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''Rollergirls''

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 2, 2006

I am old enough to remember roller derby as a game that was part of weekend-afternoon TV, when all the games seemed to come from the Kezar Pavilion, and where in my memory the announcer is extolling the glories of the San Francisco Bay Area Bombers. I also remember the presentation of the game in the 1972 Raquel Welch movie ''Kansas City Bomber,'' which is far from Welch's worst movie, and one with a pretty good performance by her. And I have tried to forget NBC's 1978 TV series ''Roller Girls,'' a terrible sitcom which co-starred Joanna Cassidy; since she's a pretty good actress, I hope her reason for doing the show involved a mortgage payment more than a sense that the show was actually good.


You may have other recollections of the game. It has had its moments of great fame, as Keith Coppage ably covered in the book ''Roller Derby to Rollerjam,'' a 1999 ''authorized story'' of the sport, which was released in conjunction with yet another attempt to revive interest in all that skating and jamming and thrown elbows. But the underside of the new A&E series ''Rollergirls'' is that the sport is still seeking real respectability and financial success.


In which major sport, for instance, would you be likely see players out on the street, handing out flyers to get fans into their games? And how far from the big time are you when www.bggw.com -- the Web site of the roller league chronicled in ''Rollergirls'' -- proclaims that the league's newest playing center ''features real, shiny bathrooms and fabulous heat/AC climate control''?


Still, ''Rollergirls,'' which premieres tonight, more than once indicates that the women in Holy Rollers and Hellcats and other teams are finding satisfaction in the rough-and-tumble of the game, whether because it gives them a chance to play for cheering throngs (or thronglets), or because it lets them be as tough as men (although there's a lot of cheesecake in this roller game), or because it's better than what they're managing to do anywhere else.


Unfortunately, as presented on TV, their quest is kind of boring -- a long round of conversation and drinking and smoking and longing, climaxing in an edited-down game that still isn't very interesting.


Oh, some of the characters began to grow on me as I worked my way through a second episode. But just as some of them became interesting, the show was off to another player, or an entirely different team, searching for more drama. And I wasn't drawn in enough to wait around for the rest of the previous player's story.


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