Football/futbol/soccer fans can fire themselves up for the 2023 Champions League final by watching Destination: European Nights (now on Paramount+), a documentary miniseries hosted by CBS sports reporter Guillem Balague. Part travelogue and part highlight reel, the series currently consists of four 22-minute episodes, with a fifth recapper coming after Man City and Inter hit the pitch in Istanbul for all the marbles. Balague begins way back in Sept., 2022 and works his way up to the present, visiting multiple cities throughout Europe, soaking up local vibes and catching the action. Now let’s see if this puts one in the net or is just a bagoingggg off the crossbar.
DESTINATION: EUROPEAN NIGHTS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A slow, extreme close-up look at the Champions League cup, with Balague proclaiming it “the Holy Grail of club football.”
The Gist: If you don’t know who Balague is, then quick Wikipedia him, because this series doesn’t have enough time to introduce him (note: he’s a Spanish journalist who’s worked for multiple print, radio and TV outlets in Spain and England since 1989, and has written a half-dozen books about soccer). He explains how he’s going to travel here and there and hither and yon, dropping into football stadiums in multiple cities, getting some local color before hitting a game, and drops in a few voiceover-narration cliches (“life is about the journey, not the destination”) for good measure. Thirty-two teams spend nine months competing for the trophy in, per Balague’s words, the “world’s greatest club competition.”
First stop: Glasgow. He drops into a church, barbershop and (of course) pub for some Scottish flavor; a woman says being a Celtic fan is rooted in protest, then reads a football poem as fans march to the stadium to the beat of a drum and the tootle of a pennywhistle on their way to watching their team get their ass beat 3-zip by Real Madrid. Next, Haifa, Israel. He checks out some art before hitting Maccabi Haifa’s practice field to chat with their coach and American-born goalkeeper Josh Cohen; then the team loses to Messi and co.’s Paris squad, 3-1. Finally, he hits Milan, Italy, and it happens to be Fashion Week, so he dicks around for a while before barely explaining what’s going on with the sporting match, which features Inter and Barcelona; the score hardly matters it seems, because we spent more time with models and other assorted absurdly dressed people than at the stadium. Next stop, episode two!
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? D: EN is a less in-depth version of stuff like All or Nothing or Hard Knocks, with about three-tenths of a vibe of an Anthony Bourdain production mixed in. Soccer fans would do better to navigate over to Max and watch Angel City for a more insightful docuseries.
Our Take: Balague’s stops in major European metropolitan areas are so brief and shallow, they feel like glorified layovers. He briefly touches on substantive fodder when he chats with Glaswegians about the intensity and history of their fandom, and when he takes about 30 seconds to muse on how Christians, Muslims and Jews set aside all their differences to watch and play football in Israel. But those moments are lost amid some half-hearted game highlights and bits where Balague tells us how electric the crowd in X stadium is, but the audio and video fails to truly capture the feeling of being there. We’ll have to take his word for it.
The why-botherness of this debut episode comes to head with that Milan Fashion Week drivel, which might be compelling in another context, but here? In a soccer doc? This criticism isn’t rooted in some pooh-pooh elitism, promise; the most basic of logical deductions tells me that anyone tuning into Destination: European Nights doesn’t want to ogle randos on the street lined up for runway shows, or watch Balague as he jokingly tries to get into an exclusive party where he’s not on the guest list. This is diddlefarting at its most egregious, silly filler in a 22-minute episode that has no room whatsoever for such stuff. Weird. It doesn’t even feel like shameless promotion for the championship game or Balague himself; if he wants to host a travel series, this is a half-assed promo reel that at best loosely functions as intended – an inside look at Championship League soccer.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Balague walks off the field in Milan: “After a week of fashion, new clothes and new friends, it’s time to go home,” he says.
Sleeper Star: Cheers to Erin Boyle, “Celtic fan and poet,” who’s an insightful and funny Scottish soccer weirdo.
Most Pilot-y Line: Balague: “Great stories are told and written” (pause for dramatic effect) “on European nights.”
Our Call: It’s hard to imagine future episodes of Destination: European Nights being worse, but its pointlessness eclipses its substance so significantly, I can’t recommend watching any further. SKIP IT.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.