Every over-hyped media event from the Super Bowl to the Academy Awards has a Pre-Show extravaganza. That goes double for tonight’s Oprah Winfrey blockbuster interview with disgraced pro cyclist Lance Armstrong.
So Twisted Spoke presents for the first and only time the entire first season of our sprawling and feverishly imagined Lance & Landis Show, all nine searing and comedic episodes.
Episode one. Hot air and Bald Men.
The plot thickens. boys and girls.
The hottest show in or out of Hollywood, the must-see con-tro-ver-see launched a few weeks ago with a fantastic pilot. Critics and fans alike agree the new Lance & Landis show is the dopest show in cycling.
Episode one proved to be everything we were hoping for and dreaming about with plenty of action, unexpected twists and turns, a new character or two and most of all, a riveting drama that promises to redefine our meager definition of what a great doping story can be.
A quick synopsis of episode one for those who may have inconceivably missed the latest. Out of the gate with action packed tight. The pilot gave us former BALCO steroid investigator Jeff Novizky. An experienced and vicious dope hound who will take no bribe or spare no superstar ego in his search for the truth.
Episode one dialed up the drama with the exciting new character, Assistant US attorney Doug Miller. Yes, more cops, more guns on the case. Jeff & Doug, a dope digging tag team that just might put the fear of Landis in Lance Armstrong.
This is what creative story telling is all about, upping the ante, raising the stakes. Is Big Tex going down as a vengeful Floyd Landis has told friends? This is twice as good as Twilight with potentially more blood. Chapeau to whoever.
And who’s this star character stepping into episode one but the always entertaining president of the UCI — Patrick “Hot Air” McQuaid. A veteran talent, Pat is always at the center of any major cycling controversy as hapless and always comical head of the non-governing body, the UCI. Or as Joe Linsey of Bicycling Magazine calls the UCI: Uniformly Clumsy and Incompetent
The blustery Irishman — whose blowhard statements often sound like he does his interviews after four happy hours — jumped into the action with both feet and no brain. You have you respect that level of cluelessness. Casting, ladies and gentlemen, it makes or breaks a show and the Lance & Landis show is fanatically brilliant about casting.
Since he is the president of a governing body, a viewing audience expects a certain professional attitude and objectivity. Forget that cycling savants — McQuaid essentially said Armstrong is innocent and Landis is a pathetic liar. Again, drama to the max.
“Landis is just bitter and is claiming that all these guys doped because he got caught doping and thinks that other people got away with it. He thinks he was selected to be caught but he denied doping for four years and now he’s saying the total opposite,” said Paddy.
Is that not high quality conflict? A man who is head of the agency asking for cycling federations to investigate the Landis charges then going on record as saying said investigation is pointless.
And then, fans of true intrigue, the Lance & Landis show served up another McQuaid bombshell with the supposed $100,000 Armstrong bribe to cover up a positive dope test. And here we have Pat claiming that’s no conflict of interest and claiming Landis is a bitter loser. This is why you and I don’t work in Hollywood. Stuff this good only comes from professional story tellers. Again, chapeau to whoever.
That was all the intense intrigue our small craniums could possibly comprehend but the Lance & Landis show is setting new standards for dope drama. In hindsight, the four year Valverde show brought to you by Operacion Puerto looks like a lame sitcom.
In a stroke of withering brilliance, the writers of the show pulled in Lance-hater and three-time Tour de France winner Greg Lemond.
He’s now joining forces with former enemy Floyd Landis in a two-pronged attack on the hallowed world of Lance. This is the kind of Michelangelo Moment that stuns you with majestic beauty and wins an academy award. This is taking an old nemesis, throwing him in with an enemy who’s now an ally and — in true buddy picture format — them going after Big Tex. We bow down in respect.
A few years ago a Landis associate was making threatening calls to Lemond about exposing the story of Lemond’s sexual abuse and now they’re fast friends and pooling resources, war chests and lawyers.
Does this have our hero Lance Armstrong turning beet red and frothing at the mouth? You bet it does. This is just episode one, folks, and we are rockin’ so hard my body is vibrating with adrenaline and excitment.
Mad Men is a great show, the Sopranos was a great show, Six Feet Under, a great show. But we’re sitting on a powder keg of such awesome dramatic potential. The Lance & Landis show is ready for episode two and I am on the edge of my seat hyperventilating with anticipation.
Episode 2. Half Tattoos, A Ball and Designer Jeans.
That month long distraction called the Tour de France is thankfully over.
Now we can get back to the most thrilling and brilliant show in cycling Hollywood. The Lance & Landis show. The pilot was simply beyond expectation and the first few shows redefined the boundaries of episodic dope story telling.
Now that Alberto Contador has another yellow jersey we can return to the action. When we last left our two former pals and now bitter enemies, the plot was thickening faster than water near a British Petroleum oil pipe. BALCO houndog investigator Jeff Novizky was on the case along with Assistant US attorney Doug Miller. These aren’t the kind of guys that take six months, gobs of tax payer money and produce nothing. These are two strong characters with their own flaws and agendas and they will dig until they find gold.
In a stroke of master drama, show producers brought in old Armstrong nemesis Greg Lemond and partnered him up with Landis. Now they’re sharing lawyers and planning strategy. Throwing everything into the mix, the people behind Lance and Landis also gave a recurring role to blustery and ineffectual UCI president Patrick “hot air” McQuaid. The intriguing Armstrong “gift/bribe” angle keeps getting more fascinating and we’re up to two “donations.” Dynamic subplots are what separate formulaic crap from pure genius.
Okay, enough catch up. Let’s dive into the new developments because they have us so excited we’re on the edge of our San Marco seat. We’ve got serious witnesses with actual credibility about to go under oath. The potential revelations and bombshells are making our skin tingle. This is Must-See Con-Tro-Ver-See.
Before we had two comedic but in legal terms inconsequential witnesses, former riders David Clinger and Chad Gerlach. Great bit characters, fantastic walk-ons but nothing for Armstrong to fear. Clinger, the man with the full but half disappeared Maori face tattoo has his own demons. Chad Gerlach hit the streets so hard he was working as a male prostitute according to a local sportswriter familiar with his story.
They were a nice warm-up act but now we’ve got Big George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton swearing to tell the truth and nothing but. Lovable George rode with Armstrong for all his seven victories. In America’s eyes, he’s the stars and stripes champion and a man of integrity.
If Hincapie has something to say it’s going to carry several tons of weight. Again, chapeau to the Lance & Landis creative team. This is a classic moral dilemma for Hincapie — stay true and loyal to Lance the Legend or spill ugly beans.
The same goes for Tyler Hamilton, another top rider in his day, who was very familiar with US Postal operations. And ladies and gents, you don’t lie to the Feds. Operation Puerto was amateur hour compared to the drama of the Lance & Landis show.
Hincapie and Hamilton just upped the stakes but that’s only half the story. This is a show that delivers on every front: searing human drama and, yes, fall-off-the-bike-laughing comedy. We’re talking about the new main character in the show, the inimitable Michael Ball, the empty wallet behind Rock Racing and those expensive designer jeans. Turns out the Feds followed a trail of illegal activities from Rock Racing all the way to US Postal.
Now let’s step back and look at Ball and why he’s in the show — because he fulfills certain requirements of great story telling. First, having Ball play a role means you widen the conflict and push it beyond the narrow confines of cycling. Now we’ve got the fashion world, cocaine, sexy girls in tight jeans, Hollywood clubs and stars. Let’s not forget the eye candy and cinematography. This show was lacking hot babes and that oversight had been brilliantly rectified.
Second, Ball is a fantastic and quotable character in his own right. A man who described Francisco Mancebo, his top rider, this way: “It’s very simple: training, Spanish wine and f**k his wife.” Ball is a loose cannon that can take a story in a dozen crazy directions. A superb addition to an already first rate cast.
The Lance & Landis continues to astound: rich, unexpected characters, superb casting, exotic locales all over the world, hard nosed investigators, heroes and goats and a host of crazy bit players. Stay tuned.
Episode 3. Spin & Conspiracy.
The Lance & Landis show is the best doping drama in history, a category shattering oeuvre d’art that pushes the boundaries of entertainment and story telling. Rich and complex story lines, riveting, unique characters and blind-side twists and turns make this simply the best show in or out of Hollywood.
We’ve reviewed the Lance & Landis pilot and episodes one and two. It’s time to tackle the action after what was a fast and furious third episode. But first, let’s cover an embarrassing oversight from the last installment.
Episode two brought us a fantastic new character in Michael Ball, the bankrupt designer jeans CEO and sponsor of the defunct Rock Racking team. A wild and unpredictable personality, Ball gave the Lance & Lance show a whole new playground — the glitz and glam of Los Angeles, runway models, cocaine and sex in public bathrooms. Chapeau to the creative genius of the show producers. This show will not stop rocking for one nano-second.
However, in our giddy excitment about Ball, we forget to mention the other dynamite new character let loose in this sprawling and powerful drama: Rahsaan Bahati. Now we’ve explained how Ball widened the conflict and created new texture and Bahati does the exact same.
Essentially, Bahati provides that bad, black muthafucka we have in all gritty tales of drugs and inner city violence. Like Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction and Don Cheadle in Out Of Sight, Bahati is the dreadlock bad-ass that ain’t takin’ shit from nobody, not the Feds, Lance Armstrong or Michael Ball.
Yes, in yet another brilliant move by the show producers, the Lance & Landis show now has that Compton ghetto, Boys in the ‘Hood vibe and we are digging it. Right out the box, Bahati drops the ominous prediction: “I fear for the future of the sport.” That’s drama, baby. Welcome Rahsaan. This show hit the turbo thrusters again — and yo, bring the graffiti spray-paint!
Okay, we’re up to full, ripping speed — which is mandatory — because the Lance & Landis show moves fast, like bombing the backside of Tourmalet. First, the main plot thread, the spine of the story: did Lance dope or did he not? So far the show has kept us guessing and paraded some fabulous walk-on characters past us, who claimed the boss was hopped up.
The latest episode had us on the edge of our San Marco as we tried to guess the identity of the new secret witness who ‘collaborated” the Landis tale of sordid and institutionalized doping within the U.S. Postal squad, presided over by the illustrious Armstrong. Our guess is that it’s none other than JV, the argyle genius, head of Garmin Transitions, Jonathan Vaughters.
That’s right folks, more drama, more characters, and by golly, sartorial argyle to boot. What does deposed denim king Michael Ball think of that! Vaughters’ reputation is excellent and he’s viewed with respect in the world of professional bike racing. This is a credible witness and a set-back for team Mellow Johnny.
However, the man, THE MAN, adds another strong character to his team and now we’ve got the conflict dialed up tighter than Sidi shoes cranked to max. Spin Doctor to the stars, Mark ‘fabulous” Fabiani, the guy Newsweek Magazine called the Master of Disaster is on the show. If anyone can turn things the Boss’ way, it’s the F-man, who has previously spun for former President Clinton, Al Gore and corporate thieves Goldman Sachs.
Fabiani hit episode three with a hard, fast right hand before the opening credits were finished, calling the investigation worthless when compared to the salmonella “recall of 380 million eggs.” Do you love this guy already? Again, exceptional casting and an awesome new character for Lance & Landis. That is spin in all its glory: seismic shifting the argument with something that has NOTHING to do with drug allegations but is so brilliantly left-field as to baffle any opponent used to dealing with logic and legal precedent. An freakin’ egg recall? Chapeau all over again.
Every powerful legal drama you’ve ever seen looks under-cast and woefully inadequate when you look at the legal stars of Lance & Landis. BALCO bad-boy, the bald head Fed Jeff Novizky, Assistant US attorney Doug Miller, the Fabulous Fabiani, criminal defense lawyer Brian D. Daly — this is a top-notch cast that should sweep up every Doping Emmy if there were such a thing.
Now, this episode’s final blockbuster and it’s massive because that’s the only way the Lance & Landis show rolls. We’re talking about the elephant in the room, the linch-pin character, the man who CHANGES everything, Big George Hincapie. Show fans know this is the guy who can take this dope story in any dramatic direction just by taking the oath. Smart plotting by the show’s writers have kept George in the wings, a powerful presence that can only be whispered about by the main characters. For Godsakes, what is Big George going to do and say?
Hincapie is one of the show’s most powerful characters, a man caught in a classic moral dilemma of Greek tragedy proportions. Does he stay loyal to long time friend and powerful ally Lance Armstrong or does he cough up big chunks of damning testimony?
Is George willing to play the sad Roger Clements game and risk six months in the slammer for not telling the truth? This is a beloved American rider wearing the stars and stripes jersey who may or may not take down one of the biggest sports legends in history. This is the stuff of genius story-telling and the Lance & Landis show is toying with us, teasing us, driving us poison-oak scratching mad with anticipation.
The latest blockbuster question being, did the show just blind-side us again and stun us with a mysterious and shocking event — because we think that’s just what happened. Even those of us who’ve followed the show from the beginning were fooled but anyone skilled with conspiracy theories had it figured in an instant. We’re talking about the the Tour of Utah, the Hincapie Crash.
On the face of it, an unfortunate tumble, an early exit from the race and a possible complication in Hincapie’s defense of his jersey in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. At least that’s what viewers thought they saw, the media mush that was ladled out to the unassuming public.
Twisted Spoke says something big went down and it was more than George. The Feds concocted an ingenious way to get Hincapie away from Lance’s handlers without arousing suspicion. They wanted George under oath and singing like a ProTour canary before Armstrong could turn him.
The crash was faked, pure and simple. Hincapie was taken away by the Feds inside a rented ambulance in a pre-arranged plan with the agreement of Hincapie. A bombshell, a mind-blower, proof once again that the Lance & Landis show makes Mad Men and The Sopranos look like a community theater presentation of Singing in the Rain.
Stay tuned because this show just getter better and better, it’s the maillot jaune of cycling drama.
Episode 4. Betsey and the Onion.
Holy mackerel, we’re covered in goose bumps so big our old Kelme lycra jersey barely fits.
Yes, we’re talking about the latest developments in the best episodic show in or out of Hollywood, with or without an Emmy. The Lance & Landis show is the finest dramedy — that’s a genre splitting mix of drama and comedy — to every pedal into our entertainment world.
As previously noted, the casting of this show is beyond stellar, from stars to walk-ons. We’ve got the dynamite combination of cancer survivor and seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong versus the Mad Mennonite and loose cannon Floyd Landis. Corporate monster versus country boy wise-fool. This is conflict the way the masters write it.
Then throw in this blender mix of characters: There’s BALCO bad boy investigator Novitzky, damage control spin master Fabiani and his salmonella defense, the bankrupt Michael Ball with the designer jeans and cocaine and defunct Rock Racing team.
Then there’s the Samuel Jackson, bad muthafuka Rahsaan Bahaiti keeping us ghetto and gritty and UCI president and buffoon Pat McQuaid spouting nonsense from afar and accepting bribes or gifts and the loyal Armstrong friend and Stars & Stripes jersey man George Hincapie. There’s not one character in this show that doesn’t rock so hard your head explodes with dramatic possibilities.
And let’s stop right here, kneel on the floor, put our hands in prayer and give thanks to Floyd Landis, the original creative force behind this amazing show. Most shows begin with a vision but all Floyd needed to kick this monster story into high gear was a few leaked emails — he’s a true and original talent.
This show covers all bases, characters and locations which is why we’re so excited about the crazed mad woman the show creators just threw into the show like some jabbering witch from a Shakespeare play. We’re talking about Betsy Andreu, wife of former US Postal rider and ex-Lance buddy Frankie Andreu.
Anyone who’s ever heard her nasal Michigan accent as she rants about Lance’s use of PED’s is in for a dramatic treat. Novitzky is taking down her testimony and you can’t shut her up with a ball gag and two miles of duct tape. An awesome and exciting new character because, L& L fans — Betsy aint’ Hollywood — she’s unscripted reality TV. A fantastic addition to what is a ground breaking, Must-See-Doping-Contro-Ver-See.
Betsy functions as that Greek chorus, saying the things that heroes and villains dare not utter. She is a skewed conscience, a voice of suspicious yet transcendental truth. Characters who dare contradict her monologues should be wary. No amount of payola, intimidation or just plain good sense will shut her down.
Episode four brings back one of our personal favorite characters, the bad-ass Rahsaan Bahati, into tighter focus and a bigger role. The show hints at the Boss himself calling Bahati for intel on the secret plans of Landis. Yes, the deadlocked Rahsaan taking midnight calls from the Texan. This is dark and beautiful and so clandestine.
Now great drama is like killer real estate: it’s all about location, location, location. The Lance & Landis show has already taken us all over the world and then in episode two brilliantly added the Los Angeles party scene of Rock Racing’s Michael Ball and the gritty inner city landscape of Bahati’s Compton ghetto. This is a sprawling and richly textured landscape that underlines the moral dissolution of the main characters.
Now, the show takes us to the backwater of Idyllwild, California where Landis keeps a home. On his training rides in the deserted hills he felt a menacing presence — yes, Livestrong vigilantes watching his every move — and felt compelled to put some emails in place as protection in case his health suddenly went murderously downhill.
Idyllwild, folks, could you write a more symbolic town name for the mad Mennonite? Just one of those little touches that cram hot peppers in your orifices and demand you pay closer attention. The Lance and Landis show could sweep the Emmys and grab a few Oscars without even trying. This show doesn’t know when to stop blowing our minds.
Now, we at Twisted Spoke were thrilled when spin-master Fabiani was brought on the show with his Washington DC political dirty tricks. This character has not let us down for an instant, jumping out the gate and stealing his first scene with his aria about tainted eggs and salmonella poisoning.
Episode four gave him more tremendous scenes — Fabiani is the kind of character a writer dreams of creating. He’s a language twister, a fabricator, a spinner — you can put all sorts of crazy crap in his mouth. Audiences groan and cheer, they hate him, they love him, but you can’t take your eyes off the man. Witness his latest classic creation: ” Floyd-brications.” You can’t make that stuff up, people.
The very definition of a blockbuster drama is that you have no idea where it’s going next. Each week the Lance & Landis Show tricks and intrigues us with subtle clues and strange coincidences and flat out bizarre tangents that may or may not mean everything. Even twitter’s FakeFloyd is following Twisted Spoke in an attempt to figure out where the show is headed next and what it all means. Welcome, buddy.
Witness this weeks’ freak curve ball that we’re still trying to figure out. Suddenly there’s a bomb-scare and a gunman killed after a hostage standoff at the Discovery Channel building. Okay, conspiracy theorists: was that Lance and Johan Bruyneel trying to pull attention away from US Postal with a genius Discovery Team switch or Floyd Landis sending a coded message only he and FakeFloyd could understand?
Even fans of the Lance & Landis Show who are deep into the story wonder how much crazier the show can get? Way crazier is your obvious answer. This show smacks you in the face with hard knocks legal drama and then pulls the Pinarello right out from under you with black comedy. You have painful road rash and yet you cannot stop laughing.
Episode four ended with what appeared to be nothing less than the sinking of the Titanic, “the Armstrong Confession” with the boss at at large press conference with a big announcement to make. Many viewers literally stopped breathing and several rabid Livestrong supporters had to be airlifted to nearby hospitals even before he’d made his climactic admission.
Whew, we died several times but what we discovered — and again, massive kudos to the shows’ creators — was that the confession was a hoax, a dream sequence, a fake admission scene put on by the Onion magazine. A masterstroke that had us hyperventilating more than Diehard 2 or Inception. You can stack any scene from Mad Men or the Sopranos against Lance & Landis and what we’re calling the “Betsy & the Onion” episode.
How high is the creative bar? When the Feds faked the Hincapie crash in the Tour of Utah to spirit big George away to testify in episode three, we thought the story-telling simply could not get any more brilliant. Then Betsy Andreu starting squawking and the Onion blew up.
We didn’t deserve a show as good as the Lance & Landis Show. But it’s ours to revel in and we can barely stand to wait another week for the next thrilling episode.
Episode 5. Cabo & Waffles.
The Lance & Landis Show, the IT show, the must-see doping controversy, the show Mad Men wishes it was, grabbed us by our lycra ass and took us for a wild joy ride again.
Episode four rocked hard bringing in Betsey Andreu and the Onion for what appeared to be the Boss, breaking down at a public new conference to reveal that he had ddd….dop…. NO! It was a flash back, a dramatic rug pull that left us breathless and confused and our Kelme jersey soaked in sweat.
The fifth installment of the Lance & Landis show took off where that scorcher ended. The scene opened up with a curious tableau, a sudden and unexpected dramatic shift that forced many fans to ask the essential question: has Lance raised the white flag, has he suddenly lost his mind?
With Federal pit-pull, the bald and bad-ass Jeff Novitzky on his trail, and with evidence — however circumstantial or compromised — mounting up, the Boss unaccountably loses his aggression. Tank of testosterone empty.
With shit hitting fans from LA to Austin, the seven time Tour de France winner went into hiding in Mexico. A shocker but just the kind of brilliant story telling always delivered by the Lance & Landis show.
Had his mind simply snapped, his resolve and power evaporated? On the surface it was billed by Lance as an ordinary “boys trip” but it was an obvious escape plan: Armstrong, his long time agent Bill Stapleton and forever friend Bart Knaggs holed up across the border playing endless rounds of golf.
Yes, Juan Pelota flees to Mexico where extradition laws are shaky and the margaritas cheap. (Still to be resolved: did he bring any signature Trek art bikes or is this just surf and turf?)
The telltale signs: Anna Hansen and kids left behind in Austin. This was not a planned move — it was desperation, a midnight run, a man in #28 striped pajamas going over the wall and heading for a Cabo San Lucas safe-house.
One minute Mellow Johnny is at his son’s little league football game and the next, it’s No Country For Old Cyclists and he’s in a fortified Cabo bungalow with the shades up and a freezer full of microwave burritos.
In a masterful stroke, the show writers continued to develop Lance’s obsession with his new Honey Stinger waffles. Holy Humping Jesus, said Lance supporters, Rome is burning and all the emperor can talk about are his waffles.
This is the kind of character development that blows people away, like when Tony Soprano had his fixation with the ducks in his swimming pool. Searing, riveting and Freudian in a way we can only feel but never explain.
Meanwhile arch villain and nemesis Floyd Landis was making his own bolt for the bushes or in this case, the outback. The mad Mennonite was in Geelong, Australia ruffling UCI president Pat “hot air” McQuaid’s feathers. It’s an upside down world down under and suddenly the stakes are not only higher, they’re flipped 180 degrees.
Here’s the relentless genius of the show producers: they went into deep character for Landis, showing viewers another side of the Man Who Shot Liberty Lance. Landis delivered a heartfelt, honest, and professional view of doping in pro cycling. No jokes, no Kid Rock, no Fat Bastard ale, no cryptic cynicism.
Who’s crazy now, we’re forced to ask ourselves. The man on the lam or the man in the suit at the anti-doping conference? The mind reels, the world turns, the peloton trembles with anticipation.
Did she or didn’t she? Lance & Landis fans are still grappling with this poison ivy itch. Did Oakley gal Friday rep Stephanie McIlvain recant her original testimony that unlike Betsy Andreu (aka Kate Jackson) she never heard Lance tell his cancer doctors he’d used a whole pharmacy of illegal doping products?
The sneaky Greg Lemond recorded her phone conversation in which, he claims, she might have admitted he might have lied in a might have way. After a fresh grilling by the Feds, her lawyer insists she stuck to her story and yet….
Would the sassy Stephanie, who once had Lance’s arm on her back at the Ante Up For Autism Auction, be willing to change her tune? Let’s just say she’s wearing the darkest sunglasses Oakley makes. Welcome to the show cast Steph and beware, rumors are there’s a mud-fight with you and Betsy in a future episode.
If this all sounds bleak and fraught with danger for the greatest endurance athlete of our time, a national treasure, the man who’s personally raised more cancer-killing dollars than anyone on the planet, then hit the brakes and study the show from another angle.
The Lance & Landis show is so rich in dramatic story-lines, sub-plots, stars and secondary characters that it keeps us second guessing from moment to moment, always on the edge of our San Marcos. Anything can and will happen at anytime, folks. Even Fake Floyd doesn’t know where this Abel & Cain thing is headed.
Because … what if Lance has already won? What if the Mexico boys trip was in fact a triumphant victory vacation? What if Armstrong is so confident that the Feds can’t break his close pal George Hincapie (who they sweated pretty hard) or Oakley girl Stephanie or former Postal teammate Kevin Livingston (now working as a coach at Mellow Johnny’s in Austin!) that he feels like he can golf and eat waffles all day. Do NOT doubt the iron will and Machiavellian power of the man once known as Lance Edward Gunderson.
Endless Questions, tantalizing clues, tangled subplots, a veritable pu-pu platter of dramatic and comedic possibility. Having already shattered all conventions and barriers, the Lance & Landis show continues to redefine what episodic black comedy is. It’s better than Mad Men and the Tour de France combined!
Episode 6. A surreal Nightmare.
Genius, there is no other word.
The Lance & Landis Show reached deep into its creative soul and delivered genius.
Episode six presented us with one long 45 minute scene with not a single cut, a vast dreamscape to rival anything famous directors Federico Fellini or Akira Kurosawa have ever conjured or imagined.
The show opened with Armstrong walking across the desert scrub of the Texas Hill country. He appears lost, disorientated, naked except for a worn U.S. Postal bib short with the suspenders down. Holding a floor pump in his left hand, he wanders.
He turns and sees UCI President McQuaid who holds out a pen and blank check, beseeching the Texan. Lance shudders — McQuaid’s eye sockets are black and empty — and a carnival monkey sits atop his head with its fuzzy fingers plugging the Irishman’s ears.
Armstrong continues across the strange landscape and there is Tyler Hamilton, holding a bag of blood. Hamilton squeezes the bag over his head and the blood gushes onto his face only now it’s the face of his dog Tugboat who barks viciously at Lance.
Further on, there are three women standing on a small rise. Armstrong smiles — they look like the 7o’s Charlie’s Angels. They beckon seductively but then two angels disappear in smoke and the third Angel played by Kate Jackson morphs into Betsy Andreu. She laughs derisively at Armstrong and throws a burning bush at him.
There’s a sudden rainstorm and Armstrong takes shelter under a large oak tree. A ghost appears and who is it but Dr. Michele Ferrari holding a pitcher of orange juice. Armstrong knocks the pitcher over and runs off, dropping the floor pump.
He fords a shallow stream, stopping halfway across to watch a copy of David Walsh’s book From Landis to Lance. Inside the American doping Controversy float past. He kicks it downstream as he screams aloud in anger.
He hears a voice calling him, offering shelter or hope or redemption. It’s big George Hincapie who hands him a warm blanket and a toasty Honey Stinger waffle. Lance hugs his old friend but then recoils in horror. Hincapie has two faces, front and back. “No, no, no, no,” the Texan shouts.
He scrambles up a small hill and slips, rolling down the other side. There’s an old road in the near distance, covered with potholes, almost reclaimed by the desert. But wait, he sees a pickup truck, salvation, kicking dust and headed toward him.
He flags it down and rushes around to the man at the wheel. “I gotta get out of this place,” says the Boss. But the man smiles, a bald man, so tall his shiny dome touches the roof of the truck. It’s Federal Agent Jeff Novitzky.
Armstrong is on the run now, as fast as he can go in this surreal desert landscape. He passes two teen boys with baseball bats smashing a Nissan Leaf while they drink Michelob Ultra, Lance’s lifestyle beer of choice.
Then he runs past a crazy man in dirty white robes preaching while holding a white dove in one hand and a black dove in the other. A terrible flash of recognition: it’s Greg Lemond and suddenly Lemond bites the head off the white dove and spits it out. The bloody birdhead stares at Lance and chirps the word “Trek” before shutting its eyes.
He hears dance music and scrambles past a ravine to see Michael Ball, ex-CEO of Rock Racing dancing with a beautiful Asian woman in a wheel chair. She’s paralyzed in the arms and legs and spins her chair wildly back and forth with her joystick as Ball does an awkward jig to a Lil’ Wayne rap track.
Breathing heavy now, Lance discovers he’s on a sand dune, pure white sand that feels cool to his feet. Two bedouins on camelback wearing old T-Mobile jerseys wave at him. One man is heavy-set and has tears in his eyes. It’s Jan Ullrich. They disappear like a mirage.
Armstrong follows the line of the dune as it descends toward what looks like an oasis. Suddenly there’s a furious roar as a killer in a biplane last seen in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest tries to terminate Armstrong. In seconds the plane is gone.
He draws near the oasis but cannot open an iron gate that runs across the desert, seemingly without end. A voice. “Whatchu want, man?” Armstrong feels a hand on his shoulder and turns to see Rahsaan Bahati holding an empty Coke bottle. His body is covered in graffiti like his old Cannondale Bahati race bike. “Whatchu want?” demands Bahati.
“I want this to go away,” begs Lance. Bahati laughs, but no, it’s not Bahati, it’s the cool black dude in the Old Spice commercials and now he’s covering his entire body with shaving cream and laughing maniacally. The strange character runs off, shouting for his horse.
Armstrong sinks to his knees and looks up at the merciless sun. For a moment he blacks out. When he regains consciousness, he sees his seven Tour de France yellow jerseys hanging on a line like faded, shredded Tibetan prayer flags. They are hung upside down and suddenly there are tears and Lance is crying like a baby. So many miles, so many, many miles.
He enters the garden oasis and a glorious pool of shimmering cool water awaits. He gets on his hands and knees to drink but is kicked on his side. A man dressed in nothing but a filthy loincloth stands over him. A tongue comes out of the man’s mouth like a long snake and wraps itself around Lance’s throat strangling him. Then the tongue is gone and the man is now Floyd Landis in an old Phonak Kit, swigging a bottle of Fat Bastard Ale.
At his feet is a naked Sheryl Crow and she’s licking Landis’ calf like an erotic puppy. The Mad Mennonite pats her head and she slinks off without looking at Lance. Landis kneels down and says in an exaggerated drawl, “How you doing, brother?” The word brother begins to echo and becomes louder and louder until Armstrong covers his ears in pain. Then nothing, silence, everything gone but the sand and the cry of a baby.
Armstrong snaps awake in a chair in a hospital delivery room. A doctor hands him his fifth child, little Cinco. He shudders, then smiles, taking the baby in his arms. Thank God, it was all just a horrible dream.
That was the latest episode of the spell-binding and magnificent Lance & Landis show. A show many critics hail as perhaps the greatest black comedy drama in television history — bigger than the Sopranos and Mad Men put together.
At the end of this astonishing opus, Twisted Spoke was emotionally drained, our Kelme jersey soaked, our mouth parched dry, our mind warped by so many visions and apocalyptic symbols and strange messages. It was a cathartic religious experience, as if my mind had snapped from too much growth hormone.
Where does the Lance & Landis show go from here? Who could possibly out-guess the brilliance of the show creators — whoever these exceptional writers are and whoever is directing this thing. Simply give thanks, because Operacion Puerto was a good show, but cheap costume jewelry compared to this dazzling and heavily doped diamond.
Episode 7. Interpol Party.
Everyone in the interpol.
After last episode’s hour long dream sequence that somehow combined David Lynch, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa, the Lance & Landis show got back in action with all uzis blazing.
The last episode had Lance wandering in a desert dreamscape of allusion and illusion but this week, it was gritty international crime. God, why are we so blessed?
The show opened up with loyal Lance domestique Yaroslav Popovych harmlessly signing autographs in Austin when the Feds nailed him, served him and interrogated him. Yes, one minute he’s giving fans his John Doevych, the next he’s got his hand on a English-Ukranian bible promising to tell whatever truth he can fabricate.
Popovych was about to head home to Italy when a Fed armed with subpoena accosted him at his rental car in the parking lot outside Mellow Johnny. How’s that for going deep into enemy country? Popo got popped with paperwork and now a euro canary sings or doesn’t.
The scene was classic Lance & Landis: in your face, raw with tension, laced with black comedy and totally unexpected. A quick time lapse and slam, whip pan, we’re suddenly in Europe having lunch with Interpol. This is drama with a 60 foot capital D, the must-see Doping Con-Tro-Ver-See.
Yes, who’s that leaving the tired, dull and grimy Fed offices and stepping onto the ecstatic streets of Paris but the three wise men: bald headed badass Novitzky, federal prosecutor Doug Miller and US Anti-doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart. They’re not here for the Eiffel tower, a few glasses of Bordeaux and a feathery lap dance at the Folie Bergere.
No, this is business and personal and Lance. The only tour they got was of the French anti-doping agency fridges and file cabinets. Eh oui! One day you’re an underpaid, hard working Fed gum-shoeing a bunch of steroid gyms in Norcal and a few years later you’re in France on Uncle Sam’s dime.
After the intense dream-driven psychosis of episode 6, the show stayed close to the action. Viewers had to laugh at the pointless search of Popovych’s Italian digs. The Boss thinks rings around you people! If there was anything to be found, he would have had the Ukrainian pc wiped months ago. You want to beat the man, out-think the man, Dr. NoVitzky.
The show was crazy with subtitles as first the French paraded in the meeting room in Lyon with knotted sweaters and cigarettes, then the Italian police filed in carrying fresh evidence and proscuitto. Minutes later, the room got comedy-crowded as the Belgian police joined the party, with a case of Trappist ale. Novitzky will get somebody to squeal and he doesn’t care what language they use: English, French, Italian or Dutch.
Things only got more hilarious as the whole multi-lingual congregation visited the French Anti-doping Museum. They spent an hour in the Armstrong Wing where they picked thru the medical waste fished out of various dumpsters during Lance’s tour parade. Viewers hit the floor laughing when the Belgians actually hopped over the velvet rope to climb into a dumpster — it’s a display, fellas, not the real thing!
Back at Le Hotel Des Feds, things only got more outrageously funny as they argued about how to pack up the old US Postal blood and urine samples from 1999. FBI special agent Olivier Faraole, making his first appearance on the show, rescued the situation by padding the urine samples with his spare underwear. A nice stylish touch.
Some Armstrong fans may feel like the sharks are circling but no, the only shark was in a lycra jersey and riding far away in New Zealand. Still, the show worked the symbolism. Floyd Landis, the mad mennonite, was riding the Tour of the Southland — yes, “going down” — and doing a guest gig for Orca Velo. A sweet contrast.
Is Juan Peloton angry? You bet your last Michelob Ultra he is — that’s Lance’s lifestyle beer of choice. The show creators ramped up the drama by having the Livestrong organization shift mission, dropping cancer to destroy an even uglier, life-threatening disease — Floyd Landis. The yellow rubber band became a hangman’s noose.
Radicals within Livestrong hijacked and renamed the organization Litigate Strong and turned vigilante. Viewers were caught off guard when a Lance mob descended — or rather climbed — to Landis’ remote Idyllwild wood cabin and burned it to the ground.
There’s no other way to describe that sequence but searing, searing hot. It’s just pure luck that Landis mother-confessor and ESPN writer Bonnie Ford wasn’t asleep on the couch. Collateral damage.
Bang, match cut of cabin flames to Armstrong spin master Mark fabulous Fabiani lighting a cigarette and easing back on his leather coach. A long day, shoes off, he scans the news of the Fed Raid in Italy. A weary “no comment.”
What? Is the man out of spin, completely devoid of mind-altering nonsense, creative reframing, media manipulation? Allusion, illusion — the Lance and Landis show toys with us — no spin for the spinning two wheels of the Boss? This is a sub-plot ready to explode: the unmasking of an exhausted spin doctor.
Then, as per brilliant, the Lance & Landis show shifted gears more effortlessly than Shimano Di2, moving to the man himself, in quiet, high level conversation with Dr Harold Varmus, head doc at the National Cancer Institute. Glaring subtext: Can anyone see this man Armstrong is a saint and everyone should let go of their useless and naive views of cycling right and wrong?
Just another example of the powerful ethical and philosophical questions the Lance & Lance show forces us to confront. As in, maybe Jesus didn’t always bathe as much as he should but look at his beautiful message. Maybe Ghandi should have eaten more cheeseburgers so he wasn’t as emaciated as Dane Michael Rasmussen but my God, he changed the world. Yeah, that, in spades.
Which might have been enough creative astonishment for one episode of Mad Men or The Sopranos, but not the for writers of L & L. No, they went deeper and showed the most famous endurance athlete in the world in the most human of ways. His knee hurts. He’s at the park with Anna and the kids. He’s talking with the Texas lieutenant governor about a smoking ban.
What human being do we know trying to get more good life-affirming bidness done than Lance? The tonal transformation left us guilty and ill at ease with every bedrock opinion we’d formed. Genius at work and another reason this show is head and Giro helmet above anything else on screen.
Episode seven was a transitional one, setting several stages around the globe and prepping us for shocking events to come. Yes, we wept, we laughed, we tore our old Postal jersey to pieces, then sewed it back together.
Like most viewers, we were a cauldron of conflicting emotions. We were as blind-sided as Yaroslav Popovych in Texas. The Lance & Landis show has rocketed out of the mundane orbit of Laurel and Hardy, Tony and Carmella Soprano, Don Draper and Roger Sterling.
We have two breathtaking and complex characters pitted in a death cage match fought from Austin to Los Angeles, from Lyon, France to Idyllwild, California. Stay tuned.
Episode 8. This is WAR!!!
BOOM. The earth shakes and in the distance, a blaze of flames and column of black smoke. BOOM, BOOM, two missiles launched by a US jet streak toward unseen ground targets and explode.
Cut inside the fighter jet, rear cockpit, full combat gear, laughing his ass off, it’s seven time Tour de France champ and cancer-killer Lance Armstrong.
BOOM. Another rocket hits an abandoned soviet-era convoy truck. It explodes in a fireball, Armstrong screaming like the Texas Longhorns just beat Penn State in overtime.
Where the hell are we? Afghanistan, Bagram airforce base, home of the 455th air combat unit. Stated mission: ‘Fighting Terror and Building Peace’.
War — has it really come to this? That’s what hard-core Lance & Landis fans were asking. Was it full metal jacket time? Was this a Hurt Locker headed the mad Mennonite’s way? Was the terror not the Taliban but instead a certain tattle tale former Postal rider? It sure has looked that way judging from all the explosions.
The man behind Livestrong never looked this strong before — or this heavily armed. The show unfolded with a series of increasingly powerful and shocking events. Armstrong and his top people testing automatic weapons with the technical assistance of US Rangers. The Boss pouring over topo maps with military planners — did anyone fail to notice that map wasn’t Afghanistan but Southern California — home of Landis?
And why was comedian pal Robin Williams involved and dressed in full combat fatigues? He was too old to be a mercenary and yet there he was, in the thick of the action and no jokes for anyone. Was rock star and Armstrong buddy Bono involved in any way? Let’s not forget that U2’s first gold album was entitled War. It was time to pick sides and draw a line in the sand.
And finally, why was US admiral Mike Mullen in private conversations with the Boss? The fool’s answer was a USO entertain-the-troops story but who’s really buying that when Federal Agent Jeff Novitzky is flying around the world in an attempt to bring down the king.
The brilliant Lance & Landis show had just upped the stakes for the hundredth time and all the pieces suddenly fell into place. What started as an ugly pissing match between two hard-headed men had escalated until there was no other solution but armed conflict. No deals, no compromise, no UN resolution.
We should have seen this coming but the writers on the show kept us guessing and now ducking for cover. The stage had been carefully set for months and once again kudos to the Lance & Landis writers who trump Mad Men and the Sopranos for dramatic story telling.
The warning signs we overlooked on the way to battle: Lance spin-master Mark Fabiani slowly running out of gas unable to turn the tide of public opinion. The Fabiani character is a fascinating creation who quickly spun out of orbit, lost in his own fabrications.
The scene in the hotel bathroom where Fabiani stands in front of the mirror holding a Scotch rocks and recounting his old Clinton Whitewater spins was genius, a master of disaster descending into his own personal madness.
Then there was Fed pit bull Jeff Novitzky amping up his investigation and flying to Europe to interview the French, Italian and Belgian anti-doping authorities and bring home some old Armstrong urine samples as Christmas gifts.
Was there no stopping this federal agent, the Man from BALCO, Armstrong’s personal Terminator? The truth was that Juan Pelota’s legal team is now simply over-matched, out of gambits and unable to intimidate. A shocking development.
Let’s not forget just how hard the Boss has been pushed around. The Feds even abducted Big George Hincapie and sweated him good. So the bloody handwriting was on the wall, there were no other options left except for the Boss to empty the war chest and dial up the shock and awe, Armstrong style.
The tension was pumped up to 150 PSI and the Sidis were cranked as tight as they go. The chopper sequence with the Boss humming Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” sent chills down every spine in the house. Hell yeah, the boss was back and it was troll-killing time.
There was a body bag with Floyd Landis’ name on it. And who was gonna stop the Apocalypse Now when Landis has no special forces? He’s unarmed and unprotected in his battered Idyllwild mountain cabin — a helpless and easy target for the surgical strike now in final preparation. This was Armstrong’s War and this time it wasn’t a Daniel Coyle book title.
A searing episode eight then ended with a dark comedy moment for which the Lance & Landis writers are famous. A worried Greg Lemond in his kitchen loading an old shotgun, fumbling with the shells and knocking over a pitcher of milk. It this the only soldier in the Landis army?
Things look bleak for the man with the titanium hip. Stay tuned because the Lance & Landis show is the rockin-est show you could possibly imagine.
Episode 9. Fire & Water
Somethings burning! It’s the Lance & Landis show, in a tour de force of dramatic storytelling.
Barely seconds into the story, the arson began. Floyd Landis inside his ramshackle Idyllwild cabin looking like a raving street person. He’s dumping a gas can, wearing an old Livestrong jersey with the letter v cut out — Lie Strong — and a pair of filthy boxers.
He’s grinning like a drug fiend as he empties the rest of the gas onto a race bike on the floor. A lit match. FLAMES. He turns on a boom-box: Jim Morrison singing Light My Fire. Landis dances manically around the fiery bike as the shabby drapes catch fire. HARD CUT.
GASPING FOR BREATH, RUSHING WATER.
A man in suit, face down in a toilet-bowl. Another man –oh my God — it’s Lance Armstrong shoving the man’s head back in the toilet and flushing. It’s Mark Fabiani, Lance’s damage control PR expert. Armstrong jerks Fabiani’s head up, the man’s eyes popping, seconds from drowning. “You like this spin! Is that what I pay you for?” Armstrong shouts. Uber agent Bill Stapleton holds out the damning Sports Illustrated magazine. “You like spin?” The Boss shoves Fabiani back in the toilet and flushes.
Landis and Lance. Fire and water.
Jesus and Mother Mary and Patrick McQuaid! This was too much, the brilliant writers of the Lance & Landis show threw every log on the bonfire, leaving us gasping and choking. Then tossed us, still smoking, into the rip-tide waters, our lungs bursting, passing out from lack of oxygen. Fire and water. The great flood, the biblical fire, the End of Days.
Much has been written about the thematic genius of the Lance and Lance show, the archetypal good versus bad, David and Goliath, heroes and goats, a show that somehow channels Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the Three Stooges. A murky world of lies, loyalties, vengeance and vendetta, black humor and raw drama, legend and myth, an Able and Cain on bikes.
The midnight scene of a drunken Landis standing outside watching his cabin burn to the ground was searing. The moment where Fabiani begs for mercy from Lance as the failed spin-master drowns in a toilet bowl haunts us a week later.
Yet that is the singular genius of the Lance & Landis show. One moment we face the fires of Apocalypse and the raging waters of the Great Flood. Then, suddenly, the world changes, a new dawn arises and everything we suspect and fear and hope is turned inside out.
The dizzying climax of the show pulled us back from the brink. Like battling a cancer that has metastasized out of control, this story is about ultimately about survival, great loss and painful redemption.
There was Landis suddenly smiling again in a Hollywood production company conference room, spinning crazy Tour de France stories as three writers laugh and take notes. There is Lance Armstrong, the greatest endurance athlete in our history, holding little Cinqo close as he reads her a story about a brave princess and a cowardly dragon.
Life it seems, despite the fires of Hell and the sin-cleansing Flood, goes on.
What did we really understand, after all? How are we, the drive-by gawkers, the superficial judges who live our own small lives, to comprehend this rich tapestry? Who is saint and who is sinner? What defines right from wrong, good from evil, legend from reality?
These are the primal questions that insist we return again and again to the Lance & Landis show. One thing we know: There will be no end to the fire, no end to the flood.
Disclaimer: Twisted Spoke makes no claims of guilt or innocence or the validity of legal testimony or arguments. This is strictly a wildly imagained piece of creative writing. No actual events used in the making of this post. We’re just enjoying the best show that isn’t on TV.