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‘The Dynasty: New England Patriots’ gives the NFL its soapy spin on ‘The Last Dance’

Analysis by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Amid a streaming boom for sports documentaries, “The Dynasty: New England Patriots” gives the NFL its own soapy version of “The Last Dance,” providing a warts-and-all drama about the personalities and controversies behind the team’s storied run. Almost as a counterweight, “Giannis: The Marvelous Journey” tells the uplifting immigrant story of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who rose from poverty to become an NBA superstar.

While the Patriots are obviously a ripe target because of those six Super Bowl wins over two decades with coach Bill Belichick and star quarterback Tom Brady, Apple TV+’s 10-part docuseries doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the franchise’s success. That included the scandals surrounding “Spygate,” in which the Patriots admitted videotaping signals from opponents; “Deflategate,” for which Brady served a suspension for deflating footballs; and Aaron Hernandez, the brilliant tight end convicted of murder before committing suicide in prison in 2017.

Referencing the behavior that was tolerated around Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, a former Patriots receiver, sums up the team’s attitude toward star players, as that it “doesn’t matter how you win as long as you win.”

Almost everyone associated with the Patriots, including Brady, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft, gets interviewed in “The Dynasty,” although there are some questions the principals uncomfortably balk at answering. In that sense, director Matthew Hamachek rather delicately straddles the line between appreciating the Patriots’ dominance and pulling back the curtain on its more ominous side, a quality that also defined “The Last Dance,” the expansive 2020 docuseries on the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan-led championship reign.

Both series, in fact, reveal similar mentalities regarding how the drive to win in professional sports – like other high-stakes endeavors, though perhaps even more so – can easily become a breeding ground for resentment and feuds involving those who feel underappreciated for their roles in achieving it.

In the Patriots’ case, that included Brady and Belichick butting heads, with receiver Danny Amendola noting that while the players worked for Belichick, they “played for Tom.”

By 2019, Kraft acknowledges, the relationship between Brady and Belichick had become “totally dysfunctional.” Their sideline friction existed despite continued on-field triumphs, with a sixth and final Super Bowl win that year.

“Based on how things had gone, I wasn’t going to sign up for more of it,” Brady says of his decision to leave, becoming teary-eyed in the final episode.

The soap-opera-like complexities of “The Dynasty” stand in contrast to the simpler but almost equally satisfying genre of up-close-and-personal sports documentaries that have flourished in the streaming era, with “Giannis,” premiering on Amazon’s Prime Video, representing a notable example.

Coming on the heels of streaming documentaries devoted to Stephen Curry (Apple), Jason Kelce (Amazon) and Lionel Messi (Apple), “Giannis” chronicles how Antetokounmpo flourished as a basketball player after his Nigerian parents eked out a living selling trinkets on the streets of Greece, sometimes going hungry so their sons could eat every night.

The Antetokounmpos are such a made-for-Hollywood rags-to-riches story that Disney has already produced a streaming movie about it, “Rise,” although the details are better served by hearing it directly from the family.

These documentaries also humanize players as they plan for life after their sports, from being reminded of Curry overcoming skepticism at every level to seeing Jason Kelce wrestle with the love of football and the toll playing the game exacts on one’s body.

As the Kansas City Chiefs build the NFL’s latest championship dynasty, the Patriots docuseries almost plays like a cautionary tale for a club that has already garnered an overwhelming amount of media attention, both via conventional avenues (see the Netflix series “Quarterback,” featuring Patrick Mahomes) and because of Travis Kelce’s relationship with Taylor Swift.

Absorbing the lessons of “The Last Dance” and now “The Dynasty,” building a sports dynasty generates not just blood, toil and sweat, but plenty of hurt feelings. It’s a reminder that the sporting world’s celebrated and lavishly compensated larger-than-life figures still have regular-sized emotions, and sometimes, even smaller ones than that.

“The Dynasty: New England Patriots” is playing on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a division of Apple.)

“Giannis: The Marvelous Journey” premieres February 19 on Amazon’s Prime Video.

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