A divisive pop culture icon, cautionary tale and sports star all rolled into one, quarterback Joe Namath inspires a 90-minute film to match his multifaceted legend in “Namath” (7 p.m., HBO).
By any measure, there have been better quarterbacks before and after Joe Namath, men with names like Unitas, Elway, Marino, Montana, Manning and Brady. But none of these players changed the game or personified a cultural fault line quite like “Broadway Joe.”
‘‘Namath” divides into four nearly equal parts. We begin and end with the touching backstory of a boy from the modest Pennsylvania steel town of Beaver Falls. We also have the standard sports hagiography, complete with Liev Schreiber narration. And no official NFL film would be complete without a swelling musical score that drowns nearly every scene in pathos and schmaltz. Namath played football very well. He did not part the Red Sea.
The best part of the film uses period footage to chronicle Namath’s emergence as a bon vivant ladies’ man, TV commercial star, clotheshorse, controversial saloon owner, Hollywood regular and talk show host during the swinging ’60s. Want to see Joe with Truman Capote? Ann-Margret? Woody Allen? They’re here!
While many of his crew-cut critics castigated him as a hippie, Namath was really the Elvis of professional football, ushering the NFL into the television age and broadening the game’s audience to include women and young people, who had previously dismissed football as violent, Neanderthal and hopelessly square.
Like Elvis and Mickey Mantle, Namath was a small-town boy turned superstar let loose in a candy store of hedonism and excess that would be his undoing. Namath’s private pain and public shame provide grist for the last quarter of the film.
Namath spends a lot of “Namath” alone, a man in a simple wooden chair answering questions — a man who has grown perceptively older and, if the film is to believed, appreciably wiser, with the passage of time.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Luke Perry stars in the Western “Goodnight for Justice: The Measure of a Man” (7 p.m., Hallmark Movie Channel).
• U.S. Figure Skating Championships (8 p.m., NBC).
• Will Ferrell spoofs the world of figure skating in the 2007 comedy “Blades of Glory” (8 p.m., ABC).
• Paul’s emerging powers test his friendships on “The Fades” (8 p.m., BBC America).
• An oil rig strikes a lava flow in the 2012 shocker “Swamp Volcano” (8 p.m., Syfy).
• Scheduled on “48 Hours Mystery” (9 p.m., CBS): Young love leads to a mother’s murder.
• Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart and Alan Davies appear on “The Graham Norton Show” (9:15 p.m., BBC America).