The wins and losses of HBO series ‘Winning Time’

3.5 out of 5 stars 

     “It’s showtime.” It is showtime indeed. The 2022 HBO Max series, “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” details exactly what it’s about in the incredibly long title, if only they could have included their tagline: “when sex and basketball ruled LA.”  

     In all seriousness, this glamorous TV show depicts the rise from the ashes of the Lakers after owner Jerry Buss, played by John C. Reilly, acquired the franchise during one of its lowest points. With the help of former coach Jerry West (Jason Clarke), Buss builds a new LA based team starting with the now infamous Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah).  

     Within the first four available episodes, viewers are exposed to the sex crazed Buss, who is a regular at the Playboy Mansion, the loss of innocence of small-town Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the hiring of not one but two different coaches due to a mob hit.  

       Among other plotlines, Pat Riley, played by Adrien Brody, attempts to get into broadcast journalism, and Jerry West has trouble leaving his team behind; we begin to see the multi-faceted evolution of the Lakers.  

     This series, which is produced by Academy Award winning Adam McKay, does some things right and some things wrong, making it both a winner and loser.  

     Perhaps one of the most recognizable portions of this production is its filming prowess. The entire series is filmed in different types of film and digital platforms creating a biopic that is uniquely its own. Each cut in the series flip flops between 16mm and 35mm film that has been processed to look like “old Kodachrome” and digital technologies. Even though the stylized film can be a little distracting at times, in the vastness of biopics that flood streaming apps, this series stands alone with this feature. 

     The show also does a great job at living up to the nickname given to the ’80s. The “decade of excesses” was no joke and often times we get shows that claim to be “’80s” inspired, but this show gets it right. The fancy cars and houses that occupy billionaire real estate developers and stock traders with their hordes of prostitutes is accurately detailed in this series, particularly in the form of Jerry Buss. At times the series is hard to watch with so much stimulation, but it allows you to see the culture of the ’80s as it really was, not as quirky indie movies — but sex, drugs and lust.  

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     While the camerawork is a slam dunk (see what I did there?), Adam McKay’s technique in breaking the fourth wall becomes a little overused. While films like “Vice”, and “The Big Short” use this technique effectively, it is way overused in “Winning Time.”  

     Often, this technique is used only by the main character to show their personality or certain character traits, but in this series almost everyone speaks to the camera. For a moment there could be a meeting happening in the show, then it cuts to a closeup for one character to say a word to the camera, then the meeting continues. This happens at least five to six times an episode.  

     One more thing that this series gets wrong is the often-overdramatic storyline that’s not completely accurate. In fact, many of the people depicted in the series refused to contribute their stories in making the show. Magic Johnson himself said he was not looking forward to the series premiering on the streaming giant. 

     While the excess presented in the series to understand the atmosphere of the ’80s was accurate, the storyline of this basketball epic is largely dramatized, except for its core plot.  

     This series attempts to create an incredibly entertaining product to separate itself from the other biopics out there, but the overdramatization sometimes trumps the entertaining effect. However, I will continue to view this basketball epic, as it has the potential to get more dramatic with each episode. Episodes premiere every Sunday on cable HBO channels and HBO Max.