This review contains spoilers for Winning Time, for last week’s review click here.
Hard times breed champions. It’s an old saying, but if history has taught us anything it is correct. Some champions are bred, some are born, but there is a process. The latest episode of HBO’s new primetime show Winning Time shows us the background of two characters – Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) and Jerry West (Jason Clarke). They don’t show us in full detail, but it is discussed. This is when the Lakers’ franchise turned around, this was the creation of a dynasty.
The episode focuses on Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) before he leaves his home in East Lansing, Mi., and how Jerry Buss decided he not only wanted to win but keep winning. We are introduced to Red Auerbach (Michael Chiklis), the owner of the World Champion Boston Celtics. This isn’t where the episode starts though, the episode starts with Jerry West dreaming about his past. His abusive home life in the 50s. A hard time that definitely helped shaped him. We see his brother’s casket and hear his parents arguing. This is a reflection of a hard time creating the person we know in the show.
Johnson is saying his goodbyes before he goes off to Los Angeles. He buys his mother Christine (LisaGay Hamilton) a bathtub she’s been wanting, and himself a new vehicle. He’s also struggling in his relationship with Cookie (Tamera Tomokilli), as she’s gotten herself a new beau – Vern. Magic and Cookie’s relationship is on and off and that bothers him. He views her as his and his only. He’s going off to LA and sneaking around to hook up with another woman. Therefore, she did something for her. Earvin shows up to embarrass Vern at the basketball court before leaving like he was embarrassed the last episode. He ends up letting Cookie know he will always be there for her.
Johnson spends the episode questioning himself. If he’s a good man or not. He feels like his mother is constantly getting onto him, and he isn’t making the right decisions. He talks to his father Earvin Sr. (Rob Morgan), and his father ensures him that he’s a good man. Johnson realizes that he is just like his mother, a true point guard. Somebody that always wants to control the situation and is in control. So he begins to realize, he’s more like her than he realizes.
Buss, on the other hand, is dealing with Auerbach. He’s trying to build a dynasty just like the Celtics. He is willing to do whatever it takes. Auerbach spends the episode playing mind games and constantly shooting Buss down. Jeanie (Hadley Robinson), like her father, gets shot down as well by Claire (Gaby Hoffman). Buss wants Claire to be innovative and come up with ideas to help increase money influx, and Jeanie has ideas that Claire downplays then ends up welcoming. Buss, gets a fire lit up under him by Auerbach after a conversation on the court at the Forum. As he delivers a fiery speech, Jerry West hands in his resignation as the head coach of the Lakers.
The episode itself is an upgrade from the last episode. Max Borenstein and Rodney Barnes lend Adam McKay a great teleplay. The fourth wall element is still there, but it isn’t overused. It blends into the episode, and the editing helps that. Jonah Hill’s directing also helps this episode immensely. He gets some fun performances out of Isaiah and Reilly. The Red Auerbach stuff is great also, it creates a fun show villain and leans into why Buss became so motivated. He wanted to be greater than him.
I enjoyed this episode thoroughly. Seeing West’s and Buss’ upbringing be slightly infused into this episode was fun. On the other hand, the creation of a rivalry, and Buss’ motivation were great. Jeanie’s character development is coming along just fine. There are some better performances in this episode than the last. Nobody carried this episode, but the Buss/Auerbach interactions are golden. Adam McKay has a tendency of making films/shows that act as the audience isn’t smart. Winning Time is the opposite of that, he knows his audience and he’s trying to win them over. Hill helps this with how he directs the episode, very fun and light. Overall, this is what Winning Time needed, an episode to attract its audience and keep them interested. – Rascal F. Kennedy
Rating – 7.5/10
Winning Time premieres Sundays at 9 pm/8c on HBO and HBOMax