Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Lakers have a reputation of being "Showtime" because they are located in Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood. It wasn't until Jerry Bess bought the team did they get this moniker. Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty shows why this moniker fits this team: it's the eccentric owner and the star player Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and the entire show they put on nightly at the Forum in LA.
Adam McKay's films The Big Short, Vice, and this past December's Don't Look Up from Netflix have garnered him quite the reputation as a filmmaker since he stopped making raunchy comedies with his now-defunct partnership with Will Ferrell. He decided to take his irreverent style in the direction of an HBO series about the Showtime Lakers of the '80s. He's great at telling a compelling story, and the Los Angeles Lakers of the '80s are a very compelling bunch of men.
McKay has assembled a fantastic cast for this HBO show, some new faces and some old. Fresh actors portray athletes Quincy Isaiah (Earvin "Magic" Johnson), Solomon Hughes (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), and Sean Patrick Small (Larry Bird) alongside the older, more experienced actors Adrien Brody (Pat Riley), Jason Clarke (Jerry West), Jason Segel (Paul Westhead), Michael Chiklis (Red Auerbach), Sally Field (Jesse Buss), and Rob Morgan (Magic's dad). Even legends like Jack Nicholson, Paula Abdul, and Richard Pryor are portrayed in the series. McKay doesn't spare any expense on the cast, that's for sure.
The show has various styles to it, but they all play perfectly into the overall vision of what McKay and company are going for. One of the styles they are going for is trying to create an archival look for the show. Another way is McKay's trademark breaking the fourth wall. Each episode focuses on one individual in the ensemble. The period piece aspect of the show is first-rate. It's like a throwback to that period. The clothes, hairstyles, cars, and props are all authentic to the '80s. It helps the show to be that much better. I feel like I've been transported back in time to that era, and it's fantastic!
The basketball aspect of the show is on point as well. The show's style is one thing, but it's actually about basketball in the end. So the basketball within the show has to be authentic and realistic to the time. Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts) and Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) implement a running style of offense that they are using to try to change the league from a stand-and-shoot league to a fast-paced run-and-gun method. Magic is the linchpin in this plan because of his passing skills. He can get the ball to all four other players on the court. It's why he has the moniker of "Magic": he's magic on the court.
McKay and his various directors who direct each episode mimic the style McKay has set forward, and each episode has a similar look and feel to each other. The writing of the show is separate from that. The writing has to be up to date to today's times. Rodney Barnes and Max Bornstein have cutting-edge dialogue that penetrates. The characters break ground in the aspect of who they are and how the public perceives them. Jeff Pearlman's book Showtime cuts deep, and the show has to do the same thing. A joke involving Pat Riley talking while Chick Hearn (Spencer Garrett) talks involves opening and closing his fist. He says, "While my fist is closed, you don't speak." Chick calls it fisting. This is the kind of humor the show is full of.
John C. Reilly has had a great career working with everyone, including Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, James Gunn, and many others. His working relationship with Adam McKay has garnered a lot of fruit in his career, with Step Brothers, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and now Winning Time. Their partnership has been good over the years, but this might be the best thing they've done together via the episode directors. McKay is the executive producer. He cast Reilly in this role because he knew something nobody else knew. Reilly has become Jerry Buss in this series. He has a lot to deal with being a businessman/owner, a family man, dealing with his ill mother, and his personal life away from the team. Reilly was perfectly cast as this man who has everything to gain but also a lot to lose.
Winning Time focuses a lot of its time on Quincy Isaiah's Magic Johnson. After all, he is the new young star of the team. He still has a lot to learn about marketing himself, though. The character is pulled in many directions, whether with his personal life with his college sweetheart or his lawyer/agent. But his family is on the back burner. Isaiah takes this character and runs with all the different angles. Fans of the team will enjoy the focus on him, but we all know how his life turns out later on. His career spoke for itself, though, and his rivalry with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics was legendary. It might be one of the best rivalries in sports next to the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.
In episode eight, the invisible man has a lot to say about this legendary rivalry between Bird and Johnson, the Celtics, and the Lakers. This season was the beginning of a rivalry that would go on for over two decades. Even the announcers get in on the action during the games. These two fan bases also hate each other. The greatness of this show is all these things that made these teams great, on and off of the floor. The beautiful Forum was named after a Roman political room and gathering area. The old Boston Garden, with its dripping pipes and cold locker rooms, make it as distinct and different as the Forum is. These two cities are very different in many ways, and so are these teams. This show goes into all of these little details that make showtime great in its way.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is a show that does a great job going in-depth on a team with quite a bit of on-the-court and off-drama. The cast for the show is phenomenal, with John C Reilly and Quincy Isaiah as the two biggest standouts of the show. It is very well-written with both a lot of levity and dramatic, serious moments. The production value is also good. I felt like I went back to that era and was watching this team play as I did as a kid. Fans of the team and sports fans, in general, should enjoy this show when it airs on HBO.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty hits HBO on March 6. Eight out of ten episodes reviewed.