Archive for Friday, January 20, 2012

HBO’s ‘Roach’ rewards patient viewers

January 20, 2012


The new, unscripted, slice-of-life series “On Freddie Roach” (8:30 p.m., HBO) may appeal to fans of boxing and documentary films. They are not necessarily overlapping groups. Folks who like the fast, furious and brutal pace of boxing may find “Freddie” a tad languid. And “Freddie” may interest fans of a certain type of documentary — the long, slow-to-build kind without narration or other techniques that answer viewers’ most basic questions, like, “Who is Freddie Roach?”

For those who stick around for the first half hour or so, we’re given teaspoons of information about the central character. He’s a boxing trainer and a former fighter raised by a loving mother and a rage-filled, pugilistic dad who thought nothing of blackening his wife’s eyes in front of his seven kids. Freddie’s hands shake and he walks haltingly because he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, an ailment thought to be linked to his life of fighting.

For all of the blows he has taken, Roach comes across as a thoughtful, even mellow man, someone who has found contentment as a teacher and mentor rather than as a punisher. He looks a lot more like Philip Seymour Hoffman than Sylvester Stallone.

Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club may be located in Hollywood, but it’s hardly glamorous. Its denizens are a mix of young strivers and washed-up palookas with misshapen faces. It’s a family. It’s a freak show. There is violence in the air. There is blood. But there is also love.

Created by Peter Berg, “Freddie” is clearly inspired by the work of filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, whose film “Boxing Gym” recently appeared on PBS. Wiseman has created exhaustive and illuminating documentaries about subjects ranging from mental institutions to the Idaho legislature, from American high schools to the Paris ballet. At their most rewarding his films are completely immersive events, allowing viewers an incomparable appreciation of their subject. When they are not long (his “Belfast, Maine” runs four hours), they seem long. At their most taxing, these films are not only like watching paint dry, they ask you to watch the painters apply the paint in the first place. After watching them carefully open the paint cans.

Tonight’s other highlights

• A crisis puts everything in jeopardy on “A Gifted Man” (7 p.m., CBS).

• “Shark Tank” (7 p.m., ABC) returns with new would-be entrepreneurs.

• Danger ricochets on a bullet train on “Chuck” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Hidden cameras capture strangers in ethical quandaries on a new season of “Primetime: What Would You Do?” (8 p.m., ABC).

• Childhood abuse evokes inner demons on “Grimm” (8 p.m., NBC).

• The parallel division faces new challenges on “Fringe” (8 p.m., Fox).

• A broken rig sparks a waiting game on “Gold Rush” (8 p.m., Discovery).

• A suspect in a robbery has a police connection on “Blue Bloods” (9 p.m., CBS).

• A punk couple frustrates a wedding planner on “Portlandia” (9 p.m., IFC).


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