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‘Messi Meets America’ plays it a little too safe in story of Lionel Messi’s US arrival

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Lionel Messi is widely considered the greatest soccer player in the world, which makes one wonder how extensive access to him and his new team could yield such a boring sports docuseries. Still, that adequately sums up “Messi Meets America,” an Apple TV+ project whose first three episodes have all the heft of a latenight infomercial.

Part of that, admittedly, has to do with the way that Messi carefully protects his image, exhibiting a knack for speaking very earnestly in classic sports cliches. Nor does it help that those around him – including the media figures interviewed – do little more than sing his praises, with modest variations in the tune.

What ensues, then, is an attempt to turn Messi’s signing by Inter Miami CF and introduction to US soccer into a celebratory affair punctuated by little slices of life in the various cities that the club visits, while giving other members of the MLS team – from co-owner David Beckham (the subject of a recent Netflix docuseries) to fellow players, from ticket sellers to the equipment manager – a few moments in the spotlight.

Simply put, though, there’s little drama around the games as the episodes follow Miami’s remarkable turnaround thanks to Messi’s leadership and even less in the interpersonal dynamics. The reason people became obsessed with “The Last Dance,” after all, was the colorful personalities and conflict on those Chicago Bulls teams, not because everybody adored each other.

Beckham sums up the pressure of signing a talent like Messi – a chance to win that brings with it “the eyes of the world” – but beyond capturing that “Messi Meets America” feels too much like a licensed product, while offering helpful synergies such as an appearance by Reese Witherspoon, the co-founder of Nashville’s soccer team as well as a star of Apple’s “The Morning Show,” so, you know, win-win.

Charitably, the series offers some insights into what might be called Messi magic, and the extent to which an extraordinarily talented player can rub off on and influence those around him, provided everyone has the right attitude.

“Can one guy make that big of a difference?” Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman asks early on.

Apparently, one can. The only shame of it, given Messi’s ability to improve everything he lays his feet on, is that they didn’t have him produce a show that needed to be at least a little bit messier.

“Messi Meets America” premieres October 11 on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a division of Apple.)

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