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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Be Good Johnny Weir’ earns perfect 6.0

Published: March 19, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

Johnny Weir, three time United States men’s figure skating champion, 2008 Worlds bronze medalist, and two-time Olympian (fifth in Torino, sixth in Vancouver), announced a week ago that he will not compete at the World Figure Skating Competition which begins this weekend. According to media outlets, Weir is taking time to “reassess” his “strategies and goals.” He plans to be “re-energized” for next season, which, he hopes, will be his “most exciting” yet.

I understand why Weir would choose to skip Worlds. Since the Olympics ended in February, he has been on a publicity whirlwind, stopping by the sets of “Regis and Kelly” and “Larry King Live,” showing up on red carpets and plugging his reality series “Be Good Johnny Weir” on the Sundance Channel. If you follow his Twitter feed (or periodically check his show’s Web site), you’d know that his media appearances have precluded training—the kiss of death for any elite level athlete weeks away from international competition. Going into Worlds untrained would spell disaster for Weir. Still, I’m disappointed that I won’t get to see Weir’s perfect mix of defiance and grace on the ice this weekend.

Thank goodness for his aforementioned docu-series “Be Good Johnny Weir,” which airs Monday nights on the Sundance Channel (I watch it on iTunes or YouTube). Without it, I might wither away in a deep Johnny-withdrawal-induced depression. I love Johnny Weir. In the skating corner of my heart, he has a special place beside Michelle Kwan, which is no laughing matter considering my deep and abiding love for Kwan spanning the past 12 years.

But even if my love of figure skating and my love of Weir were less profound, “Be Good Johnny Weir” would still be the perfect reality show. First, Weir is an ideal subject. He is charismatic, hugely funny and not the least bit shy (nary an episode goes by without a shot of Weir in his designer undies). Moreover, he is going through real athletic turmoil. The first episode of the series, which is actually the film-length documentary “Pop Star on Ice,” shows Weir’s fall from grace at the 2007 U.S. championships and his split from his longtime coach Pricilla Hill. In the next episode, we see Weir bounce back from disappointment with his new Soviet-trained coach Galina and a bronze medal at the 2008 World Championships. But Weir’s comeback is short-lived. Illness keeps him off the podium at the 2009 U.S. championships and off the Worlds roster in the third episode.

Any athlete’s career is filled with moments of triumph and moments of failure, but we care about Weir’s failures because we grow to care about him. Though I wouldn’t characterize Weir as modest, his challenges are not simply the complaints of the over-privileged or the self-involved. We see him struggle with money, struggle with friendships (his BFF and roommate Paris flies the coop, forcing Weir to move right before an overseas competition), struggle with the pressure to succeed and struggle with his own vision of himself. At one point, he wonders aloud to the camera whether it’s time for his career to be over, if it’s time to go to college (he wants to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan), if he has enough money to pay tuition or if, after so many years of skating, he needs to learn how to make a latte.

He is a young man with extraordinary gifts struggling with the consequences of his abilities and his dreams. He is at times the underdog we root for and at other times the tragic figure to whom we can relate. But “Be Good Johnny Weir” is the furthest thing from a sob fest. Weir has an engaging sense of humor and an appreciated sense of irony. In one scene, he tells the camera that “loneliness is terrible.” But he can amuse himself with his vacuum cleaner—cut to a shot of Weir fastidiously vacuuming his living room carpet—and, if he’s really lonely, he can make shadow puppets on the walls. It’s the perfect wink-wink moment that makes “Be Good Johnny Weir” so compelling and so funny.

Unfortunately, “Be Good Johnny Weir” comes to an end March 22, just in time for me to switch my attentions from Weir to Worlds. I will miss his presence, and I will miss even more the possibility that he might place high enough to perform his Lady Gaga exhibition. But I will remain strong, secure in the knowledge that the episodes live on in my heart and on my computer.