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2023 Women's World Cup

Netflix’s USWNT docuseries, ‘Under Pressure,’ offers dichotomy of reality vs. storytelling

The team is trying to reach new fans, and give less heralded players their moment in the sun.

The team is trying to reach new fans, and give less heralded players their moment in the sun.

As the fellow once said, reality ain’t as real as it used to be. 

I kept returning to this thought while watching Under Pressure, the TIME and FIFA-produced docuseries about the U.S. women’s national team’s progress through the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which debuts on Netflix on Tuesday.

Director Rebecca Gitlitz most likely sought to tell one kind of story, and thanks to the United States’ heartbreaking Round of 16 exit, was forced to tell an entirely different one. The tension of what really happened and what got reshaped into a four-part narrative becomes the central question of the series. Devoted readers of The Equalizer are unlikely to learn much new from the show. Audiences don’t seem to be flocking to sports documentaries these days, either. So if Netflix can’t engage the superfans or the unfamiliar-yet-curious, who exactly is Under Pressure for? 

Under Pressure is a byproduct of the last decade of sports documentaries, heavily influenced by ESPN’s 30 For 30 series and HBO’s Hard Knocks. The portentous, foreboding opening scene — meant to take place before the U.S.’ Round of 16 match against Sweden — is a signature 30 for 30 technique. The viewer is given the climax of the whole narrative, only to quickly backtrack and use the rest of the series to show us how the story got to that point. Dramatic slow-motion, a ticking clock, and ominous offscreen voices shape the gravity of the situation. In this instance, Carli Lloyd’s criticisms are used to underline the extent to which the team has purportedly fallen from grace, that one of their own legends would take them to task. What will happen next? Stay tuned!

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