Directed by: Todd Banhazl, Trey Edward Shults, Tanya Hamilton, Salli Richardson-Whitfield
Distributed by: HBO
Written by Alexander Reams
Throughout the first season of “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” the extended intro set to The Coup’s “My Favorite Mutiny” was a sequence that felt slightly out of place given its extended runtime (compared to the standard 30 seconds-1 minute range), but it was damn entertaining and introduced something even more important than the characters: the vibe. Adam McKay (executive producer and driving force since the show’s inception) works so much better when he goes for vibe instead of information. Case in point his latest feature efforts, all succeed in communicating their vibe. “Winning Time” masters that, as it switches between 8mm film, 16mm, 35mm, and video formats, and the breakneck pace that the music sets, makes it all the more frenetic.
Season 2 of “Winning Time” seeks to be more ambitious than its first, covering 1980-1984 and in a shorter episode count, seven instead of Season 1’s ten. As someone who enjoyed the abrasive soap-opera nature, it was rather disappointing to see the season cut down to seven. Especially when it feels like a lot of the story was clipped into a montage, and only certain characters have any arc that we see. This is the nature of ensemble television, but it’s hard to make “Winning Time ” feel like the vast mosaic the creatives clearly want it to be when only 5 of your characters receive any major development. And this is the season where Larry Bird (insert actor name) also takes center stage for an episode, which provides much-needed depth to someone who is mainly framed as the villain of the show. The sympathy cultivated for Bird helps his eventual triumph go down easier, but it’s still a Celtic beating a Laker.
Quincy Isaiah was one of the standouts of the first season and he continues to show why. The humanity that he brings to this cold world of business in the sunniest place on Earth makes the star energy he exuded through Season 1 only grow, the moment he steps on the court he’s in control, and at times feels like he’s guiding the camera operator, he is god once he “steps between those lines,” as Cap (Kareem Abdul-Jabar (Solomon Hughes)) so eloquently put in episode 6 (“BEAT L.A.”). Solomon Hughes’ turn as Kareem was nothing short of a Best Supporting Actor turn. Hughes embodies the spiritual and mental conflicts Kareem was experiencing with the physical decline that he goes through in Season 2.
John C. Reilly, Jason Clarke, and Brett Cullen all return in their roles as Dr. Jerry Buss, Jerry West, and Bill Sharman, and again all three give great turns, but the latter two are only outshown because of the lack of depth into them this season. Instead are the romantic misfires in Jerry Buss’ life, in the form of Honey, a former flame who returns to his life; and sows dissent between Jeanie and the elder Buss. Jeanie isn’t doing much better than her dear old dad, she gets a taste of business and adapts his mindset, but is forgotten because she isn’t a son. It’s maddening to watch, as Thomas Mann and McCabe Slye make the Brothers Buss absolute clowns, as they probably were.
The problem that “Winning Time” faces in its second outing is the smaller time frame. It pushes so many events and timeframes into smash cuts or montages. While this fits the vibe of the show, it makes the events feel unimportant, despite every event being played up like it’s “the big one” of the season, but it only teases. And unfortunately, with the news of its extremely premature cancellation, the story of the Lakers dynasty ends with their rivals on top. A moment of truly heartbreaking television that is a perfect culmination of the emotional arcs that have been laid out through Season 2. It’s an ending that feels unfinished, which feels ironic given the speech Pat Riley (a world-class turn from Adrien Brody) so eloquently delivers. I hate that this is the end, as a fan of the show it hurts, but as a critic, I must say damn you HBO, for your deprivation of television that felt fresh even in this golden age.
“Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” Season 2 Trailer