“It doesn’t matter what happens at the game on Saturday.”
Firstly it must be said that The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers—the continuation of the franchise which began in 1992—is extremely validating. The Disney+ series doubles a group therapy for all the parents out there traumatized by how intense youth sports have become.
It’s a phenomenon that’s hard to believe until you see it (or live it). I thought the stories of parents yelling on the sidelines, lobbying for extra field time for their kid, and thinking the score of a Saturday morning soccer game actually mattered were perhaps urban legends that happened in other towns. Well, most unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that it’s all 10000% true. There are lots (and lots!) of parents who really believe that their eight-year-old is the next Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretsky, or any other famous sports figure. They are parents who have long since lost sight of the fact that children’s sports really should be about learning the game, learning the value of being a team player, and how to win and lose with grace. Parents who have totally forgotten that children should be having fun.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers understands this and has built its entire premise around this distressing phenomenon. It’s been 29 years since Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez reprising his role) led the ragtag “District 5” hockey team to victory in the peewee championship. Two movies and an animated series followed, and now nearly three decades later, the Ducks are the reigning champions. They’re ruthless and nasty. Their parents bring private coaches to practice and employ sports psychologists. They are now—I know this will be hard to hear—the bad guys. In the series premiere, 12-year-old Evan Morrow (Brady Noon) gets cut from the team. “At this age, if you can’t be good at hockey, don’t bother,” the Ducks callous coach (Dylan Playfair) tells him.
That doesn’t go over well with Brady’s mom Alex (Lauren Graham), who decides to take matters into her own hands. Graham’s always charming schtick, which she perfected on Gilmore Girls, is on full display as the enthusiastic mom that just wants her son to be happy, and for the game of hockey to bring him the same joy it once did. “Let’s start our own team, a whole group of ‘don’t bothers,’” she tells her son. There are two problems with this plan: (1) she has no place for the kids to practice and (2) she knows nothing about coaching hockey. Enter Gordon Bombay, no longer the star hockey player he once was, but instead the owner of a dilapidated ice rink ironically known as the “Ice Palace.”
The “Don’t Bothers,” as the team call themselves, are a group of kids very similar to the original movie’s gang. Some of the casting is even visually similar. Nick (Maxwell Simkins) loves the game even though he can’t play it that well. Logan (Kiefer O’Reilly) has great hair and as much swagger as a 12-year-old can have, but he can’t skate to save his life. Goalie Koob (Luke Islam) treats hockey like one of his video games. Sofi’s (Swayam Bhatia) intense parents think her college future depends on middle school hockey; she’s currently on the Ducks but being heavily wooed by Evan and Nick to come play for the Don’t Bothers. (“I don’t know much about this college resume thing because we’re 12,” Evan tells her.)
Only three episodes were made available for review, but I’m pretty sure I can tell you (or you could tell me) exactly how the 10-episode season will play out. But that’s okay. The comfortable beats are welcome. The young cast, particularly Simkins, Bhatia, and Noon, are charming and infuse the series with a lot of goofy fun. Much of the humor is reflective of the show’s target audience.
As for Bombay, betrayed once again by the sport he used to love, he has a “No Hockey” sign hanging in his Ice Palace rink, and says things like “I hate hockey. I don’t like kids.” Now almost 59 (which I feel okay saying since Estevez’s actual birthdate is revealed on the series), Estevez looks and sounds more and more like his father circa Martin Sheen’s The West Wing days: handsome as ever, but now with a gravitas to his voice and gait that wasn’t there before. Gordon lends continuity to the story and also allows the show to work on two levels—fans of the original movie trilogy will love seeing Gordon return, but new viewers, and the tween audience the show seems clearly aimed at, will delight in the new group of scrappy teammates.
Still, this is not a show where you can apply too much logic. In one scene, Alex and the entire team all arrive together at the pizza parlor. There are no other parents in sight, causing me to wonder exactly how big Alex’s car is that she can fit the entire team safely within it? Is it like a clown car with unlimited capacity? Do some of these 12-year-olds have licenses? Except for Alex, parents are either not seen or a one-note stereotypes.
As expected, references and Easter eggs to The Mighty Ducks are peppered throughout, and Entertainment Weekly reported last week that much of the original cast from the first three movies will reunite in the series sixth episode (but, alas, still no definitive word on Joshua Jackson’s Charlie Conway. Producers are being quite cagey on that front).
Ultimately, unlike the advent of the original franchise, this new series isn’t a game changer. But it is a delight. And that’s something to quack about.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers premieres Friday, March 26 on Disney+.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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