The Last Dance is a sports documentary.
It takes a defining moment in the career of one of the greatest teams and players in history (Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan), and you can look back on it retrospectively and know the story has meaning and purpose.
But by filming the story as you tell it, you are at the mercy of what happens next. You can end up with Sunderland Til I Die, a real-time destruction of a club from the inside out, one that makes absorbing viewing no matter the editing process.
Or you have All or Nothing: Tottenham, the story of a somewhat underwhelming, average season, and so you have to try to manufacture the drama in order to make it something worth watching.
To watch All or Nothing and assume that Mourinho’s gesticulations are genuine is to watch Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday and assume that every match begins and ends with a monologue on life itself.FootballCritic
At a very basic level this is a gigantic PR exercise, to exult the virtues of Tottenham Hotspur to the NFL, who will share usage of their new stadium and are in serious discussions over hosting a franchise in London in future. Daniel Levy floats along the corridors making sure the food service is top notch and that the facilities in general are befitting that of your average NFL arena. He is a glorified estate agent, taking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell quite literally around to show him what a nice thing he’s built.
And for the most part of the first episode, it’s utterly boring. Mauricio Pochettino looks embarrassed to be on screen, Levy can’t help looking at the camera crew like an early incarnation of Michael Scott from the Office, and the stadium is so obviously front and centre it’s like watching Homes Under The Hammer.
It only really gets Interesting when Jose Mourinho turns up, and the cynical out there may suggest that such is the importance to Spurs to woo the NFL and create an alluring documentary, that Poch, while form post-Champions League final was dreadful, was a straightforward patsy to allow Jose centre stage.
His highly-edited entrance comes packaged with anonymous soundbites on TV from ‘pundits’ claiming that he is ‘past it’, while Jose meticulously arranges his numerous winner medals on his desk, before telling the TV screen to ‘fuck off’. It’s rather transparent stage management. Then we get Levy telling us his belief that “there are two world class managers out there - one is at another Premier League club, and the other is Jose.”
Yes, Jurgen Klopp can consider that as a slight against him, and perhaps the first of many mini-convos involving Levy where his lack of football knowledge is laid bare in cringeworthy fashion. It feels as if Jose is talking to an uncle at a Christmas party; ‘So I hear you’re working on the Internet now?’
Mercifully as the episodes progress he doesn’t set himself up as the Charlie Methven of this piece and drifts into the background. He lets Jose takes the reins of this thrilling race for… the top four, where games happen, players are spoken to and speeches are made, and even Jose can’t save it from being relentlessly dull.
The spine-tingling conversation between Jose and Eric Dier, spoken in Portuguese, the will he/won’t he Christian Eriksen debate, the Dane so desperate to not appear in the later episodes that he pissed off to Inter to not play in Serie A, and the chat with Heung Min-Son’s fans about why they love him.
It feels at times as if the main narrative is so incapable of holding our Interest, even with Tom Hardy’s gravelly voiceover, that we are forced to forage in B storylines about players and their families and their futures, only the stakes are largely low and difficult to care about.
Even from a blatantly manufactured perspective there’s not much drama to be had, and from an analytical perspective there’s zero that can be taken from how Jose speaks to people or sets up his team. It’s such a sanitised, protected version of the a real dressing room that insight is negligible.
To watch All or Nothing and assume that Mourinho’s gesticulations are genuine is to watch Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday and assume that every match begins and ends with a monologue on life itself. It doesn’t. Self awareness is very much intrinsic to how most of the protagonists act and respond to retain their own reputations, but it’s just not very good telly.
And the tough thing we’ve got now is that, three episodes in, we know what happens next. Eriksen leaves, Kane gets injured, coronavirus happens, the season ends in a whimper. Once you know the story, it had better have a good ending. The Last Dance does, and this, we know, doesn’t.