Oil Change opens new season with a bang

This year’s Edmonton Oilers’ first-round draft pick was Darnell Nurse. A defenceman, and, as this season’s first episode of Oil Change mentioned, he was the first defenceman the Oilers picked with their first selection since 1989, that is, a quarter of a century ago.

Oilers’ fans should hope this year’s pick would turn out better than his predecessor: Jason Soules would never make an NHL squad. Neither in Edmonton, nor anywhere else.

The fourth-season television documentary premiered on Sportsnet Sunday. It’s going to see a number of repeats before time for the second episode rolls around in November.

It takes off where last season’s Oilers left off, documenting the monumental crash that left the club on the outside of the playoffs picture yet again, looking in with longing and more than a bit of anger.

Oilers’ faithful will remember the avalanche of changes: general manager Steve Tambellini gone, new general manager Craig MacTavish introduced, Scott Howson coming back to take care of player development again, Ralph Krueger gone in a rather sensational twist of events, to be replaced by Dallas Eakins and an unconditional air of no-nonsense approach to life in general and professional sports in particular descending upon the club.

Just keep your cameras rolling and you’ve got a gem of a documentary, right?

Wrong.

Aquila Productions’ creative crews, experienced in producing what has become a series with a huge, cult-like following, both in Canada and in the U.S., know that even improvisation requires structure. What they have achieved is breathtaking. They have created structures where even an experienced film and television watcher would be hard put to find the seams.

Opening with the doom and gloom of last spring, we get to see the behind-the-scenes action before this year’s draft. The club is in a different position than it had been the three previous years: no Nr. 1 pick this time. This opens avenues to an altogether different decision-making process. Does the club select a player who, it thinks, would be the best available no matter what position? Does the club select a player who, it thinks, would fill its particular needs best in the near future? Does the club opt to trading this draft pick for an established player who might (and, then again, might not) fit its needs immediately?

Through the three previous seasons of Oil Change we got used to the Aquila people getting access not many other crews have got anywhere else. This season is different. Not that there isn’t as much access to behind-the-scenes processes. It’s a different kind of access. Judging by the first episode of this season’s Oil Change, the access is organized so as to tell the real story better.

There have been numerous compelling stories during and after the free-agency frenzy, during training camp, during pre-season games, and Oil Change makes sure we witness them as they happen.

Telling the Oilers’ story better than the previous three seasons of Oil Change had, now, that is a most difficult proposition. The Aquila people have been always pushing themselves to be better than they had been the last time out. But there are limits, are there not?

Not really. The story keeps changing and developing, the production crews have to keep up, and they have to keep in mind that they can’t succumb to the wish of making stories more interesting than they are in reality just to keep up with the Joneses.

Speaking of the Joneses, the last couple of seasons have seen an increasing number of made-for-TV shows that follow the ups and downs of their favourite clubs. Some of them are better than others, but there are two qualities that distinguish Oil Change and keep the Joneses in the dust. One is passion, the other is storytelling.

Passion can’t be taught. It either is there, or it isn’t. And the storytelling? Yes, you can teach the theory of storytelling, but can you learn it as a practical ability?

As has become its trade mark, this season’s first episode of Oil Change presents its story with sharp cinematography, brisk editing, smart mix of music and real sound, and as few words as possible. Pictures, after all, are worth thousands of words.

The first few weeks of this NHL season haven’t been all roses for the club. These weeks of blood, sweat and tears will be the topic of the second episode of Oil Change. The Oilers might (and might not) meet the lofty expectations so many fans have had.

One thing we know for sure: there will be no sugar-coating. Not from Oil Change, there won’t.

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