[Editors Note: The following review includes spoilers for Season 1 of Players, including the conclusion.]
With Players, you can start anywhere you want to go. There's the narrative of the Paramount+ show, which follows a tense esports team in search of an important League of Legends Championship Series trophy. There's the performances, which include Misha Brooks as Creamcheese, the polarizing veteran star, and DaJour Jones as Organizm, the powerful, soft-spoken prodigy that may rectify Fugitive Gamings' troubles.
Players is also one of the funniest comedies on television right now, for all of its technical and logistical expertise. It's not surprising, given the show's artistic direction, led by Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda. Their success, just as it was on the two-season Netflix series American Vandal, is as much about admirable restraint as it is the final product that makes it on screen.
Perrault said Episode 2 is the most silliest episode of Vandal Season 2. I had so many jokes ready to go and so many that we shot. Tony warned me, Look, we got to reel it back in because if you hit too hard in this 10-minute segment with too many back-to-back jokes, the audience will expect that and be disappointed when they dont get that the rest of the season. Its all about what feels tonally right.
If you start getting a real mockumentary rhythm, Yacenda said, the audience will be more interested in the story, but mostly, theyre like, Alright, make me laugh, funny guy. The LCS championship will never feel like that to us.
Yet there is plenty in Players that doesnt want to follow a preconceived formula. Taking inspiration from well-trod sports doc ground and the necessity of the twin stories of Creamcheese and Organizm, Players drew on several different overarching approaches for how to bring these sequences to life. Yacenda, who also directs the series, brought some of the sports doc spirit to the basic principles of what the cameras did in the story.
When you watch a true crime documentary, everybody is aware of the camera, and everything they do is to present themselves to the documentarian in a certain way. If you watch something like Hard Knocks or F1, theres an element of that when you're doing interviews, or some more laid-back scenes, Yacenda said, those stakes are more important than the documentary stakes.
This, in turn, aided in revealing how the talented top-to-bottom cast might function within this world and help create some natural drama.
We kind of go the other direction with our documentary style, where we shoot the improvised stuff first. Yacenda said we're not going to do a blocking rehearsal, they'll have no idea what's going to happen. The later takes that we get that are closer to the scripts are often what we're used to building the scaffolding around. If it's too mockumentary, we can bring some of those flaws that we didn't add on purpose but are really like texture.
The Players editing team's documentary vets aided in forming an overall rhythm that felt more like an unscripted project. The main difference was embracing the elements of this genre of production that fictional filmmakers typically avoid.
If a 90-second moment is a 90-minute conversation, it was likely to be a 90-minute conversation. Its about us coming up with guidelines and rules on set that force us to use cheats in the most elegant way possible. Its just that they were in the wrong place because they didnt realize the flaws would be there. Everyone is doing their best to make the best version of it.
Players receive these subtle difference-making touches, particularly when it comes to ensuring that Fugitive Gaming stays true to their established LCS squads throughout their season-long run.
Perrault said there are certain things that need to be addressed early in the game. One thing that we had to think about was the Fugitives' logo and the team's names, the jerseys, and all of that stuff. In order to feel authentic, esports is heavily sponsored, as many sports are now. But as you are sort of designing the look of the fugitive mansion, you need to get the ball rolling with Buffalo Wild Wings, MeUndies, and all of them.
The opening credits sequence, the interview setups, and even the font selections all resemble a piece of recent sports documentary precedent. While Players appreciates those visual touches, it also succeeds in capturing the way that people in these films communicate. That came at least in part from drawing universal truths from collective writers room watches.
Perrault said the idea of a homework assignment was to get the room ready early, pick a sports doc, and talk about it tomorrow. For whatever reason, half of sports doc interviews begin with I mean. I mean, this is 2005. We wanted to make sure we got a good deal of that input.
Perrault and Yacenda reach yet another satisfying conclusion that bolsters the whole project's lived-in nature, culminating in Creamcheese's triumphant championship moment, which is a validation of sorts for the years of naysaying that have gone before.
In those final moments (even with Brooks putting on a delightfully funny karaoke moment), Organizm sets off for a life after Fugitive, seeking his own mysterious fulfillment.
It's almost a two-parter. We wanted the win to be both emotional and intellectually satisfying. However, there's very little that would, truly satisfy these players or anyone with this level of ambition, Perrault said. Even in that last Organizm moment, which he's giving a sort of closing exit interview, it's still unsatisfactory. It's melancholy. Cream isnt fully happy; he's still not fulfilled, and he may never be
All of these swirling emotions are part of what makes this batch of Players episodes feel self-contained. It has also laid the groundwork for a second season, if the show gets renewed. Perrault and Yacenda have ideas for where the show might go next.
Perrault noted that there are years that we will not cover in this first season. It's mainly in 2015, 16 and 2021. And in our fictional world, there's a lot that happened between them. I can't remember making any other comparisons to Creamcheese, but I'm sure there's a lot of other people on it. We've made ourselves aware of that.
Season 1 of Players is now available on Paramount+.