WINNING TIME: THE RISE OF THE LAKERS DYNASTY (Season 2) -- Season Two Doesn't Hold Back The Dirt on the Lakers Players, Management, or Owners' Past
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The second season of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty focuses on more of the leaner years for the Lakers during this time in their storied history. The years, 1980 & 1982, of winning the NBA Championship were over, and constant problems were on the horizon for the purple and gold-clad team from Los Angeles.
The Lakers were on a high after their two championship seasons, but things started to unravel for them. Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) was alienating the team with his crazy offense. It didn't allow Magic (Quincy Isaiah) to shine the way he was used to. A problem with a leg injury caused issues with him and his teammates. Combined with a huge salary increase from his father figure and Lakers owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), you have the makings of a tumultuous time for the Showtime Lakers. This wasn't an easy time to be the daughter of Jerry Buss, either, as Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) frequently found out.
Season 2 of Winning Time is a bit more disjointed than season one was. Showtime was in full swing in season 1, but it had some cracks that didn't have time to heal in season 2. The writing is solid, but when the truth is out there, it's hard to change much from that original story. These Lakers and the owner were everywhere at this time. They were on television, in magazines, and in newspapers. They couldn't get out of the limelight for one minute to breathe. That was a problem. The partying and high life caught up to them. The writing captured all the dirty laundry in full effect.
There was a parallel storyline going on in season 2 that I was glad to see: the story of the rivalry between Red Auerbach (Michael Chiklis) and Jerry Buss, as well as Larry Bird (Sean Patrick Small) and Magic Johnson. The Celtics and Lakers rivalry made the NBA what it became in the ‘80s, and it's because of these men. They all had huge egos, and they wanted to win and make the others lose and be pissed off for another year while they stewed in their juices. One episode in particular, "The Second Coming," focused on Larry Bird almost the entire time. It showed how badly he, Auerbach, and the Boston Celtics wanted to win. Patrick Small is still amazing as Bird as well.
There are a few techniques that the showrunners used, similar to season one, that make the show different from other shows. They use archival footage of famous games inter-spliced with footage they shot on a recreation of the actual courts these teams played on. This showed viewers how these events happened in the real-world scenario. Also, not as much in season 2 as in season 1, but still occasionally, there was some breaking of the fourth wall. This is mostly by Isiah's character of Magic Johnson, and a few times with Brody's character of Pat Reilly to give viewers a little information where it is needed.
The film grain is also a key to make this show look like it takes place during this time. Various film reel tricks of fast-forwarding or going back in time in flashbacks helped show the motivations of the characters in the series. I guess it looked like an old camera reel, with skips and the sides showing. Information was also put on screen, like years and dates, but one funny thing was the line "this actually happened" to show how some of the events were filmed in real-time. This show uses many tricks to tell its story, and I enjoyed all of them.
With a show and cast as vast as this, you have to talk about some of the bigger names that played a big part in these events. Jason Clarke is Jerry West, Solomon Hughes is Kareem Abdul Jabar, and Spencer Garrett plays the legendary announcer of the Lakers, Chick Hearn. This cast is vast, and everybody pulled their weight and were given their moments to shine.
The series used a lot of music in the credits and opening sequences to elicit a response from viewers, such as songs by The Who and Willie Nelson. A rap song in the credits produced by Nicholas Britell and sung by Robert Gaspar was powerful. They did the opening credits song in the first season as well. The music plays into all the emotions characters are feeling, and all the songs work on their own for the show.
What I was glad of while watching season 2 of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty was that Adam McKay and the showrunners didn't sugarcoat anything regarding all the bad stuff that happened to various characters in this era. This is what makes this show work so well. It doesn't hold back all the dirty stuff in these people's lives. Season 2 isn't as glamorous as season 1, but it has much more drama on and off the court. The cast brings everything they have in their power to show how bad it was during this time in the Lakers’ history. Add in a rivalry that will forever be remembered in annals of time, with Larry Bird, Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics — which I loved — and you have another solid season of this series. It’s not quite as good as season 1, but still very good.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty debuts on HBO on August 6 at 9pm ET/PT. All seven episodes reviewed.