Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Losers (But Not Really)

In fiction, we spend so much time with people who don't get what they want or who "lose" in some fashion. These stories hold appeal on many levels.  Among other things, those who strive but fail in some way are often more interesting as human beings than those who attain victory.   Also, those who "lose"  are more like us, you could say, since anyone who's honest understands that way more of life is about not getting what you want, not achieving success quite as you envision it, than getting what you want.  For every big so-called win, there tend to be innumerable small (and sometimes even big) losses. And then, of course, there's crime fiction, noir fiction in particular, which frequently explores loss, downward spirals, and destruction. If you like those kind of tales, or even if you don't, there's a good chance you'll enjoy the new Netflix series, Losers.

Losers, created and directed by Mickey Duszjy, is a spin on the sports documentary genre.  There are eight episodes of about 30 minutes each.  Each episode is about an athlete or team that in one way or another, in their particular sport, whether in one game or event or over the course of their career, failed. Duszjy grew up a Detroit Lions fan (which explains a lot), and he says, "It always struck me that everybody says that we learn more from our failures than we do from our victories, but that doesn't always manifest in popular culture or in conversations." 

Now let me say straight out that you most certainly do not have to be a sports fan type person to enjoy this series. Losers takes eight narratives about failure and turns them into fascinating character studies. They are also tales with wild reversals, twists and turns, and a good deal of humor.

There's the story of Michael Bentt, who in the 1990's, very briefly was a heavyweight champion.  As he explains, the knockout he suffered to lose that championship was the best thing that ever happened to him, and if he looks familiar to you, it might be because you've seen him since his time as a fighter in movies such as Michael Mann's Ali.

The epic saga of continual defeat and fight for survival that is the history of forth rate English soccer team Torquay United makes for an episode that is both poignant and very funny, and it has an ending that definitely rates as a "you could not make this up" classic.

There is a wonderful episode about Italian policeman and endurance athlete Mauro Prosperi who literally became lost in the Sahara Desert during the 1994 Marathon of the Sands and one about that Canadian obsession curling and how curler Pat Ryan took a shocking loss he suffered at the hands of legend Al (The Iceman) Hackner and used it to remake himself as something else within the sport.  

Actually, the only story I was familiar with was the one about figure skater Surya Bonaly, from France, since I remember her well from watching her skate during two or three Olympics. As a black skater in a lily-white skating world, whose athletic superiority over her competitors was clear, it's great to see how she has gone on with her life after all the years of frustration that came from judges underscoring her.

What's great is how each episode looks at failure from a different, unexpected angle, so that even the word "failure" takes on a quite nuanced meaning.  You never ever know where something major that happens to you will lead in life, and this series shows that in absolute spades.  It's marvelous storytelling, and the way it's done, with warmth and appropriate levity, mixing event footage with interviews and amusing animation, is great.  I had a wonderful time watching this series and would say again that whether or not you're a sports person doesn't matter. Losers is for anyone interested in good stories, life's oddness, and other human beings.


Holly West said...

I'm glad you wrote about this show, Scott. I was just talking to Steve Weddle about it the other day but you were much more eloquent (as usual) in your treatment of it.

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scott adlerberg said...

Thanks, Holly. It really came as a very pleasant surprise to me.