In case you hadn’t noticed, Netflix has gone a bit crazy with its documentary content as of late. Every day a new series with some badass, riveting trailer is being promoted. It’s gotten to the point where even documentary-lovers get a bit overwhelmed. Which one should I watch first? Will this series be worth it? What mood am I in? The point is, Netflix has made it very hard to make a decision. But don’t you worry, I’m here to help. There’s one new series in particular that everyone should watch. The docuseries is called “Untold,” and it’s a collection of short films on untold sports stories from the people directly involved.
I know many of you are already losing interest because of the word “sports,” but pump the brakes a bit and hear me out. These are not “sports” stories; they’re human stories. And we’re all humans, aren’t we? With that being said, allow me to explain myself. I’ll offer up my best sales pitch for why this series is a must-watch, as well as a brief synopsis of each part in the collection.
Why the “Untold” Docuseries?
The “Untold” docuseries features stories you’ve never heard before, and not because of lack of notoriety, but rather because we’ve never listened to the people involved share their side of the story. In fact, most of the stories you may be pretty familiar with, whether it be the infamous “Malice at the Palace” or Caitlyn Jenner’s history. The core focus of this collection is to dismantle narratives of controversial tales and give control back to those who truly own the stories. That’s precisely why I said this is not a sports documentary series; it’s an authentic, human documentary series. That’s what makes this a particularly noteworthy watch. The producers take this element of story empowerment to the next level. Rather than including clips of those involved to supplement their story direction, the producers let the individuals guide where the films go and where they don’t.
Besides the core theme of the collection, each film is vastly different, with its own motifs, messages, and moods. Each film has its flavor available for your consumption desires. As we go through the collection, I’ll help you understand what you can expect so you can tailor your viewing experience to what you’re looking for in a given moment. From top to bottom, “Untold” is raw and authentic. You might cry, laugh, or get angry, depending on which one you see, but each gives you the truth, and there’s something to be said for that. There are lessons to be learned and powerful experiences to be had in watching this collection of films, sports fan or not. With that being said, let’s dive into what these films cover in no particular order.
“Untold: Malice at the Palace”
Buckle up for this one.
If you’re familiar with this infamous event and haven’t watched this yet, then you must add this to the top of your list. For 17 years, we’ve waited to hear the player’s side of the story, and now we finally have it. Now, for those who aren’t familiar with the “Malice at the Palace,” I suggest you do some research because it’s a loaded sequence of events that are difficult to explain. But I’ll give you a basic rundown to get started. In 2004, during a Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers basketball game in Detroit, a scuffle broke out between the opposing teams. Just as things seemed to be cooling down, the fans got involved. A drink was thrown at Pacers player Ron Artest, and Artest subsequently lost it, charged into the stands, and began throwing punches on the fan. From there, things escalated until it was full-scale pandemonium.
Though only a few minutes, the event was a nasty brawl between fans and players and is widely considered one of the ugliest moments in sports history. The optics from this event simply couldn’t be worse. Videos of Pacer players jumping into the stands and fighting with fans were replayed repeatedly and continue to be on YouTube every day. The narrative that emerged was a natural reaction to what the footage showed, and you can’t blame anyone for coming down hard on the Pacer players. Yet, in the 17 years since, we’ve never heard from those involved, and so, the narrative hasn’t shifted. Then came this film.
This film doesn’t make the actions of the Pacers players excusable, and they don’t appear to expect that it would. What it will do, however, is offer a full 360-degree view into this incident, mainly since it includes never-before-seen footage from that night. Rather than solely focusing on the player’s actions, this film makes you consider the fans’ role and even security, or lack thereof. The film makes you rethink this relationship between entertainer and consumer. Too often, the dynamic of this relationship causes us, consumers, to strip these entertainers of their humanity, whether it be in sports or elsewhere in the public spotlight.
This film is incredibly thought-provoking in this regard, that is, if you allow it to be. From an honest point of view, the film will cause you to look inwards and reconsider your actions. These kinds of relationships are an unfortunate societal tendency, one of which we’ve all likely engaged with in one way or the other. And for that reason, I think this is an essential watch for anyone, especially for the thinkers out there. Plus, the story is simply crazy as hell.
“Untold: Crime and Penalities”
Let’s lighten the mood a bit, shall we? This film was by far the most fun one in the “Untold” docuseries collection. Don’t worry; it still has more than enough controversy and heavy moments, but it also has plenty of comedic elements and is flat-out entertaining.
This story is about the Danbury Trashers, a minor league hockey team that a 17-year-old kid ran. Yes, you read that right. Rumor has it that the hit television show “The Sopranos” used this story as an influence to create the main character, Tony Soprano. If you know the show, see if this sounds familiar: Jimmy Galante ran one of the most successful trash companies on the east coast, had ties to the mafia and organized crime, was known to be a seriously intense man, and for the cherry on top, his son’s name was AJ. I mean, c’mon now! Anyways, this film follows the controversy that surfaced when you give a 17-year-old, entitled kid a minor league hockey team to run.
AJ Galante, in all fairness, knew how to appeal to the people. He put together a squad of legendary tough guys from the minor league hockey scene and created one of the most raucous sporting environments you’ll ever see. Hockey players are known to drop the gloves from time to time, but that was all this team did throughout every game.
Overall, it’s a highly entertaining story, but it also reveals more layers than what we get on the surface. AJ was this character that was easy to despise; a rich kid who was brash, entitled, and arrogant. But the film shows the other side of the story, and as it goes, your feelings toward AJ might shift a bit. It’s a fascinating father-son tale, to say the least. “Crimes and Penalties” is the perfect film if you want a lighthearted story with some flair. There are certainly some powerful lessons mixed in there, but overall it’s a good-time watch and one that I’d highly recommend. This film is perfect for you if you love to have a good time and simply enjoy fun stories; there’s plenty of that to go around in this one.
“Untold: Deal with the Devil”
This film is undoubtedly the most difficult to watch, but it’s also the most powerful one. It tells the story of women’s boxing pioneer Christy Martin. There are so many heavy themes in this film, from inspiration to perseverance to trauma to heartbreak and more. Christy is a remarkable story, just like anyone who’s a pioneer in something. The film takes you through her journey and the boundaries she broke down on her way, as well as the demons that followed her throughout her ascent. It’s exceptionally inspiring until it takes a quick turn and becomes uncomfortably dark.
Christy ends up marrying her trainer, Jim Martin, and on the surface, the two seem like the ultimate power couple. But behind closed doors, the opposite is true. The film reveals Jim’s psychotic behavior, from hiding cameras inside their house to ruthlessly abusing Christy. In all honesty, there are parts of this film that are extremely hard to watch. However, I would implore you to stay with it because, in the end, courage, love, and perseverance win.
The goal of this film, from my understanding, seemed less about rewriting a narrative and more about just getting the unfettered truth out there. No matter who you are, you can find an endless source of inspiration from Christy. What she did for women’s boxing alone is simply remarkable. Still, when you compound that story with the fact that she was suffering from intense abuse and battled multiple near-death experiences, it makes the story one of the most courageous and breath-taking tales you’ll ever experience. Be mindful of when you watch this one because it’s grim, emotional, and gut-wrenching at times, but it’s also compelling and inspiring. “Deal with the Devil” is a beautiful tale of resilience and strength for anyone who has struggled or is currently struggling. If you need some inspiration to fight on, this is the film for you.
“Untold: Caitlyn Jenner”
Now we have the film in the collection that appeals most to current mainstream society. As you would expect, this film tells the story of Caitlyn Jenner, but from the perspective of Caitlyn Jenner. That last part is the big emphasis of this film. Jenner has been under the worldwide media lens for roughly 50 years now. And with that fame and notoriety often comes a loss of control over one’s story and truth. This is particularly the case in recent years, as Jenner has come forward with her gender dysphoria and subsequently transitioned, all while under the intense microscope of the media and society.
Sure, we’ve heard Jenner’s words and her experiences, but never like what this film provides. It’s rare to get such a personal view from someone with such fame, and that’s what made this film a particularly intriguing watch. It’s akin to the notable Michael Jordan documentary series “The Last Dance.” This film offers the complete story of Caitlyn Jenner, rather than the one we’ve created or come to understand by way of others in recent years.
This film is a particularly timely one, in which such issues related to gender have shot into the forefront of mainstream society. For some, the film might be educational; for others, relatable, or it might just be flat-out interesting. If you want to talk about an action-packed life, look no further than Caitlyn Jenner. The many roles she’s played in her life, all while under the intense lens of the media, is quite remarkable. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who remotely compares, and that aspect alone makes this film certainly worth the watch.
This film embodies the whole purpose of this series, to empower those whose story has been lost to an uncontrollable narrative. I wouldn’t say this is the most hard-hitting film in the collection; however, one could easily argue it’s the most interesting, if not the most relevant.
“Untold: Breaking Point”
Last but certainly not least, we have another pertinent film in the “Untold” docuseries collection. “Breaking Point” tells the story of American tennis player Mardy Fish. The film follows Fish throughout his tennis journey. It starts with his younger years of training at the most prestigious academy as a teenager. Then, he takes us through his time as a top player in the world and the downfall that subsequently followed. For starters, it’s a unique look into the complicated world of tennis. A sport that concocts an interesting blend of reputation, expectation, and performance.
Fish rose to the professional ranks of tennis and certainly made a good living. But he never entirely escaped the shadow of his childhood friend and American tennis star Andy Roddick. That was until a flip switched inside of the usually mild-mannered Fish, and he dedicated himself to the sport more than ever. Upon doing so, Fish quickly ascends to the highest level in the sport. But with this realization of his dream came insurmountable pressure as he’d never experienced before. The entire weight of American tennis was placed on his shoulders alone, seemingly overnight, and eventually, Fish broke. Fish suffered from extreme anxiety attacks, so much so that he had to pull out of a highly anticipated U.S. Open match. As you can imagine, this only created more of a stir and sent Fish further into a tailspin.
The central premise of this film was to take a serious look at mental health, particularly as it relates to professional athletes. Fish was a true pioneer in this regard. He eventually came clean to the press and didn’t sugar-coat any of the problems he was dealing with. And this was years before the mental health stigma truly started to be addressed on a significant scale. It took incredible courage from Fish, and his blunt honesty throughout this film is inspiring and all the more courageous.
For anyone struggling with mental health issues, this is a notably powerful watch. But just like I’ve said with this series as a whole, everyone can benefit from watching this film. It’s a powerful lesson again into the responsibility we all bear when it comes to athletes and famous individuals. The pedestal we force them onto is so high that any slipup can mean virtual destruction. But Fish is a wonderful exception. We’re all humans, and with that comes the shared human experiences we all endure. This film is an excellent reminder of that and is a remarkable example of the power of courage and kinship.
Wrapping it Up
I hope by now I’ve convinced you to give at least one of these films a shot. Next time you’re stuck wondering what to watch, use this piece as your guide to find what you’re looking for. If you’re a fan of documentaries, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not checking these out. Plus, there’s more to come! Netflix recently announced that volume two of the “Untold” docuseries will be coming out in 2022. Stay tuned for what stories they’ll cover next. I’m sure you’ll see them advertised all over Netflix in the coming months.
For those who have watched some of these already, what did you think? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.