Review: Losers

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In the eight episodes of the Netflix docu-series Losers, elite athletes get knocked out, trounced, screwed over, bitten, and booed. With different creative choices, the whole thing could have been a syrupy stew of inspirational insipidness, in which all of the losers turn out to be winners after all.

Instead, there’s not a lot of smiling—but there are also very few tears. The series is shot with a pleasingly uniform aesthetic and an eclectic mix of still-trim former athletes in nice sweaters reflecting on their losses. The mix of stories is varied and somewhat unexpected: I had clear memories of the near-misses of the backflipping French figure skater Surya Bonaly, for instance, but knew nothing about the cutthroat world of 1980s Canadian curling or desert long-distance running.

If there’s a takeaway, it’s an echo of Schumpeter’s observation about the marketplace’s gale of creative destruction, in which economic structures are constantly destroying themselves and being created anew. Or Bradley Cooper crooning in A Star Is Born that “maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.” Sometimes you lose because the game is rigged or because someone else is better than you. Other times you lose because the game you’re playing is being constantly reinvented around you. That can be good or bad, but it’s always interesting.

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