The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (2021)

3 out of 5

Developed by:  Steve Brill, Josh Goldsmith, and Cathy Yuspa

covers season 1

If you were of the age when a VHS copy of Big – the Tom Hanks kid-to-adult creepfest – was the almost-always go-to selection for family friendly gatherings, you may have also caught the tail end of The Mighty Ducks being part of that club. We (my family) owned a Disney clamshell VHS copy of it, and had chuckled together at it in the theater, and it was one of those movies you could generally rely on kids of your age having also seen. It also sat slightly in its own pile of 80s / 90s movies of that ilk, though: a pile which maybe was Disney-centric in general, but could also be called “harmless.” A lot of those family friendly movies were surely very PG, but they had bits that were either more clearly geared toward kid humor (fartz and poopers), were wholly kid-cast, or, on the opposite end, were movies that felt more “grown up” but still worked as entertainment for younguns. Mighty Ducks, though, was somewhere smack in the middle: nothing noxious for anyone; all edges shorn off. Once the initial sensation of the movie wore off, it passed from memory. The clamshell didn’t get opened too much. Still: I was undeniably entertained at the time, just incredibly ephemerally so.

The Mighty Ducks, the TV show, is exactly that, in 10 episode form. It’s updated to modern days, so there are cellphones, but really, you could pick it up and plop it back into the 90s and not bat an eye. Like the movie source material, it has its chuckles, and finds a tolerable and talented set of actors to give the featured underdog sports team members’ dimension (upgraded to 2D, over typical 1D sitcom cutouts), but ultimately: quite ephemeral, and absolutely harmless. There are zero surprises here – wins and losses happen at the cadence expected; personal struggles and squabbles are dotted in and overcome weekly; relationships meetcute as they should. However, this is kinda sorta what we expect from a lot of TV, and so the formula can be said to be pretty suited to it. Plus, by seating the show in the same timeline as the movies, featuring an older Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) as a curmudgeonly hockey-hating, ex-coach, it’s a totally valid way to reexperience a key movie from one’s younger days with the current of-age demographic, inviting another night of togetherness to watch the original movie/s together as well. (And likely on the same streaming service…)

In Game Changers, The Mighty Ducks are now a super successful junior league hockey group, and Evan (Brady Noon) has just been cut from their roster, dashing his NHL dreams. Evan’s mom, Alex (Lauren Graham), has zero tolerance for the always-on mentality of the Ducks, as well as the pressure the players’ parents put on their children to win, and so pledges to bring the fun back to the sport for her son, but organizing her own ad hoc team to play in the league – The Don’t Bothers. The DBs recruit a set of ne’er-do-wells who fulfill the ensemble casting spots of The Nervous One and The Wild Card and etc., and get to work having that fun. Finding a practice space leads the team to the skating rink (no hockey allowed!) owned by Gordon Bombay, and he and Alex have their negging tete-a-tetes while the team starts to actually eke out some wins.