What makes a sports prodigy? Quibi’s answer cuts out the Xs and Os
They’re sports stories without losers or even scores, for the most part. They’re “quick bites” for small screens, intimate stories with narrow areas of focus. But the ambition behind them is large.
“The idea is to inspire people to unlock all our capabilities, in terms of our empathy, our compassion, our commitment — both to the things we pursue individually and to our collective endeavors and aspirations,” says director Rand Getlin, whose company, Park Stories, created the “Prodigy” series for Quibi.
“We say we put vitamins in people’s ice cream.”
“Prodigy” looks into the lives of young athletes rocketing to the top of their sports, emphasizing how they drew strength from their families to succeed. The first three episodes, each introduced by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe, feature basketball phenom Jalen Green, Olympic gold medal-winning snowboarder “Red” Gerard and five-time national champion boxer Chantel Navarro.
Just don’t expect expert analysis.
Green’s “episode is far less about his ability as a player than about the commitment of his mother, of his stepfather, of his sister and their collective push to build a better life for themselves,” says Getlin.
Green’s mother is asked about all she has sacrificed to let him chase his dream. She says it’s what a mother is supposed to do, then breaks down — though whether that’s because she’s been holding back those dammed-up emotions for so long, or simply because someone has finally asked her how she feels, is unclear.
Similarly, when Navarro’s father, a tough-looking former boxer, talks about his daughter’s dedication, he recalls her winning her first tournament and telling him she loved him — and he totally loses it.
“The vast majority of sports storytelling wants to focus on analytics, on what’s going on inside the ring, and we very much believe in zigging when they zag,” Getlin says. “You don’t have to watch Chantal’s episode and say, ‘I want to be a great boxer.’ You can watch it and say, ‘I want to be a better father.’”
It’s not all heart-rending “Real Sports” moments, of course: There’s copious training footage and some awe-inspiring tricks from Gerard’s medal-winning run.
Quibi, a new digital TV venture backed by former DreamWorks Animation executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, said Wednesday that it plans to launch 5,000 “quick bite” videos of under 10 minutes when it debuts as early as next year.
Though optimized for both horizontal and vertical viewing like other Quibi entries, you may want to watch “Prodigy” horizontally to experience the full force of the remarkable young athletes’ powers. As Getlin says, Quibi funded “Prodigy” at a “premium clip,” which allowed his team to “create big, beautiful stories.”
“We spent an inordinate amount of time and resources on color grading, and also on sound design,” he says. “Check ‘em out with headphones. I think you’ll be able to hear how much effort we put into making sure the sound was closer to the level of investment you’d put into a feature film that’s supposed to be shown in large-scale cinemas.”
Technical prowess aside, the series’ attention to the personal may disappoint viewers eager for the analysis to which they’re accustomed. After all, without context for the sight of Green dunking his high-school opponents into oblivion, it can be difficult to understand why, as we’re told, he might go No. 1 in the NBA draft someday. And without more heed to the warrior in action, it can be hard to know what makes Navarro — and not someone else — the five-time national champ.
Still, Getlin’s interest in highlighting the underserved communities from which many of the athletes in “Prodigy” hail reads as sincere: “I myself grew up in foster care and was adopted later in life and grew up in the inner city. It’s incredibly important for us to build a bridge between these worlds that are often siloed,” he says of the different backgrounds of the featured athletes, some privileged and some not.
“There may be stark differences between them, but in this series, you see there’s a bridge between them. The families are busting their tails so their kids can be the best version of themselves. We have so much more in common than the things that divide us.”
Trailer for the Quibi sports-biography series “Prodigy.”
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