Review: BS High isn’t short on intrigue or absurdism, but the new documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Bishop Sycamore doesn’t press against its founder, Roy Johnson, nearly enough. It’s a movie that’ll have your jaw on the floor, but have you despising its intent by the end.
After the infamous football game between IMG Academy and Bishop Sycamore back in 2021, when one of the country’s top powerhouse prep schools annihilated a would-be fraudulent opponent by a score of 58-0 on ESPN, everyone knew a straight-to-streaming documentary was coming down the pipeline. There were just too many oddities not to look away, from the announcers apologizing on air for calling such a ridiculous affair, to the eventual discovery that the kids playing for Bishop Sycamore were years removed from high school.
The question wasn’t *if* a documentary was coming, more so when and how. Would it come from the perspective of the players involved in such a scheme, or football analysts taking it in from a distance, or even just crosscutting between newsreels of these events?
These are certainly all pieces of HBO’s newest documentary film BS High, but they all revolve around the character at the center: Bishop Sycamore coacher and “founder” Roy Johnson. Directors Martin Desmond Roe and Travon Free spend much of BS High laying out the events that led to the creation of Bishop Sycamore and diving headfirst into the brains behind the operation.
But while Roe and Free cobble together a documentary that certainly is fascinating and informative, they deliver one of documentary filmmaking’s biggest misfires and an insufferable avenue for Roy Johnson to continue to achieve what he so desperately, unabashedly desires.
BS High does its homework, meticulously documenting the string of nasty moves Roy Johnson makes as he schemes his way towards selling young adults the dream of making it to college and possibly playing professional football. He works to maneuver funds from local church groups, bounce fake checks printed at local printing services, and schedule one of the toughest high school football schedules ever assembled.
It’s all fascinating as BS High gets in the weeds about each of Johnson’s terrible acts, which include (but are certainly not limited to) calling markets to make extra food for his players, never showing up to buy the meals, and then eventually buying them later on that same night when they’re marked down in price, and running over a gaggle of geese multiple times with his players in the car to instill fear and anger in them. Seriously, at one point he calls on his players to beat a homeless person to show that they have the fight to survive.
Roy Johnson is a deranged sociopath only interested in gaining fame an attention, which makes it so blatantly wrong and infuriating to make an entire documentary around him where he continues to spew this same faulty belief he has in himself. Martin Desmond Roe, Travon Free, and HBO are doing a disservice making BS High in this manner, amplifying the coach instead of using it as a platform to let these kids’ voices be heard in a real and authentic way. They’re capitalizing on the Bishop Sycamore story the same way Roy Johnson did, and still is.
And the final 15 minutes mark a new low, when Johnson (in a scene that sure seems to be staged) gets worked up over a clip shown to him where one of his former players calls him a fraud and a conman. Roy Johnson excuses himself from the interview and throws a fit in the parking lot about how he doesn’t understand where his players got this perspective. It’s nasty, and the only moments where BS High feels like it’s doing the right thing is when they bring in outside investigators like workers for the Ohio High School Athletics Association to clown the people responsible for Bishop Sycamore.
I thought about two separate political events during my time musing over BS High: the election of Donald Trump and the housing crisis in 2007. Trump’s batshit insane theory that all publicity is good publicity no matter how fowl and destructive rings through in BS High – surely no surprise to anyone that Roy Johnson seems to be fond of the former President, as noted in deleted footage covered by GQ.
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And then there’s the 2007 housing crisis that led to a global financial crisis. In 2010, there was an incredible documentary Inside Job that simplified the causes of the crisis so that general audiences could comprehend the magnitude. In the doc, director Charles Ferguson interviews a handful of financial analysists that were part of the industry that caused millions of families to lose their homes and income. Ferguson is relentless in his research, aggressively pushing against any interviewee that avoids claiming responsibility for their part in the crisis.
If Martin Desmond Roe and Travon Free were at all interested in making an honest, comprehensive documentary about Roy Johnson and his fraudulent football program, they would’ve pressed him more about the negative impact he caused and his delusional belief that he was doing the right thing.
Needless to say, I hated the tone, direction, and intentionality of BS High. There’s a difference between entertaining someone’s ideas and enabling them to further their own platform through a continued avoidance of taking responsibility. The final moments are astonishing as Johnson announces he’ll keep churning this program out over and over. Honestly, who greenlit this?
Where to watch BS High: Max
BS High Movie Credits
Cinematography: David Markun
BS High movie on Letterboxd
BS High movie on IMDb