TV Review: ‘Lance’ On ESPN

Review by James Lindorf

Part 2

Still simply entitled LANCE part two of the Lance Armstrong documentary by Marina Zenovich will air tonight May 31st, 2020, at 9 pm on ESPN and ESPN2. Much like the latest installment of the Jurassic Park franchise, part two of LANCE could have used the subtitle Fallen Kingdom. The final night highlights the record-setting seven Tour De France victories, his relationships with actors and rock stars, and the collapse that took it all away.

As someone who casually followed his rise to American sports royalty, I found night one fascinating. Knowing few details about who Lance made it incredibly exciting to see what shaped him into the person who made the decisions to violate the rules of cycling and alienate his sponsors. Part two serves as a compilation of the last twenty years of Lance’s life. From his first tour win, the start of Livestrong, the yellow bracelets, and the investigations that toppled the kind of cycling, Zenovich covers it all. Unlike his early years, this new chapter was a story that was impossible to escape entirely. With the continuous coverage of the impact on cycling and other sports, the legal and personal ramifications Lance and others would face made it impossible to take it all in. Zenovich may not break much new ground with LANCE. Still, she features a more direct, open, and possibly honest Lance Armstrong something people have been asking for these last twenty years.

When asked if he would go back and do anything differently to protect himself from the significant fallouts, Lance’s answer is a single word, no. His response, of course, leads to Zenovich asking a simple one-word follow up, why. The answer is pure Lance Armstrong, confident, brash, and not worth questioning. When he made up his mind on a course of action, he followed that plan to a T, and it is, at times, bewildering but always impressive. He speaks with the understanding that he didn’t always make the choice of a good person or the decision that would save him the most money and heartache. Hearing his motivation is the biggest reason to tune into night 2.

Looking at the entire four-hour documentary, you can’t help but admire what Zenovich created. Her ability to ask the right questions after getting people to open up fills all four hours with compelling and personal content that will keep viewers interested. LANCE isn’t about forgiving or condemning the man who owned the world’s attention for at least three weeks a year for a decade of racing, and a decade more of doping allegations. It is about understanding. Viewers may become more engrained in their stance for or against Lance Armstrong. A few may even change sides, but after those four hours, we may know what drove one of our most celebrated and vilified athletes.

Part 1

The ESPN 30 For 30 film series isn’t known for shying away from controversial stories or people. The same can be said for Director Marina Zenovich, who previously made two films about the divisive director Roman Polanski. Zenovich was also behind “Fantastic Lies,” a 2016 entry into the 30 for 30 series about the Duke Lacrosse scandal. Her second foray into the sports world is a nearly three-and-a-half-hour extended profile of the infamous cyclist Lance Armstrong. EPSN and ESPN 2 will simulcast “LANCE” as a two-night special, the first at 9 pm May 24th and the second on May 31st. As with the wildly successful, The Last Dance ESPN will include adult content while ESPN 2 will air a more family-friendly version.

From his beginning as a failed athlete in the country’s most popular sports Lance eventually found swimming, which led him to triathlons. Early on, swimming was his best of the three events, but it was soon eclipsed by riding. The drive to be the best triathlete promptly morphed into the all-encompassing pursuit of being the world’s greatest cyclist. From the time he was 21, Lance was one of the best in the world. Winning was the only thing on his mind for the next four years. That was until he found himself in a doctor’s office learning of his advanced testicular cancer and a surgery scheduled for the following day. Zenovich heartfeltly shows his battle in a way that would leave even his most ardent detractors succumbing to a wave of empathy. His cancer was his most significant fight, victory, achievement, cause for doubt, and shield. Not many people fight off stage 4 cancer, and those that do, don’t regularly use it as motivation to raise nearly half a billion dollars to support other patients. Generally, those other survivors don’t have doubt cast on their post-cancer accomplishments because they are viewed as to week to achieve anything. It is most unusual for them to use their cancer to deflect blame and to damage their attackers as jealous and unempathetic.

So far, I have only seen the first part of “LANCE,” and in a word, it is enthralling. By interviewing nearly 60 people from Lance’s life, including family, friends, teammates, announcers, and competitors, Zenovich paints a portrait of love, hate, contempt, and admiration in shades of grey. Lance is a talented, overly competitive cancer survivor who most people acknowledge is also a world-class a-hole. In addition to all the people that found themselves in his orbit, LANCE also includes over a half dozen private interviews that border on therapy sessions for the polarizing athlete himself. Perhaps nothing short of another bout with cancer could do much to repair the damage done to his public image. Still, “LANCE” does a great job of sharing his “truths” and may convert some hatred into just plain old apathy. With the second half a week away, it is too early to find out, but I have no doubts Zenovich will push something great across the finish line.

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