Apple TV+’s most shameless cash grab is back for a truly unearned victory lap. Gotham Chopra and Co. have crafted the thoroughly un-asked-for second season of Greatness Code, the only show on TV about how great and talented athletes are.
Oh, what’s that? There are 10 million other shows about the same thing, and they’re all more involved than 10-minute interviews with competently animated interstitials and some vague notion of what makes an athlete “great”?
Well shut my mouth. Guess there’s no reason to watch this one, is there?
Greatness Code season 2 review
Chopra’s cavalcade of celebrity athletes returns Friday for more bite-size sports hagiography. For those who rightfully slept through the first season of Greatness Code, here’s the deal: Deepak Chopra’s son has a good thing going by whispering in the ear of famous athletes, and hooking them up with TV and speaking gigs and stuff.
He came to Apple TV+ with an idea: Why not make a farm team of athletes looking to break into entertainment? You put them on TV, you spend very little money producing the show, and then whenever one of them makes a move toward screen stardom, they’ve got Apple TV+ in their Rolodex for easy communication.
We’ve already seen this play out in Make or Break, the Apple TV+ surfing competition show. And the format is dead simple. Athletes speak to two cameras about important moments in their lives, as competitors, animation and archival footage bear out their testimony.
Ten minutes later, we learn why so and so is really very good at their job. Which … we ought to know already because they’re on TV talking about it on a boutique interview show. Last season on Greatness Code, we heard from Lebron James, Kelly Slater, Tom Brady and more. This season we get Scout Bassett, Marcus Rashford, Leticia Bufoni, Russell Wilson, Bubba Wallace and Lindsey Vonn.
Lean in and take the money
As usual, Greatness Code proves facile to the point of pure, embarrassing condescension. The animators, lead by Lauren Fisher, will put words on the screen like “Lean in!” or “I never care what other people are saying,” to highlight when an athlete tells a story about how this time they’re gonna do the best job of their lives.
“Oh of course,” I can already hear some of you saying at home on your couch. “Why didn’t I think of that?!?”
A show like this isn’t about the actual process of becoming a better athlete, because if they could teach you to do it, then they wouldn’t be so special, would they?
This is not the athletes’ fault, mind you. If someone came to your house with a check and asked for 20 minutes of your time, I imagine you’d say yes, too. Lord knows I would. It’s the Greatness Code format, and Gotham Chopra‘s cloying direction, that are the problem.
What precisely is the mission of a show like this? I mean, I know what it is. It’s to gain the confidence of athletes. But for the viewing public? Why would anybody watch this?
Interesting athletes, but no real spark
I’m in the hypothetical viewing window for a few of these and even I can’t muster the energy to fully lift my eyelids to watch Greatness Code. I love, for instance, Paralympian Scout Bassett. I think she’s a beautiful individual who came from literally nothing, abandoned on the streets after losing a limb in a horrible fire.
Now she’s on top of the world in a country whose language she didn’t know a few years ago. That took unbelievable skill and determination. She is actually the kind of person I think we should admire. She let nothing stop her, and she’s a gold-medal-winning, record-holding sports star now.
And yet Chopra and Fisher present her story in the most unimaginative, overly literal, cartoonish way possible. First of all, the testimony she gives here is near-identical to the one she gave to ESPN a few years back, which leads me to wonder how much else of the information gathered for this back-slapping pageant of the stars is secondhand.
Second of all, she finds no friends in the Greatness Code editorial department, which does its best to present everything as simply as possible. When Bassett discusses feeling like an outsider in her hometown, they render this by showing a bunch of buildings with big cartoon eyeballs staring out at the camera.
This is not what great TV looks like
It’s just so sanitized and redundant. Do you wanna talk about hardships or do you want to couch racism and disability-phobia in the simplest terms so you don’t bum out your audience?
Furthermore, the attempts to link all these athletes’ struggles through some nebulous concept of “greatness” is also flattening and frankly insulting. Nothing against skier Lindsey Vonn, but the death of her grandfather when she was in her 30s doesn’t really compare to the idea of being left on the street to die as an infant. Greatness Code wants us to believe there’s some magic recipe for athletic prowess, but of course there isn’t.
It’s easy enough to swallow, I guess. (Skateboarder Leticia Bufoni‘s raspy voice is a tonic). And, again, none of this is on the athletes. They were doing what made sense to them and their management. In fact, all these people are charming. But a complete lack of imagination on the parts of the Greatness Code’s creators holds this leaden nonsense down.
Watch Greatness Code on Apple TV+
Season two of Greatness Code premieres May 13 on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.