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The Rangers Hit Primetime

Episode one of the Rangers on HBO "24/7" in review

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The Rangers seem to be enjoying life as TV stars.

    The Rangers hit HBO on Wednesday night and no one came out of it a bigger star than captain Ryan Callahan's grandmother.

    During a Rangers visit to Buffalo, Grandma Adriana, rocking a fur coat, comes out to see her grandson and spares nothing when it comes to analysis of the game. The 95-year-old tells Callahan he didn't deserve a penalty he got during the game.

    The scene was heartwarming, funny and something that you would never see without the HBO cameras covering the team during the run-up to the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. It was, in short, the reason for a series like this to exist.

    She wasn't the only breakout star, though. As it was when the Jets were HBO stars before last season, the coach does very well.

    From the first shot of John Tortorella's furrowed brow, episode one is a lecture in just how passionate he is about coaching hockey. His locker room rants are exactly what you imagined they would be and hearing him tear into Marian Gaborik on the bench was further confirmation of how Torts goes about his business.

    And, like Rex Ryan, Tortorella knows his way around profanity.

    After a defensive lapse in the first period of a loss to the Maple Leafs, Tortorella yells at Brian Boyle in the locker room for screwing up a coverage they've been running all year. "You got that f------ mic on you and can't f------ think straight."

    The mic is for the show that's televising the scene, which makes for a pretty layered moment for between periods. It also makes it clear that the Rangers and Flyers are totally aware of the cameras and, in some cases, could be playing to them in ways that the Penguins and Capitals didn't in the first season of the show.

    One of those moments came with Artem Anisimov's infamous post-goal celebration against the Lightning last week. It isn't quite a centerpiece of the episode, but it highlights the best of what the series will bring to viewers.

    You get Anisimov asking the ref why he got so many penalty minutes, the ref explaining to Tortorella that what Anisimov did "wasn't kosher", Sean Avery smirking at Anisimov in the locker room, Anisimov apologizing to his teammates in the locker room and the team joking about it at practice the next day.

    It was 360 degree coverage that brought you a view inside the game that wasn't previously available and the best of what the series offers.

    It also underscored how the camera changes things. Anisimov says that he saw a Russian player do the same thing and always wanted to do it in the NHL, yet it seems like something less than a coincidence that he finally broke it out when there was an HBO show covering the team.

    Such is life with reality television, where the first season captures honest things that the self-aware subjects of future seasons are better able to protect. There wasn't much that felt staged in the first episode, but it seems unavoidable that there will be moments over the course of the series that happen simply because the cameras are there.

    In the Toronto game, there was also a more spontaneous moment. A miked Michael Del Zotto flies shoulder-first into the boards with a pretty sickening thump. The sounds of Del Zotto moaning in pain and talking to trainers -- "F--- me, am I bleeding" -- underlines a running theme through the episode of players sacrificing health for hockey.

    We're obviously Rangers-centric in these parts, we've got to show some love for Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov because he's clearly going to be one of the breakout stars of this series. His introduction -- a long discourse on our relative insignificance in the universe and why that makes it hard to care about the history of failures by Flyers goaltenders -- was the kind of thing for which DVRs were designed to capture so that you could watch it often enough to make it your own life motto.

    The obligatory Sean Avery photoshoot and obligatory Jaromir Jagr mistaking following his heart to Philly for signing for the most money were also included. The show could not exist without them and, while amusing, their sheer inevitability made them less interesting than Callahan's grandma and the Anisimov incident.

    In short, they were the pieces an HBO producer had written down on a checklist before the show began. It is the moments that we don't expect that are going to make this show memorable.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.