By Kevin P. Sullivan
Updated September 11, 2015 at 06:45 PM EDT

After a decade off the air, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s filmmaking experiment is back on HBO, and it’s never been better. The first episode picks up as the Academy Award-winning best buds (along with their producing partners) hear pitches from 13 finalists, who are competing for the chance to direct a $3 million movie for HBO Films. Though the premiere’s ending has been mostly spoiled by the marketing for the new season, every moment watching the hopefuls fight for their dream and navigate the foreign waters of the movie industry — like when the winner demands to shoot the small-budget project on 35mm film — is completely absorbing.

What makes this season of Greenlight such an addictive watch is how honestly it approaches familiar reality TV ground. While the series begins as a contest, this is really a workplace drama … one that features two of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Like any job, there are disagreements, and especially in an industry built on relationships, those differences in opinion cannot result in the face slaps and table flips we see elsewhere in the format. For example, when one of the film’s producers, Effie Brown — who, for my money, is the hero of the show and the patron saint of the diplomatic response — points out that diversity should be considered as the mostly white committee of producers and exec select a filmmaker, Damon politely objects, insisting they pick the best candidate.

Neither person is clearly right — though we do get the sense that conversations like this is how Hollywood’s lack of diversity perpetuates itself — but they still have to work together to create something. That’s what is honestly amazing about the film industry. It’s not magic. It’s compromise with a little magic dusted on top, and watching the pros do what they do, especially under the leadership of a stubborn newbie, makes for excellent, excellent TV.


See the trailer for the return of HBO’s Project Greenlight, produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck star in Project Greenlight teaser trailer

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck star in first ‘Project Greenlight’ revival promo

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