Scott Fowler

‘All or Nothing’ delivers dramatic show about Panthers – and leaves a few things out

The Carolina Panthers star in the latest season of Amazon’s “All or Nothing,” an original eight-episode show produced by NFL Films and available on Amazon Prime starting Friday.
The Carolina Panthers star in the latest season of Amazon’s “All or Nothing,” an original eight-episode show produced by NFL Films and available on Amazon Prime starting Friday. COURTESY OF AMAZON STUDIOS

On Friday, Amazon will release all eight episodes of the latest season of its “All or Nothing” original series -- with the 2018 Carolina Panthers cast as the stars of the show.

It’s not a spoiler to say that the season chosen to be documented was a bit unfortunate. The Panthers began by looking like they might grab it all, and instead they came away with nothing.

The show itself, though, gives a lot to those who care even a little about the Panthers.

In many places, “All or Nothing” is phenomenal.

In a few places, it is flawed.

But if you consider yourself any sort of Panthers fan, this show (which is produced by NFL Films) is must-see TV. And if you don’t want to know more than that about the show – just whether to invest the time in watching it or not – the answer is yes, you should absolutely see it. And you can stop reading right now.

For those still with me, let me try to refocus my eyes after binge-watching advance copies of all eight episodes in a single day.

Here are eight interesting things about what you will and won’t see if you stick with nearly six hours of high-quality programming about a Panthers team that ultimately went 7-9.

Jerry Richardson may as well have never existed.

Richardson founded the Panthers. He owned the team for 23 of its 24 NFL seasons. Then, shrouded in a workplace misconduct scandal that eventually caused the NFL to issue him the largest fine in league history, Richardson sold the team under duress in 2018 to David Tepper.

Yet Richardson’s name is never mentioned in a single episode. It’s as if Tepper simply emerged from some random financial market with a few billion dollars and bought the team from Costco.

And while Tepper has said he’s contractually obligated to never remove the 13-foot statue of Richardson from outside Bank of America Stadium’s north gate, it may as well have been removed for the series. You see countless shots from NFL Films of almost every vantage point of the stadium – but not a single one that contains the Richardson statue. For this series, Richardson has been scrubbed completely away.

Cam Newton dominates the show.

Can you blame NFL Films – which gets hundreds of spectacular shots and unparalleled access for this series – for concentrating on Newton?

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In a scene from “All or Nothing,” quarterback Cam Newton gets a haircut in his home while discussing the 2018 season. COURTESY OF AMAZON STUDIOS

We get two separate visits to Newton’s house in Charlotte. In one, he’s getting his hair cut. In the other, he’s discussing with his personal tailor what he wants to wear next (“I don’t wear no outfits twice,” he proclaims).

And there is endless discussion about Newton’s shoulder injury, as well as about three dozen shots of him dancing and/or running around various stadiums. He also opens the entire series by asking people: “Is Beyonce’s music considered old school?” It’s always hard to take your eyes off Cam, and NFL Films didn’t really try.

Luke Kuechly curses.

Kuechly, the Panthers’ star linebacker, comes off very well in the show, as you would expect. He also does all sorts of things in this show you haven’t seen before. For one, he goes fly fishing and conducts an interview in waders.

For another, he joyously says, “F--- that s---!” during a game, when Julius Peppers admits to him that Peppers really should have been called for a facemask penalty but wasn’t. This is one of the most jolting moments of the show, but in a good way. It shows that Kuechly occasionally discards his choirboy image off the field while he’s on it.

Speaking of cursing….

There’s a ton of it. If you’re considering whether to let your kids watch, your decision should come down to whether you mind hearing a curse word every couple of minutes. There’s no sex and there’s no violence — outside of what football players do to each other on every play.

But Ron Rivera unleashes a string of 13 F-bombs in a gloriously profane 65-second rant at halftime of the Pittsburgh game. (It doesn’t work -- the Panthers still get pounded -- but it’s entertaining). And there’s much, much more creative cursing where that came from. It’s the way football players talk when they are around each other, and it lends an authenticity to the project. But there are no bleeps here -- you hear everything.

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Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is one of the standouts of “All or Nothing,” while his predecessor Jerry Richardson is never mentioned in almost six hours of programming. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Tepper is a lot of fun.

The Panthers owner is a clear standout, from showing his childhood home in Pittsburgh where he once got his head stuck in the railings and required the fire department’s assistance to his bluntness when discussing the signing of controversial safety Eric Reid.

“It took a little bit of… what’s that word… balls to do it,” Tepper says. Tepper in the owner’s box is also a hoot, as his emotions sway with the team’s fortunes. Also let us praise Tepper for allowing this behind-the-scenes look at his team in the first place -- this is the sort of access that Richardson never granted.

The best single moment is…

There are a number of terrific ones, including Christian McCaffrey telling a long joke and nailing the punchline, Greg Olsen explaining the musical “Hamilton” to Newton (“Are there any black people in it?” Newton asks dubiously) and an extremely well-told story about Efe Obada.

But I’ll vote for the time Newton and Kuechly band together to make a video call to former teammate Josh Norman just a few days before Carolina takes on Norman’s new Washington team.

“You look kind of fat right now,” Kuechly tells Norman.

“You looked fat on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ too!” Newton gleefully chimes in.

It goes from there, with Norman giving as good as he gets (and later intercepting Newton during the game, which Washington won).

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Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, left, takes a knee during the national anthem during a 2018 game. Owner David Tepper decided to sign Reid, although his kneeling had made him a lightning rod for criticism in some quarters. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com


So what gets left out?

Even when you make this sort of huge time commitment to a single team, you have to make choices about what to feature. NFL Films is ultimately in the business of burnishing the image of the league, so it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that they steer away from some (but not all) controversial topics.

Rookie wide receiver DJ Moore gets a lot of airtime – talking with his mom, going to the grocery store to buy $130 worth of snacks for the veterans and so on. But it’s as if his only problem last season came when he fumbled a few times. The citation he received for going 113 mph on Interstate 77 during the 2018 preseason is never mentioned, although that could have been far more devastating than a couple of turnovers.

On a much more serious note, wide receiver Rae Carruth – the most infamous player in Carolina Panthers history – is also never mentioned. This is odd simply because Carruth was released from prison in October 2018 after serving a 19-year sentence for conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams. That release happened right in the middle of the season in question and made national news all over the place, but it doesn’t make “All or Nothing.”

A few more highlights

You will like Rivera even more after watching this – the head coach comes across as both caring and intense. Wide receiver Devin Funchess’ brief practice confrontation with quarterbacks coach Scott Turner – and why it occurred — makes for some of the most compelling footage in the entire documentary. The elder defensive backs’ criticism of rookie Donte Jackson (“You ain’t that good!” one says) is also riveting. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is frequently hilarious.

Former Panthers receiver Steve Smith asking Moore whether he should start him on Smith’s fantasy team is one of the best lines of the show. Ryan Kalil, Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis have many fine moments (all three allowed NFL Films to visit their homes). And it’s easy to come to the conclusion that a compromised Newton absolutely should have been benched earlier than for the final two games of the season due to that injured shoulder.

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) and tight end Greg Olsen (88) both are heavily featured in “All or Nothing,” with each of their injury problems in the 2018 season thoroughly documented. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

“Cam can’t throw the ball at all!” Tepper mutters during one telling moment during the New Orleans game Dec. 17.

All in all, “All or Nothing” delivers far more than the Panthers themselves did in 2018.

I wouldn’t recommend watching all of it in one sitting like I did – that seven-game losing streak becomes very tedious after awhile, no matter how many beautiful slo-mo replays you see.

But I’d definitely recommend watching.

Want to Watch?

“All or Nothing” premieres Friday on Amazon Prime Video, a streaming service. If you don’t have the service, you can sign up for a free trial at www.Amazon.com/Prime.

Official trailer here.

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Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey runs into the end zone for a touchdown during the 2018 season. McCaffrey also tells a joke featuring a helicopter and a county fair that becomes one of the funniest moments of “All or Nothing.” Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
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