The trouble with product placement is its corruptibility. The minute we notice character A hand character B a bottle of Pepsi and a Domino’s pizza box it takes us out of the story. To its credit, Season in the Balance is rarely that obvious, even though it has every right to be.
New Balance gave $60,000 worth of gear to the subjects of the Tangerine Films produced documentary, the Canandaigua Academy Varsity Lacrosse team, but the aim here is not to shove a logo in our face. This is not a Michael Bay movie. If anything, the series makes for a great promotion of the Apple iPod. Talk about ubiquity, every member of the team owns one. But I digress…The point of New Balance’s sponsorship is more open-ended: to associate itself with something more than just a running shoe.
Guess what?! It kinda works, because now when I think of New Balance I think of Lacrosse, which is…not a running shoe.
While Lacrosse has never struck me as the fastest growing sport, if you are already predisposed to it there is certainly something here for you. High Definition cameras follow the Canandaigua Braves, an upstate New York high school Lacrosse team coming off of a winning season and led by their bald Head Coach Ed Mulheron. They say that for every great Head Coach there is a locker room full of players willing to follow him to the gates of hell. I might follow Coach Mulheron to a Wendy’s, assuming he’s buying. As inspiration goes, he’s more Coach Costanza than Coach Taylor.
Also, unlike Friday Night Lights, his players all appear confident, reliable, and stable. There aren’t a lot of shoe gazers in this bunch, a testament to how oversaturated we all are by reality television. These kids seem so incredibly at ease in front of a camera it’s as if they auditioned. They break the fourth wall more than a Woody Allen movie. More bluntly, they really are a bunch of cocky bastards, and who can blame them? In high school, you tend to go to the front of the line once you’ve been captured on film. Don’t ask me, ask Dakota Fanning.
Despite the young jock chest bumping, there are a few unaffected glimpses into the young men’s emotions, like when Coach Mulheron tells his injured star defenseman Sean Regan that his hurt shoulder will keep him out of the lineup for another 2 weeks, or when team goalie Nick King tears up after having surrendered a game winning goal to another team.
Do not expect Season in the Balance to play out like Hoop Dreams or The Heart of the Game. The point of this exercise is not to meddle in anybody’s home life, or expose the personal trials of a team and it’s coach, one of the many downfalls of corporate sponsorship. The point is to, f*@%yeah, play some Lacrosse! And maybe look cool doing it. The point is to watch teenage boys with mod haircuts, and no glaring eccentricities, play a niche sport that they love. We don’t go home with them (much); there are hardly any girls around to speak of, unless you count the three moms singing the Canandaigua Braves fight song in the parking lot after one of the games (I don’t).
Perhaps the most interesting personality doesn’t even play Lacrosse. In episode 6 we meet Steven Wolfe, the Braves #1 super fan. For every home game Steven wears a singlet and a cape, and fashions the school flag onto a Lacrosse stick. He skateboards to the game and then runs around the field as the team’s unofficial mascot, waving the flag over his head like it’s the beginning of The Rose Bowl. Last season someone punched him in the face at a game.
If that happens again, New Balance might want to consider a new ad campaign, but for now, they’re doing pretty well with Season in the Balance.