September 10, 2008

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Sept. 10, 2008

by Clare Lochary, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

You're missing the point if you expect realism from a prime-time teen soap opera. Don't focus on, say, the unlikelihood of a high school principal showing up for work midyear. You'll miss the escapism (Cars! Clothes! Absentee parents!) and the schadenfraude (how sad the poor little rich kids are, despite their cars, clothes and absentee parents) that makes "90210" enjoyable.

That said, the makers of the much-hyped new drama have done their homework when it comes to lacrosse. Back in 1990, when the original "Beverly Hills 90210" debuted, weaving lacrosse into the plot of a network television show was unthinkable. But now the fastest growing sport in the country is as trendy as Coldplay or an M-Class SUV, making it a perfect fit for West Beverly High.

"We decided to include lacrosse in the storyline because most sports have already been done in high school shows," says executive producer Jeff Judah. "We wanted to choose a sport that the upper class play, but we also know that lacrosse is a growing sport for kids across the country."

If you watched last week's premiere, the main lacrosse action centered around Dixon Wilson (played by Tristan Wilds), a transplant from Wichita, Kan., trying out for the West Beverly team that already includes nice guy Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan) and sneering jerk George Evans (Kellan Lutz). The Wonder of Wichita smoked a SoCal defense with some Rabil-esque swim moves, dazzling the coach and securing a spot on the team.

While some of the plot points are fuzzy (Why are they practicing in the fall? How did Dixon get so good growing up in Kansas? Why is Coach Matthews so oblivious to team chemistry?), the actual lacrosse was fast-paced and realistic. Scott Hochstadt, a former University of Maryland attacker and technical coordinator for the series, can take credit for that. He worked with about 40 players, actors and extras to create an authentic lacrosse moment on film. Stunt doubles were used for the trickier shots, but actors Wilds, Milligan and Lutz still had to learn the basics.

"Even though they weren't the ones doing every move, they still needed to look like they knew what they were doing for close-ups. They wanted to make it look as natural as possible," said Hochstadt.

Hochstadt acknowledged that Dixon's swim move was a bit of showboating, but he felt it fit the character and the scene.

"They wanted to make him look flashy. A kid with his first day on the field and they didn't really expect anything from him, so he was just showing 'em up," says Hochstadt.

Hochstadt says that Mulligan, a Canadian with hockey experience, was the best real laxer among the bunch. But getting the perfect shot on the field is worlds away from getting the best shot on film.

"You'd be surprised how much goes into each little scene. You're in a school, just walking, and there's like 50 takes. These guys are professionals, so if one thing doesn't look right, it's like, `Cut! Do it again!'" says Hochstadt.

Hochstadt works with SportsRobe, a sports wardrobe company that outfits most major sports movies. He has coordinated lacrosse scenes for the television show House, M.D. and several commercial shoots. On-camera lacrosse has become a lucrative sideline for him, in addition to working for Warrior and Adrenaline Lacrosse. He says that 90210 is the tip of the cinematic iceberg for lacrosse.

"People are looking at lacrosse as the upcoming sport. I think you'll see more and more lacrosse in movies and commercials. It's not soccer; it's not football; it's not baseball. It's not skateboarding, but it's kind of the extreme sport that kids are getting hooked on," says Hochstadt.

The edginess that lures kids and advertisers alike has a flip side to it. When Coach Matthews ham-handedly bumps George to second midfield in favor of Dixon, George starts a dirty fight and gets his rival kicked off the team. When Ethan backs up George's lie, his girlfriend Naomi pouts, "That's exactly why I hate lacrosse. You're not like those guys."

(Oh, speaking of Naomi and the female cast members: there is no evidence of a girls' lacrosse team at West Beverly, or any girls' athletic teams at all, aside from the cheerleaders on the sidelines during lacrosse practice. The characters Annie and Adrianna are into theater, but mostly the girls shop, gossip and stress about boys. Apparently the camaraderie and excitement of sports are not for them. It's just as well - all the actresses are all so slight that they would snap in half if they tried to put any leverage into a draw.)

What "those guys" are like in this context is dishonest, entitled and snobby. At this point in the story, Naomi has been established as West Beverly's premiere Mean Girl and an academic plagiarist, so it's a red flag that even she thinks the lacrosse team is bad news. If it wasn't a deliberate choice, it's an unfortunate coincidence that George Evans, the stereotypical evil jock, shares a surname with one of the three Duke players accused and later exonerated of rape and assault. That allusion may be a stretch, given that almost every single character has a bland, WASP-y sounding moniker, but I hope the series doesn't use lacrosse as cinematic shorthand for jerky rich kids.

Of course, 90210 exists primarily to chronicle the shenanigans of jerky rich kids for our entertainment, so perhaps I've contradicted my original thesis about taking the show too seriously. Dixon is the series' ostensible hero, so they would never totally align him with the forces of darkness. The most emotionally resonant moment of the premiere came when he said he loved the game because it made him feel close to his adoptive dad, a nice touch given how lacrosse is so often handed down from father to son. Also, that detail helped explain how a kid from Wichita (USL membership: 60) would be the best player in Beverly Hills (USL membership: 311).

Oops, there I go again, with the realism.


Contact Clare Lochary at clochary@uslacrosse.org.
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