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Photo: Warrick Page/HBO

Television

‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’ episode 1 review: The dramatic origins of “Showtime”

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty shows how Dr. Jerry Buss and Magic Johnson would usher in a new era in sports.

The Los Angeles Lakers of the 80s were one of the most dominant teams of the decade having won the championship five times and making the NBA finals an additional three times. Amidst the success, they also revolutionized the game with their up-tempo, exciting style. However, behind any big rise is plenty of conflict behind the scenes. In the new series, Winning Time: The Rise of the Laker’s Dynasty, we see how the iconic “Showtime” team came together.

“The Swan” covers two game changing moments for the franchise that would define its era: the sale to Dr. Jerry Buss and the drafting of Earvin Johnson (Technically three since the prologue covers the emotional end to Showtime in LA). The episode depicts a level of uncertainty that either would be involved with the Lakers. Buss struggled with acquiring the funds for the big purchase while the team’s top brass had their reservations on Magic, especially when they already had a talented point guard in Norm Nixon.

Winning Time goes the same route as The Crown where the program is inspired by real events. It’s fair to question the accuracy such as the over the top and exaggerated portrayals of Jerry West and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Regardless, it still makes for good television watching the drama unfold. From Magic’s self-doubt following a humbling welcome by Nixon to Buss’s hot/cold relationship with team owner, Jack Kent Cook, while trying to agree on the sale. You can’t take your eyes away and the engaging hour goes by quickly.

The show also does a good job revisiting the time period with a present-day lens. The treatment of women in the workplace results in an unlikely ally for Dr. Buss in his negotiations. Likewise, there is no subtlety at all as they begin to develop and tease the upcoming rivalry between Magic and Larry Bird. More nuanced is the racial component and wealth disparity between players and ownership.

The hard-line Cook takes with Johnson on contract talks is unsurprising and probably not too different to those today and the one-time Laker owner has no respect for his best player and all time great, Abdul-Jabbar. Although the character is probably more to serve as a contrast to Buss and his revolutionary approach to the game.

winning time 1.2
Photo: Warrick Page/HBO

The feel of Winning Time takes you back in time to the 80s. Both the hair and makeup and costuming of the series do a remarkable job. Not only do they transform the actors into their real-life counterparts but they also capture the fashion sense and attitude of the era. The use of different camera filters creates an appealing retro aesthetic that complement the vibe as well.

What really stands out from the series premiere are the performances. John C. Reilly draws you in from the start as the fourth wall breaking Dr. Buss. He has the glitz and showmanship that embodies his team and the confidence he brings has you believing in his vision.

Despite his wealth, the actor gives his character the ability to connect with everyone including the working class and makes his positivity infectious. But Reilly can exhibit a more serious and vulnerable side in Buss’ desperation to acquire money for the sale. He even uses the bungling and outsider exterior to an advantage when quickly turning the tables in business matters.

Quincy Isaiah is instilled with the charm and confidence of the public Magic Johnson we all know while revealing more human and relatable aspects. It’s a big leap to enter the NBA and you’re literally going from a world of boys to men and Isaiah conveys the insecurities of such a big decision. More impressive is Rob Morgan as Earvin Johnson Sr. In a limited role, he helps ground the story from all the glamour as his character’s son ponders going back to college. Morgan delivers a powerful speech that puts Magic’s situation in perspective and despite all the sacrifice Earvin endured so junior could have this opportunity, he’ll always support his son in his decisions.

It may not be entirely accurate, but the series premiere has the energy, allure, and performances that are fitting for a show about the Showtime Lakers.

New episodes of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty air Sunday nights on HBO.

'Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty' episode 1 review: The dramatic origins of "Showtime"
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty Review: 'The Swan'
It may not be entirely accurate, but the series premiere has the energy, allure, and performances that are fitting for a show about the Showtime Lakers.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
A fascinating look off the court at one of the NBA's most exciting and influential teams.
Great performances from John C. Reilly, Quncy Isaiah, and Rob Morgan.
Everything from the fashion to the aesthetic brings you back to the 80s.
If you're looking for absolute facts and truths, you won't find it here.
8.5
Great

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