Impressive Performances Both on and Off the Court
We are first introduced to John C. Reilly as the initially prospective and then later owner of the Lakers, Dr. Jerry Buss, as he awakens after a night of debauchery in the Playboy mansion. A fascinating enigma of a person in real life, this introduction could not be more perfect for establishing our leading character, timeline and setting of the series. Reilly certainly looks the part of the flashy suit wearing and mustachioed Dr. Buss, while employing a wholly different look for the usually scruffy and curly haired actor. Even in this new look and style, Reilly is somehow the perfect person for the part of the lothario super-wealthy owner of the Lakers, who has made a name for himself amongst the hip and wealthy power players in Los Angeles at the turn of the 1980s. The work of Jerry Buss and the play of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will set up the legendary franchise and destination for modern superstars.
Reilly, as Buss, is the key to establishing the entire plot and context of this Lakers storyline with his overall positivity and crafty demeanor. At the beginning of the series, Buss works to finally close the deal to purchase the Lakers and with the buy completed, he now has great aspirations for his new toy. ‘Winning Time’ is based on the book “Showtime” by Jeff Pearlman, which documented the real life characters who played parts both behind the scenes for the Lakers and the actual players on the court that led to them becoming one of the most dominant franchises of all time in the 1980s not only in basketball, but in any sport.
With the basis for this story being real life people and events, the believable performances in the show are critical to making the series work. As Jerry Buss, Reilly is the glue that will bring all the other characters together to participate in his dream of turning the Lakers into the franchise they are today. One of the biggest blocks in assembling the dynasty is the transformative player who they will draft with the number one overall pick in the draft, Magic Johnson. Played in the series by newcomer Quincy Isaiah, he perfectly portrays the bright eyed and green Johnson from East Lansing, Michigan. Magic Johnson’s journey from small town dreary Michigan to eventual King of Los Angeles has been widely documented before, but never quite like this.
The series aspires to deep dive into these two characters in the first episode of Dr. Buss and Magic and show how their parallel paths will collide to form one of the world’s most foremost sports franchises. Isaiah stands out in the role of Magic and really draws the audience in along the way on his eye-opening first journey to Los Angeles. Much of the plot of the series will hinge around this performance and character, and Isaiah is certainly up for the challenge. He plays Magic with perfection, utilizing his mannerisms and trademark eyes and smile to show off how he became not only one of the world’s greatest players, but also entertainers.
Lakers Dynasty – Style as a Storytelling Device
With the series set in the 1980s, the production team led by Adam McKay utilizes some really interesting and different graphics and filters to establish the setting. One aspect he employs in the cinematography is making images grainy as if they were filmed on a camera of the era the show takes place in. It does a fascinating thing in making you feel as if you are almost watching archival documentary footage of these characters, removing you entirely from any fictionalized aspect of the plot.
Another interesting technique that has become a bit of McKay staple now that he utilized in ‘The Big Short’, ‘Vice’, and ‘Don’t Look Up’ as well, is having his characters break the fourth wall and address the audience directly. Admittedly this can sometimes come across as a cheap device or lacking motivation in other works, but I feel it works perfectly in the context of ‘Winning Time.’ It works on a few levels, but the most important and beneficial for the purposes of the show is giving color commentary for his characters on the history of certain scenes and situations.
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John C. Reilly thrives in using the broken fourth wall as Dr. Buss, as he serves really as the chief protagonist and narrator of the events of the premiere episode and he is also able to be funny. Buss’ version of events is the most important, as he is the flame that lights the fuse of the entire story. The breaking of the fourth wall also helps to serve for comedy which McKay has mastered as he almost delivers these breaks as a high concept mockumentary. The constant running commentary for the characters gives them a chance to reflect with the audience on how absurd a situation or conversation may have truly been in the scene that is playing out, and do give background on any piece of the plot that may have confused or lost a viewer.
History as a Launching Pad
Possibly the most fun and enjoyable piece of this whole series is based on a true story element of it all. The Producers and other crews behind the scenes really did a tremendous job in their casting efforts, as well as the research and background they did to make sure everything was as historically accurate as possible. There is immense attention to detail on display, down to the very fabric of the uniforms worn by the players in the show.
The most enjoyable element of the show to me is in the portrayal of these real-life characters and events that were so formative in shaping what the NBA has become today. They really have done a great job of showing these important players and all of warts and difficult parts of their personalities that make them such amazing characters. This was a time of incredible flash and glitz and glamor when so much seemed possible and exciting and that is all highlighted through the writing and cinematography. Los Angeles in so many ways was becoming such a beacon of a new way of life and an inspiring place to become yourself. The team behind the scenes nailed the feeling of this time of hope and excitement, and the idea that one could really chase their dreams and become and do anything they wanted. It sets up for a very fun and wild ride that I am very excited to take.
The first episode of ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’ is streaming now on HBO Max and I fully encourage all to give it a shot.
Cast: John C. Reilly, Quincy Isaiah, Jason Clarke, Gaby Hoffman| Cinematography: Todd Banhazl | Editor: Hank Corwin | Director: Adam McKay | Written By: Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht | Based on the Book “Showtime” by Jeff Pearlman
By Mark Raymond
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Mark Raymond is a writer and screenwriter who believes himself to be the only person desiring to work in film who originated in New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. Mark was inspired to write from a young age and has always desired to connect and uplift others through his work, as those that motivated him did for him. Mark feels very strongly that the world could use a lot more positivity and optimism, and is therefore very aligned to the mission of The Hollywood Insider to not spread hate or gossip, but instead to build each other up and shine a positive light on anyone bold enough to put their heart and soul into a piece of art. In his writing, Mark aims to use his signature wit to highlight the severity of the more serious and pressing issues of our time, to shine a beacon of light through the darkness. A devoted ally to all, he seeks to inspire and use his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and let his readers know that while everything may not be great right now, one day it can and will be.