LOS ANGELES, May 5 (UPI) -- An upcoming episode of ABC's "George Lopez" takes on steroid use by young athletes -- embedding a serious message in a comic take on the issue.
The episode -- titled "George Stare-oids Down Jason" -- focuses on the pressure on a high school football player to bulk up so he can compete with bigger, stronger players. The character, Jason, is living in the home of Lopez's character -- and also happens to be the boyfriend of Lopez's daughter.
Lopez -- the author of last year's best-selling autobiography "Why You Crying? : My Long, Hard Look at Life, Love, and Laughter" -- teamed with Executive Producer Bruce Helford to come up with the story, and Michael Loftus wrote the script. Lopez is recuperating from an April 25 kidney transplant and was not available for an interview, but a representative for the actor said he wanted to do the episode because he has strong feelings about the risks associated with taking anabolic steroids.
Steroids have been shown to be effective in enhancing athletic performance, but there is a rather lengthy list of adverse side effects. Athletes and bodybuilders who engaged in "stacking" -- administering steroids both orally and through injection -- compound the risk to their health, according to the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science.
Possible side effects include acne, accelerated hair loss for those already prone to it and aggressive behavior -- commonly known as "'roid rage" -- which some athletes regard as a plus.
Other side effects include the risk, for men, of shrunken testicles, reduced sperm count and the possibility that excessive levels of testosterone can be converted into estrogen, resulting in formation of breasts.
The list also includes impotence, high blood pressure and kidney malfunction -- and some studies have suggested that steroid use can be a risk factor for heart disease, since it can affect cholesterol levels.
That's all fairly serious stuff for a TV comedy, but Helford -- whose writing and producing credits also include "The Drew Carey Show" and "Roseanne" -- told United Press International the episode takes pains to avoid being preachy.
"If you do it wrong, a sitcom can really trivialize an important subject," he said, "so you want to try not to turn people off with that stuff."
Helford said he learned an important lesson about that from his first mentor in television, "Family Ties" creator Gary David Goldberg.
"He told me you are literally a 'broad' caster," said Helford. "You are speaking to a large number of people, and you have a large responsibility -- to entertain, but I do have a responsibility to say something. I don't want to waste a half hour of people's time."
Bryan Fisher, the actor who plays the young football player, drew from personal experience to prepare for the episode -- recalling his days as a varsity baseball and basketball player at Foothill High School in Orange County, south of Los Angeles.
"I never saw anybody taking steroids, but there were definitely rumors," he said. "Coaches tell everyone to stay off it, but they do pressure everyone to put on weight."
Fisher said he researched anabolic steroids and their side effects -- and then "worked out like crazy" for weeks leading up to the filming of the episode.
The storyline has the young man living with Lopez's family while he finishes high school and works out with a private trainer, paid for by his wealthy father -- played by veteran actor Stacy Keach. The boy's situation is complicated by the fact that his father wants so much for him to succeed in football that he condones the steroid use.
When the character breaks into a rage at one point, Fisher said he made the source of the rage the pressure the character was under -- because he felt trapped.
"You're put under so much pressure," he said. "You know what you're doing is wrong, but you believe it's the only way to compete. Friends and family are already talking about all the money you're going to be making, and you're told that if you don't do it the next guy will."
The scene in which Lopez urges the boy to stop using exemplifies the show's comedic approach to the weighty topic.
"Man, do it old school -- lift weights," he tells Jason. "You might have to work twice as hard, but that way you can walk around the gym with your head held high and your huevos down low."
The show is scheduled to air at 8:30 p.m. EDT, Tuesday.
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