephenson’s gymnasium adds a touch of reality. Not only is Stephenson an established MMA veteran himself, but he has also appeared on the show. Another MMA legend, trainer Greg Jackson played a pivotal role in Kingdom with his notes helping to choreograph the fight scenes.
Sports Night (1998-2000) – Stream on Apple TV+
Aaron Sorkin’s best screenplays are known for their quick dialogue exchanges, and sports evening is no exception. The show serves as a behind-the-scenes look at a daily real-life sports news show sports center.
Despite Sorkin’s brand of drama, there’s a sense of real chaos behind the sports show it’s inspired by. “Sometimes it is like that. Say, if we broadcast a game before 11 o’clock ‘sports center,’ and the game ends early, we might be in a rush because we have to broadcast at 10:50 a.m. instead of 11″, Gus Ramsey, producer for sports center from 1994 to 1999, recounts ESPN.
Betty (2020-2021) – Stream on HBO Max
Based on a real documentary on the lives of New York skaters, Betty doesn’t really have a simple plot. Instead, the HBO original simply follows these skaters as they embark on their daily adventures, ranging from their quest to find suitable skate parks to doing side jobs to pay the bills.
Since the show depends on incorporating real skaters and improvisation, Betty is easily one of the most realistic shows on TV right now. As creator and director Crystal Moselle said Los Angeles Time“There are real scripts, but the girls are really good at getting off the script – I only work with people who are comfortable with improvisation.”
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