By Neil Keefe
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I’m pretty sure I could watch a 73-year-old woman look through all the apples at Stop and Shop in search of the perfect one if it were in high definition with the 24/7 theme playing in the background and Liev Schreiber narrating it. I’m pretty sure you could watch any normal, everyday life chore or task under these circumstances and it would become captivating television. When you’re given the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers to work with, it almost seems unfair.

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There aren’t many TV shows that I get excited and pumped up for like it’s Opening Day or the first game of the postseason for the Yankees or Week 1 of the NFL season. Recently the list includes Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louie, The League, The Office (before Michael Scott moved to Colorado) and Entourage (well, before Vince couldn’t get a job and became a drug addict, so it’s been a few years). 24/7 became part of this elite group last season with the Penguins-Capitals series and How To Make It in America now has a seat at the table too.

On Wednesday night the 24/7 series returned with the first of four episodes taking us up to Winter Classic on Jan. 2 in Philadelphia. If you missed it because you were at a holiday party or because you don’t have HBO or because you have yet to find a site that’s illegally streaming it or because you didn’t know about it, I’m here to share some highlights from the first episode and basically act as a salesman for HBO.

Here is a look at the four most intriguing figures and some of my favorite moments from the first hour of the best sports reality show on TV.

Ilya Bryzgalov
Bryzgalov almost shut the place down the moment he was on camera. Remember in 2010 when Mark Buehrle’s insane play on Opening Day became the Web Gem of the season on Baseball Tonight and became the measuring stick for all future Web Gems that season (they used the Buehrle Meter)? Well, that’s basically what happened when Bryzgalov had an extended “confession” with the camera. He might have made the best moment of this year’s 24/7 (maybe the best moment of all-time), and it came in the first episode.

There are probably a lot of people that aren’t familiar with the entire rosters of the Rangers and Flyers that watched the show, and I think we can say that Bryzgalov made quite the first impression. What a way for a guy to introduce himself to the world. I mean everyone wonders about things like the universe and the solar system and galaxies at one time or another, but that’s what you choose to share with HBO in a confession-like scenario? OK.

Peter Laviolette saying Bryzgalov’s personality is “a little bit different” is the understatement of the year. I haven’t heard a coach defend a player like that since Joe Girardi told Jack Curry that nothing happened on the mound or in the dugout or in the clubhouse with A.J. Burnett in Minnesota. Imagine Will Ferrell in 2000 on Saturday Night Live playing a Russian hockey goalie that happens to have deep thoughts. That’s Ilya Bryzgalov.

If Flyers owner Ed Snider could have looked into the future to see Bryzgalov openly wondering about the universe and what it all means, do you think he would have still given him a nine-year deal for $51 million? I’m not going to get on Ilya for his record-breaking unintentional use of the word “like” in a 30-second span like some people are. The guy is from Russia.

Jaromir Jagr
I don’t know how I feel about Jaromir Jagr anymore. I loved Pittsburgh Jagr, hated Washington Jagr, loved New York Jagr and now I hate Philadelphia Jagr. I think I would hate just about anything or anyone that would come from Philadelphia or represent that city. But I can’t deny Jagr’s ability at the age of 39, I can only question why he left the league for two years to go back home and deprive us of his talent. (Yes I know it has to do with dollar signs).

The scene with Jagr working on his sticks was one of my favorite scenes and a very underrated moment in the series debut. To think about how many times in his life and how many hours of his life he has spent perfecting each and every stick he is going to use and how meticulous and precise he makes and cuts and tapes each one is unfathomable.

The one part that boggled my mind was Jagr being thankful and almost stunned that he is being given the chance to play with Claude Giroux. Yes, I understand he was just being nice and complimenting a teammate, but you’re Jaromir Jagr! When you were Giroux’s age, you had two Stanley Cups and the first of five Art Ross Trophies. He should be the one on camera being thankful for playing with you. He doesn’t even have a 26-goal season.

Artem Anisimov
Anisimov might be my favorite Ranger, and it’s all because of his goal celebration from Dec. 8 against the Lightning. My one gripe with Anisimov is that he apologized to his team and to the media for the celebration. Why are you apologizing for the best goal celebration in the league in forever? Does Victor Cruz apologize for salsa dancing in the end zone? Anisimov should be praised for his celebration, not attacked. The only thing I think he could do to top it off is to drink out of Bryzgalov’s water bottle if he scores in the Winter Classic.

Anisimov looked depressed after being sent to the locker room for the remainder of the period after racking up 16 penalty minutes, and he seemed down when he said he was sorry to the team after the loss. But that smile that Sean Avery gave him and the smile Anisimov responded with when the rest of the Rangers returned to the locker room was like walking by the principal’s office and seeing your friend in there for pantsing one of your other friends. That smile from Anisimov said it all: “I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry. I just sniped down the Lighting shorthanded.” I mean he was just reloading his weapon after all.

And how about Vincent Lecavalier in the whole mess? If you don’t want Anisimov gliding backwards to the neutral zone while he reloads his weapon and guns down your goalie then how about you don’t allow tic-tac-toe passing in your zone and goals against you when you’re on the power play?

John Tortorella
I have a love/hate relationship with John Tortorella. The hate probably outweighs the love like 60/40, but I think it’s warranted. The problem with Tortorella and 24/7 is that everyone is expecting greatness from him to steal the show and drop more F-bombs and more unique expletives than the South Park movie. The only thing I have experienced that could live up to the type of hype that Tortorella is faced with is the bar The Chicken Box in Nantucket during Memorial Day weekend. That’s it.

I thought Tortorella’s assessment of the modern-day athlete was spot on and for him to classify Ryan Callahan as an old-school hockey player is probably the nicest thing Tortorella has ever said about anyone and definitely the highest compliment he could pay the Rangers captain.

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I liked that he stood up for his players in the brawl with Tampa Bay in which Anisimov received an unsportsmanlike penalty for his celebration. The officials from that game should be fined and/or suspended by Brendan Shanahan for that call. A penalty for celebrating? In the NHL? You have to love the refs explanation for it too in that he had never seen a celebration last that long and take up that much of the ice before. So just because he had never seen it before he decided to make a precedent that all future celebrations should be charged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty if the NHL wants to keep its consistency. But it wasn’t a penalty and you can’t just start making up penalties because Vincent Lecavalier was embarrassed and had to start a line brawl over it.

And here are some other quick thoughts from the first episode.

There isn’t much to like about Scott Hartnell from his hairstyle to his style of play to the basic fact that he is a Flyer. But when Matt Cooke calls him an “[expletive] piece of [expletive] and Hartnell laughs at him and says, “You’re the dirtiest player in the league, bud. Good job.” I think everyone liked Scott Hartnell for a minute after that. I like him for a minute and a half after that and then I went back to disliking him.

It didn’t take long for Sean Avery to find the camera with his “You [expletive] loser” remark in the show’s open.

What if Avery never returned to the Rangers this season like some people thought? How would he still do these modeling and photo shoots? No one wants to see a photo shoot of an AHL player. And how old does he look now? He’s long a way removed from being the rookie getting called up to the Red Wings in ESPN’s The Season back in the day.

Mike Sullivan looks like Jason Sudeikis. And I wouldn’t be asking him about whether or not Henrik Lundqvist should get pulled.

How mad was Dan Bylsma that he only got 10 seconds of time in the new 24/7 in his handshake with Max Talbot? You know Bylsma wants back on camera.

I love Peter Laviolette. I hate that he is the coach of the Flyers.

The Flyers locker room doesn’t look so good for only being 15 years old.

There’s nothing worse than reliving a loss through 24/7 and nothing worse than when one of the losses was single-handedly the work of Dominic Moore.

The “It’s the crest on the front, not the name on the back” slogan painted on the Flyers’ locker room wall is cheesy.

Marian Gaborik saying “going around the bushes” instead of “beating around the bush” was probably the most underrated moment of the episode.

Peter Laviolette saying “There’s a lot of good hockey teams in the national Hockey League and a lot of good players.” Well, I hope so. It’s only the best hockey league in the entire world.

Lundqvist and Gaborik and Richards should each have to put two credit cards in for credit card roulette. Also, I’m used to the version where the first card picked is the one that gets used, not the last one. Would you rather have it over in a second like sudden death overtime or drawn out? I guess you could make the case for both.

Isn’t one of the perks of playing in the NHL and being a New York Ranger and being a pro athlete that you don’t have to take the subway and public transportation anymore? Especially to a game?!?!

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