Home Ground (Norwegian, 2018)

2 out of 5

Created by: Johan Fasting

covers season 1

I like an underdog sports story as much as the next underdog-sports-story-liking person, and I’d think that moving that genre from film to TV offers a lot of promise – if it’s a team sport, that generally means a lot of characters, so several episodes would give more time for more individual stories to shine; and while interpersonal drama is always part of the formula, it’s nice to have the room to actually get into the technicalities of whichever game, to add some further flavor.  Pacing-wise, a lot of such movies almost always have to skip over some steps in the “can’t work together,” “getting better,” “champions” flow, so again – more runtime, more opportunities to smooth this out.  Home Ground, Johan Fasting’s 10-part drama in which Norwegian up-and-coming football team Varg’s manager, Espen (Morten Svartveit), seeks to shuffle his team out of staid doldrums by bringing on new coach Helena (Ane Dahl Torp), has all the potential mentioned above, with the loaded possibilities of exploring the dynamics of a male team with a female coach.  Dahl Torp effects an incredibly engaging persona in the lead, and we get some strong candidates for valid subplots as well – Helena’s daughter’s (Emma Bones) conflicts in pursuing schooling and a career versus moving to support her mother; the star Varg player (John Carew) who’s pegged for the coaching job before it’s given to Helena; a young player (Axel Bøyum) who’d left the game for mysterious reasons…

Unfortunately, despite these individual pieces being well acted and well conceived, Home Ground doesn’t string any of this together very well, making such subplots come and go with a whole lot of buildup and then hardly any followthrough.  Fasting, scripting the show, also can’t seem to decide what the focus is – the sport or the people – leading to an incredibly unsatisfying mix in which more technical dives into the game are derailed by soap opera, and the soap opera then also has no sense of consequence: Helena, for example, often makes some very definitive personal decisions throughout which fall flat because the after effects are almost nil.  Lastly, none of the pluses of the format suggested are taken advantage of: we hardly get to know the team, and we pretty much skip the entire “getting better” stage, such that it’s unclear, once Varg is playing well together, that they are playing well together, and whether or not they’re getting along with Helena.  Scenes that thus require the team to bond around their coach also then feel hollow.

There are some select elements – tonal decisions – that are interesting, such as never trying to outwardly justify Helena’s extreme dedication to her job or explain her habits (like a seeming snuff addiction); these seem like remnants of a show that’s more dedicated to its persona as a football-fan’s series vs. a drama.  But then, on the other side, we have what I’d called some smartly conceived dramatic storylines – Helena’s daughter, Camilla, and Varg’s star player, Michael, have journeys that are technically good parallels to Helena’s own, they’re just bungled in effective execution.  This is especially true for the mystery around the young player, Adrian, which probably could have supported its own series but is just played up when the show needs drama filler.  What’s never really fulfilled, and is a big miss, are the gender roles.  The show touches on it, but it’s very shallow, suffering from the same half-in / half-out feel as the whole of the series.

Home Ground has a pretty strong core.  It remains watchable for its moments of focus and good key cast members, as well as the sense that someone behind the scenes is serious about football.  Its lacking effectiveness in bringing its pieces together into a satisfying whole is ultimately disappointing, but there is a room for improvement for its second season.