Poor sportsmanship may seem like a weak topic for a TV drama, but Lifetime and director Graeme Clifford make a good case for the blurring of ethical lines that comes with a “win at all costs” mentality. In Clifford’s movie, the pressure, taunting and razzing come from athletes’ own parents, who try to micromanage kids and coaches from the sidelines.
Timely and relevant, “Crossing the Line” concerns the misplaced anger, transference and, in some cases, bursts of violence, that conspire to make some parents of young athletes look like honorary inductees in the hooligan hall of fame.
With its cautionary tone, “Crossing the Line” at times smacks of a high school assembly lecture, but writers Susanna Styron and Bridget Terry deserve credit for creating real people in this scenario and not just bogeymen. Nor do the writers exploit current cases like the Brookline, Mass., Pee Wee hockey game murder, but rather explore how something so horrific could happen during what is supposed to be child’s play.
Here, even parents who have the best of intentions are not immune to pressuring their kids. In an increasingly competitive world in which a sports scholarship can mean the difference between a real future and minimum wage, the demand for kids to excel is overwhelming.
Terry Farrell stars as Laura Mosbach, a former women’s basketball star who is well aware of the pressures that come with playing sports. Laura comes to Hankston, Mich., as assistant coach to the three-time champion Lady Warriors but is immediately at odds with the unrelenting style of head coach Holliday (Lawrence Dane). The townsfolk love the idea of a winning team and in exchange have lavished funds on the school for a new gym and parking lot.
When coach Holliday suffers a heart attack, Laura tentatively steps in as head coach but has more than just the opposing teams to take on. The players’ parents are immediately on her back, even her newfound friend and possible love interest Eric Harrison (Adrian Pasdar), whose daughter Carly (Sumela Kay) is in line for a starting position.
A few losses test the limited patience of parents and fans, and it isn’t long before one game erupts into violence. With her job on the line, Laura must overcome the controversy and teach her team to play basketball and not politics.
While sporting event violence is indeed a burgeoning trend, the unfortunate truth is that in women’s sports, even championship winners don’t achieve the kind of accolades or money as portrayed here, especially at coed schools. The background stories of the team players are not gender specific, and in fact it sometimes seems as if the story was written about a boys’ team and then carelessly transposed.
Another stumbling block is that despite portraying a multiethnic team, Clifford and the writers never feature any parents of color, as if they were afraid to mix race and controversy. This omission detracts from the overall authenticity of the story. Still, Clifford does a nice job of working in subplots such as a new relationship under the scrutiny of a small town as well as how much the media enjoys exploiting high school scandals.
Farrell does a nice turn as the cool-headed Laura, who only starts to lose it when she sees how the negative attention from the community affects her son. Although not a showy role, it provides Farrell an opportunity to explore greater range than her comedy shtick on “Becker.”
Pasdar has the harder role of a father so involved with his daughter’s basketball career that he can’t see the emotional toll it takes on her. With a scruffy beard and a slow drawl, he vacillates between the threatening nemesis and hunky guy next door. Ultimately, he gives Eric the humanity to be wrong and still be a decent guy.
Technical credits are sharp, with Rhett Morita’s lensing always on top of the action on and off the court.