"On Freddie Roach" is a winner

Confession time. When I heard there was going to be a six episode Freddie Roach reality show, my first reaction was: Will that work?

What I know of Freddie, the ace trainer and former lunchpail banger who today struggles with Parkinson’s while he runs the busiest and best-known boxing gym in the world, the Wild Card in Hollywood, CA, he’s an unassuming guy.

He’s not quite the loudmouth attention freak who gets into daily train wrecks the sort of which tend to entrance TV viewers of today.

Then I saw two episodes, which were screened at HBO headquarters in New York City on Wednesday night, and my fears were allayed. I can safely say that boxing fans will enjoy the "cinema-verite series," which is directed by Peter Berg (actor, director, producer on “Friday Night Lights”) and produced by Berg and Jim Lampley (you know who that is). And also, perhaps more importantly, because television is a results business, even more than boxing, the series I think will appeal to a wider demo. I can see non-boxing fans, and women especially, tuning in to the premiere, on Friday, Jan. 20 (9:30 PM), and then sticking around in subsequent weeks.

The portions that I saw worked because you see a “regular Joe” struggling his way through his existence, as we all do, in an atmosphere of celebrity. The first episode saw Roach helping Amir Khan get ready to fight Zab Judah, so fight fans will enjoy seeing behind the curtain that usually blocks their eyes from seeing some of the nitty-gritty of the game. They also worked because I saw sides of Roach that I didn’t know existed.

There is an intensity on display that I didn’t know about, and also a remoteness, if you want to call it that, that surprised me. Viewers will likely cringe at the rawness Berg captured as Roach dresses down his assistant Marie, who just happens to be his ex, as she tends to his business. She is seen right after the uncomfortable moment shedding a tear, and the viewer who thinks he has Roach pegged is thrown for a loop. This amiable guy with the hand tremors, who always seems so agreeable while he does his thing with top client Manny Pacquiao, has a darker side to him.

The reason, or an explanation of that darker side, is alluded too. Roach came from a dysfunctional home growing up in Dedham, Mass. Hell, we all come from a dysfunctional home, to an extent, but most of our fathers don’t beat up on our mothers right in front of us, and leave her with black eyes. Most of our fathers didn’t drink too much, and whack us around. So right after you see the darker side of Roach, you receive some information that mitigates the discomfort. Berg is good at his craft…

I mentioned the train wrecks, the booze-fueled dustups, the booze-fueled hot-tub hookups, the public spats over inconsequential matters exacerbated by the presence of the cameras and on-target assumption made by the talent that the producers are desiring dirt and misbehavior…No, “On Freddie Roach” won’t be featuring the sort of jackpots you see on the “Housewives” shows or on “Jersey Shore.” His soul doesn’t have the holes in it which can only be plugged by fame derived from selling out oneself in exchange for notoriety and money (cough, cough, Kardashians). But that doesn’t mean there won’t be misbehavior, performed by characters just quirky enough to warrant some gawking, on the show. One of those characters is Freddie’s brother Pepper, and a filmed sequence in which he had a medical issue had me glued.

Come back for more info on the show, and content from a chat I had with Roach after the HBO screening…

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