You don’t have to like sports to be completely obsessed with Hulu’s newest original series, “Behind the Mask.” It gets the same caveat as “Friday Night Lights” or “Game of Thrones,” even — don’t like football/fantasy/sports/whatever? Doesn’t matter! — this is a story about people, and if you don’t scream at your computer screen or cry during at least one episode, then you probably need to take a chisel to that iced-over heart of yours.
“Behind the Mask” follows the men who embody the mascots for teams at four distinct levels: high school, college, semi-pro, and professional. Of course, it also breaks the cardinal rule of mascoting: don’t reveal your face. But thank goodness these guys do reveal themselves, because “Behind the Mask” is a fascinating, emotional, and often hilarious look at what it takes to cheer on even the least spirited of communities.
Why mascots? “They’re superheroes. Everybody knows them at one minute, and then they don’t the next,” says creator Josh Greenbaum, whose Justin Timberlake-produced documentary about child golf pros, “The Short Game,” just hit theaters.
Bango, the acrobatic, rappelling, dunking, flipping mascot of the Milwaukee Bucks, is the closest to an actual superhero with his crazy stunts. His portrayer, Kevin Vanderkolk, won’t even let his five children tell their friends what he does for a living, so agreeing to be in the series was a major decision. “It semed like a good idea to maybe establish some credibility as performers, the guys behind the mask,” he tells Zap2it at the show’s Los Angeles premiere in October. “It was nerve-wracking, though, to put yourself out there for everybody to see.”
The scene-stealer of the show is Michael Hostetter, an awkward high schooler who decided to become the mascot of his high school in Lebanon, Penn. after a teacher made an announcement on the loudspeaker. After playing Rooty the Cedar Tree for two years, he now he has two varsity letters, the foundation for a college mascoting scholarship, and, after you watch, your heart. “Nobody really knows of Lebanon, and nobody in the community really accepts the tree. They’re like, ‘The tree is the mascot? That’s weird.’ It’s kind of helping us get some recognition,” he says of the show. “I feel like Lebanon needs to get up in the world.”
Michael loves being Rooty because “You basically get to act like a little kid all the time. There’s no feeling like it,” he says.
“FNL” fans, this is your Landry, Saracen, and Street all rolled into one. Just watch him ask one of the popular cheerleaders to homecoming and try not to get emotionally invested in the outcome. Dare you.
The documentary also follows Chad Spencer, a goofy former tire plant worker who is now AHL hockey’s Tux the Penguin, and Jon “Jersey” Goldman, a self-styled ladies’ man and sixth-year senior in his final year of a full ride to UNLV as the school’s Hey Reb. (All four mascots are pictured above, with Hulu development head Charlotte Koh.)
The first three episodes of “Behind the Mask” are live now, with new episodes posting every Tuesday at 12 a.m. ET.
Check out the premiere below: