Sunday, March 1, 2015

Enter the RUSH ZONE!

After reading this excellent article about the NFL and marketing to children through our school system, I decided to Enter the RUSH ZONE!!! and review this NFL cartoon.

NFL like DC and MARVEL comic books have a problem, its fan base is greying.  Numbers of people under 50 are dropping out and kids are being pulled away by different forms of entertainment compounded by the real dangers of head injuries and brain trauma. Unlike DC and MARVEL the NFL knows that children are the future and are doing what they can to get them interested in the brand young so they can become adults who spend their disposable income on official NFL licensed merchandise.

It is all about BRANDING the youth to become loyal adults. Tobacco companies did it Fast food still does it. Even Victoria's Secret does it, they cannot sell sexy underwear to teens but they can sell more appropriate and (much more affordable) branded apparel under the PINK line. Now because of safety issues and even their own retired legends are saying they would not let their own sons play this sport in its current form. NFL has a problem, how can they market this sport to a new generation that may never play it themselves.

So the NFL goes the Transformers and GI JOE route, make an action packed superhero cartoon featuring the NFL. This sounds just as absurd if Victoria's Secret tried to promote their brand to teens with a Street Fighter martial arts tournament fighter video game starring their Angels.


ROUND 1...FIGHT!!!!!

Cara might actually win that bout and Taylor Swift would be a secret unlockable character.  Although from what I hear about the modeling and the fashion industry, Super Model Mortal Kombat might not be too far from the truth.

My generation has direct experience with sort of thing, I grew up in the 1980's where every other cartoon was nothing more than a commercial to sell toys, and this show sells one thing the NFL, while having guest stars from NFL players themselves who pop up to teach some "life lesson". This displays the first problem with this show, having a professional sports league that has players who have public scandals guest star in a show to teach life lessons to children.

This problem rears itself with two episodes 'Web of Deceit" and "Troy's Comeback" which feature the NFL's own paragons of virtue, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. If want to check these episodes out for yourself, you are out of luck because they are unable to be found on NFL.COM and the Rush Zone website.The Ray Rice episode "Web Of Deceit" is even unavailable for purchase on streaming services such as Hulu and Amazon.

Adrian  Peterson and Ray Rice episodes have disappeared,  unlike what  Roger Goodell would have wished to seen happen to the Ray Rice security camera footage. Maybe TMZ will come through have the episodes for viewing on their website.

What is this show actually about except for football?

The concept is better be sitting down for this because it sounds like it was cranked out by the creative team after several NFL administered Toradol injections. It is a mix of power rangers meets Ben 10 by the way of the NFL. The story centers around the Guardians, group of middle schoolers who are recruited by RZ. An Artificial Intelligence who is based in the basement of Hall of Fame in Canton OH.  Each Guardian is given a wrist watch called an NFL-R(tm) that can power rangers style morph them into football power armor to do battle with evil forces that threaten the league. Which are hostile aliens, not player scandals and retired veterans suing the NFL over concussion induced brain damage.

Now this series gives me flashbacks of the WWF Hulk Hogan's Rock n Wrestling, with a bit of Hammerman and Captain N the Gamemaster. Except at least unlike Nintendo, the writers here at least know a thing or two about Football and the NFL. It is the overall premise that becomes pretty insane.

Why are the Guardians fighting space aliens, and not just fighting crime like Wayne Gretsky, Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan did in All Stars. The premise sounds like one of the rambling stories that come from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future with some Scientology Lord Xenu thrown in.

To quote that same robot, It's a long story you might want to get yourself some snacks....

Thousands of Years ago....before the dawn of man as we now know him....There was a distant planet that was the source of all the power of the universe. These beings known as the rusherz created football to represent teamwork and sportsmanship. SUDDEN DEATH wanted the power for himself, to prevent that, the Rusherz drilled a hole into the core, in doing so blew up their own planet thus blasting the core and the 32 Rusherz into space, the core broke into 32 shards and landed on earth. The rusherz then helped create the NFL teams and its stadiums to protect each piece of the core, all dipped in gravy that came from the giblets of a monkey.

The NFL was brought into existence to protect and maintain this super awesome galactic space power.

 You can also watch episode 1 the official origin story here, WARNING: This might be the STUPIDEST thing ever on youtube. Just like real tackle football, this can  also cause chronic brain damage.

Yes  is video is a real NFL intellectual property,   The TORADOL is strong with this one.

Now each of the 32 teams have a thing called a MEGACORE a football that absorbs the energy of the teams and fans and also contains the attributes and integrity (Ha-Ha) of each team. If one is stolen the team and surrounding community will diminish. The Cities start hitting hard times teams and the fans starting falling ill. So Detroit's megacore was stolen years ago then.

SUDDEN DEATH wants all 32 megacores to harness ultimate power, so he can rule the universe or the need over compensate for having a small peen.. whatever. 
Sure the premise is pretty whack, I grew up watching shows like Thundercats and Silverhawks, a cartoon about a group of cyborg space-hawk cops who fought interstellar criminals in the galaxy of limbo. A twisted premise where no one had a problem with getting mutilated to travel across the galaxy. Thundercats was subversive to the point of bestiality and we had that whole Lion-O with this sword having some Freudian erection symbolism.

Still those premises made more sense, because they were all rooted in an entire fictional universe, here we have a plot that involves a real life professional sports league, this causes a sort of cognitive dissonance. While the Guardians are in the zone going to the game where the bad guys are going to attack. They get a debriefing involving actually game footage and real historical facts about the team, which clashes with the crazy sc-fi origins story. it's like a person who believes in evolution and literal biblical account of creationism. The show has this sci-fi mythology tied into the NFL, a sport created by aliens eons ago on a far away planet then in one episode featuring the Jacksonville Jaguars, an expansion team whose inaugural season was 1995.

Maybe I'm just thinking too much into it, like all children's programing the plot and premise only makes sense when you shut your brain off and just let it wash over you.  This is not a show created by artists, it was conceived by corporate marketing types who needed a vehicle to promote their product to kids who are playing the actual sport less and less due to safety concerns.

This is a show that was like other cartoons in the 1980's was marketed into existence and everything about this concept feels like it was put i\together by a focus group. Focus group tests say that children between ages 2-11, respond well to ALIENS, SUPER HEROES, FANTASY ACTION, LASER GUNS. So lets put that into a show about the NFL. It must be effective because this show is on for three seasons with a forth in the works.

Most shows of this type, the heroes are fighting some secret war, only the heroes and villains know about. Not here, the general public knows of the Guardians and the Rusherz. In "Knights of the Sky" all of the Rusherz are present at the NFL DRAFT and the Guardians were to be presented with a special award on national television. That is until a large alien space ship attacks the DRAFT, yet the government does not respond. F16s are not scrambled to intercept etc.

Why do the guardians have to be kids? I know it is because the show needs to be a fantasy for children. Kid heroes that the 5-12 audience can relate to thus further making them future NFL brand loyalists. Premise wise it is largely unethical, recruit children to to battle and risk their own lives. In reality is  stressful and emotionally taxing something many adults cannot cope with let alone children. Soldiers get PTSD doing similar things going off to war, yet it is perfectly okay to send a group of middle schoolers who are not totally physically and mentally developed to fight a hostile enemy force. We call them child soldiers and the UN considers that a human rights violation.

Season 3 episode "White Out" bring out a another problem with being a guardian. Ricky's father loses his job. Ricky suggests that he gets a job, and his father says his "job" is being a Guardian. He needs money so he decides shovel snow for money. If he needs to shovel snow that means risking your life for the NFL against a hostile force does not pay.

White Out actually does explain why NFL recruits teens to defend the all important megacores. If they recruited adults, the NFL would have to PAY THEM. Also in doing so NFL is basically violating a laundry list of child labor and workplace safety laws, business as usual for the NFL. Kids fighting for the NFL is not much of a stretch when you consider that the league still encourages tackle football for U14, despite the advice from actual medical doctors such as Dr. Robert Cantu, who specializes in head and spinal injuries.

NFL uses our tax dollars to pay for its stadiums yet is a tax free non profit. Denied and withheld information on the dangers of concussions from its players, has a hypocritical policy when it comes to drugs, (Marijuana is bad, toradol injected into your ass is good.) and is still doing what it can to dodge responsibility from any of this.

So hiring middle schoolers to risk life and limb to defend the shield would not be that much of a stretch from their usual behavior. There are even episodes where the guardians themselves are easing their parents own qualms about them risking their own lives for the NFL and THE WORLD!

 Here is an idea for a future episode, the Guardians go on strike because they want to be compensated for risking death and injury for the NFL. RZ and Roger Goodell then lecture the kids on a "life lesson" of the sanctity of "Amateurism" featuring special guest NCAA President Mark Emmert.

This show is nothing more than PRO-NFL propaganda.

Plot is the same, the big bad guy Sudden Death, plans a scheme to steal a megacore, he attacks a game, the Guardians respond, save the day and a player or two makes a guess appearance. The player only rattle off a few lines, which is a good thing, (except for the few guest starts who are also ESPN announcers) for the most part are not professional voice talent and it shows.

I decided to check out several episodes, but two of them I will concentrate on "Lions, Texans, and Turkeys" and "Ish's Audible" well because they involve the Lions, and well I am from Detroit so...GO LIONS!

"Lions, Texans, and Turkeys", this episode centered around he Thanksgiving holiday and the Lions tradition of playing that game and a lesson about having to miss family when duty calls. This was the first episode that really focused on the Detroit Lions. The plot has to do with Wild Card attacking the turkey day game to get the megacores, the attack on the Lions was a diversion for the real target was the Houston Texans megacore. I can totally see why, Wildcard wants power and this season was the one where the Lions had a 8 game losing streak. I can understand why he chose Houston over Detroit.

I'll give the writers some credit the do show in episodes some sort of strategic thinking,  at times do make them appear to be a real threat, not some villain who just as another hairbrained scheme each episode. Each plan is about the villains wanting the cores to complete some overall scheme they have that leads to usually a season ending conflict.

I do have to say that the animation and art teams are competent, In "Ish's Audible" there was a fight scene at the freeway and the artists actually managed to recreate a section of Detroit freeway with that looks like it could be the nearby Fisher Freeway, there even was a real exit sign for 51B I-75 North to Flint and 375 Downtown, which is the exit right near Ford Field.

They even got the little details right on the freeway and real sidewalk bridges with protective fences over them as well. The Artists actually took time and did some research to get the the locations right, I was impressed that they actually included little details like this, but if it was REALLY accurate the fight would have ended with the Armored Car transporting the megacore losing a tire on a pothole.

Season 3 Episode 10 "Sudden Death Showdown" takes place during Super Bowl 49,  their version the teams that made it were the Houston Texans and San Fransisco 49'ers. Which shows a problem then they make episodes far before these actual events take place due to time needed for production. Although they did not pick the Detroit Lions for one of the teams.  NFL being created by aliens is one thing, the Lions making it to the Super Bowl you have to be realistic, no one will believe that.

Season 2 episode Gridiron Ringers is notable because it features Super Bowl rings. Like the Megacore, championship rings also have POWER. POWER that is used by legends Richard Dent and Mike Dikta to save the day. You know the same Mike Ditka who said that he would not want his own sons playing football. He is guest starring in the cartoon to sell this same brain smashing sport to kids.  Which bears thinking, why not just hire Legends to fight Sudden Death and protect the shield? Because they would have to pay them and probably not be able to exploit them into oblivion. The real living and breathing viewers have no interest in watching some old player from before their time punt kick alien ass.

 Here we have personal relationships and conflicts with the heroes as well as the villains. One such villain WILD CARD has had considerable development over the course of the season, while He works with Sudden Death it is apparent that He has is own agenda as well and only sees Sudden Death and even the guardians as instruments to be used to further his goals, whatever they may be. In a way makes him more unpredictable and in the end more dangerous than the main villain

Since this show is about a team sport, the major trait this show promotes is the value of teamwork. We see this with the contrast between the Guardians and the Villains. The Guardians work together support each other towards a common goal. The Villains do not, Sudden Death has his own team but it is a team made of members who are in it for their own personal agendas,

The Three Anticorians who appeared in S3 are allied with Sudden Death to get back at the Rusherz, Wild card and Dropkick want to get back at RZ and the Guardians. Sudden Death needs them for his own ends of galactic domination.
I get an impression that the creative team knows what they are making is a brand awareness strategy but at least they can at least put out a quality product even if it is to promote a product. In conclusion this show is an NFL brand marketing strategy, but the creative teams commitment to some level of quality in writing and artwork prevents it from becoming a total piece unwatchable commercial dreck. That is why the plan is working, the NFL knows if they want to increase brand awareness with children they have to go all out or do not go at all.
Final Verdict

This show has one purpose, that is to promote the NFL to the under 12 crowd and create a new generation of fans who will shell out money for merchandise. It has a premise that appears that it created by a focus group and a marketing team.

Despite all of that there is at least a creative team that is working with what they have and trying to put out some level of quality at least with the writing. We do see story arcs that progress over a season rather and character development rather than all episodes having all conflicts be neatly wrapped up at the end of each episode.

This show has already had three seasons, there is no official word that S4 is in the works. But with the NFL behind this the show could end up on the air because of the sheer amount of money they can put behind this. Shows targeted at children tend to have a short shelf life, with exceptions of Spongebob Squarepants. You can argue that Spongebob's CORE audience is actually stoners of the ages 18-25.

Their core audience tends to age out of viewing, especially if the show is centered around a toy line whose interest can evaporate quickly.  HE-MAN and the Masters of the Universe, was considered one of Filmation's biggest successes, yet only lasted two seasons with 130 episodes total. GI Joe original run under Sunbow/Marvel lasted two seasons until it was picked up by DiC and then only lasted another two because the popularity of the action figure line started to wane.

This show is centered around the NFL which is not going to lose interest and all team merch will end up in clearance bins at Toys R Us to become teenage M-80 fodder. If concussions are going to erode it's interest it will take decades.

If this show lasts it will be out of the sheer power of the NFL pumping money into this and the fact they might have learned lessons of this sort of thing before.  In 1991 the NFL commissioned Marvel to do a comic book called NFL SuperPro.

It was the same thing, NFL related super hero action, and it only lasted 12 issues and it is considered to be one of the WORST comic books in the recent history of Marvel. I would not be surprised if next on the NFL agenda is to make a movie adaptation of this comic with Tim Tebow playing SuperPro Phil Grayfield.

NFL Super Pro might appear in the NFL Rush Zone comic book they have out. yeah the NFL also has a comic based on this cartoon. The NFL is considering resurrecting one of the WORST comic book characters ever to promote their brand.

So now I am filled with dread of a Time Tebow movie adaptation.

Things I want to see Happen

SNL needs to get back with Robert Smigel and LAMPOON the ever living crap out of this. If not Conan O Brien needs to do reoccurring animated skits on his show. Have the Guardians and rushers be assigned to Goodell to clean up the leagues messes, Player scandals, concussion lawsuits.

What are you waiting for?

Maybe in 20 years we will see a NFL RUSH ZONE dark short movie  like the recent one for the power rangers that has gotten buzz. Twenty years later the Guardians are washed up adults who are suing the league for compensation for injuries.