Interestingly, however, the series uses the same trick with which “Cobra Kai” had already amazed: the reversal of the sympathy relationships compared to the original. Just as the hostile karate dojo Cobra Kai from the films in the series is now the protagonist’s heart project, the “Mighty Ducks”, with which the young viewers cheered back then, are no longer sympathetic underdogs, but arrogant top dogs of youth ice hockey who win title after title and brutally sift out less talented players. The Mighty Ducks are the antagonists in the new series (conceived by the then author Steven Brill together with the “King of Queens” producers Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa). The rebels of yore have become an elite force that must now be challenged by new rebels – and these challengers essentially slide through the same plot trajectories as they did back then. Some things just never change.
Like “Cobra Kai”, “Game Changer” moves in the same timeline as the underlying films. This enables the (real) actors from back then to resume their roles at an advanced point in their (fictional) life. Almost thirty years after the original film, Emilio Estevez is now approaching sixty, Charlie Sheen’s brother has long since ceased to be a member of the first or even second star guard, but that fits his figure well.
Gordon Bombay is no longer a successful hockey coach and has not returned to his profession as a lawyer, instead he runs a rocked-down ice rink. He’s got financial hardship, a lot of directionless anger, and in almost every scene he spat on cake or pizza. Bombay is single, that is, and he is on the verge of neglect. Above all, however, he is said to have so little interest in ice hockey that the outfitters nailed an intrusive “No Hockey!” Sign in front of the office door (of course he still draws his lonely circles on the ice at night).
Although Bombay refuses all requests to train as a coach every minute, it is immediately clear what this is all about: Sooner or later, in this “Mighty Ducks” version, the man will again coach a team of supposedly incompetent underdogs and with them go through the prototypical story arc that sports comedies like “Die Bären sind los” did not invent, but established. Bombay’s part is that of the cynical, somewhat worn-out loner à la Han Solo, who is purified by the new task and finds new meaning in life.
But Estevez only shows up after twenty minutes – and that’s the main difference to “Cobra Kai”. Where the opponents from back then also dominate the new series with Johnny and Daniel and keep their fans, who have grown older by the same number of years, happy, the “game changers” are clearly targeting new target groups. Emilio Estevez is more of a (permanent) guest star, and the grown-up Mighty Ducks from back then should only stop by later (Joshua Jackson, the best-known of them, is probably not there). First and foremost, “Game Changer” is a series for children and young people. The big stage here belongs to a new cast of young actors – and of course Lauren Graham.
The “Gilmore Girls” star plays the single lawyer Alex in “Game Changer”, whose twelve-year-old son Evan (Brady Noon from “Good Boys”) is kicked out of the Mighty Ducks right at the start. Since he couldn’t keep up at his age, he shouldn’t even bother about it: “Don’t bother!” The trainer hurled condescendingly at the boy. “We’re not here for fun!” Alex is furious: Couldn’t children just play team sports just for fun? The pedagogical thrust of the series is immediately established: Alex appears sympathetically down-to-earth compared to the mothers of the other “Mighty Ducks” players, including one of her colleagues (Julee Cerda), to whom membership in this prestige club only seems to be important because it can be used to get prestigious college scholarships. (In the USA, youth sports are often used by programs spoken.)
Alex soon persuades her disappointed son to put together a team himself to gather children who would not be accepted by the Mighty Ducks. The name of the diverse and mixed-gender team: “The Don’t Bothers”! What the members have in common is that they do not meet common beauty and coolness standards and usually do not even master the basics of ice hockey.
So there are: hockey podcaster Nick (Maxwell Simkins from “The Sleepover”), the handsome Logan (Kiefer O’Reilly), who has just moved to Minneapolis from Canada, nerd Lauren (Bella Higginbotham), video game geek Koob (Luke Islam), but also Maya (Taegen Burns), popular in school, and the daredevil Sam (De’Jon Watts). Later “Mighty Ducks” striker Sofi (Swayam Bhatia), for whom Evan has early romantic feelings, changes sides because she has had enough of the ruthless professionalism of the Ducks.
One of the larger constructions of the series is that the team, because it has its own ice rink needed to host the home games, lands in Gordon Bombay’s ice rink, of all places. And the fact that Alex works in the same law firm that Gordon once worked for should also cause complications.
When a plot follows such common paths, everything depends on the characters. Fortunately, they are so promising that you trust them to be able to wear a whole season or even more. Simkins stands out in particular: As a dry, humorous, early wise talker with a hopeless crush on snack bar Winnie (Emily Haine, “Fargo”), he gets the most to do in the first episodes anyway.
But Noon and Bhatia, who are placed in the emotional focus of the story (as captain and star player of the team), are also convincing. The weaknesses of the kids are played with cleverly and lovingly: The smart Logan, for example, looks like the typical heartbreaker and super athlete, but then turns out to be the worst player of all. And Koob, who shows a spectacular ability to react on the game console, fails as a goalie on the ice because his body doesn’t know how to fend off the puck – without the “x” button.
In the third episode, after the first heavy defeats of the “Don’t Bothers”, the inevitable becomes more concrete: Bombay should soon take over the team as coach, on the horizon there is also, of course, a possible love affair between him and Alex. The surprising thing: the authors and the directors around comedy veteran Michael Spiller (“Modern Family”, “The Mindy Project”) manage to tie in with the Mighty Ducks films in terms of speed, timing and tone of voice. They conjure up a lot of the carefree nature of these old sports comedies and allow at least as much cheek as is still possible today in the infamous clean Disney cosmos. All in all, these “game changers” work very well as an update for kids in completely changed (social and media) realities of life. Comparable charm and wit (late) child actors have recently been seen at best in the formidable reboot of “The Babysitter Club”. In any case, viewers of this age group should instantly fall for this new edition.
This text is based on the viewing of the first three episodes of the series “Mighty Ducks: Game Changer”.
My rating: 4 / 5
The series “Mighty Ducks: Game Changer” will be published on the Disney + streaming service from March 26, 2021 with new episodes every week.