Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty Season 2 Review

In the realm of captivating dramas, it’s those that dare to push boundaries and venture beyond the norm that often leave a lasting impact. Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht, the showrunners of Winning Time, understand this concept fully. They recognize that to captivate audiences, the series must transcend the confines of basketball and delve into deeper themes of ego, power, the price of fame, and the intricate personalities that shape and shatter the game. As the second season of Winning Time premieres on HBO this Sunday, does it achieve this lofty ambition? Well, to a certain extent.

The debut season sparked a wave of objections and clarifications from the real-life figures portrayed in the series. Notably, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West, prominent Los Angeles Lakers legends, voiced their disappointment with the show’s portrayal of historical events. While the second season continues with this approach, it does dial back on its insistence that West was a volatile alcoholic.

With a reduced episode count of seven compared to the first season’s ten, the second season of Winning Time efficiently chronicles the Lakers’ ascent to greatness. Head coach Paul Westhead, played by Jason Segel, struggles to maintain team unity amidst internal conflicts, while franchise owner Jerry Buss, portrayed by John C. Reilly, jeopardizes the future of his budding dynasty through a series of frustrating blunders. On the court, Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes), Earvin “Magic” Johnson (Quincy Isaiah), and Norm Nixon (DeVaughn Nixon) operate on different wavelengths. The storyline is eventful, yet the writers skillfully pace it to ensure that keeping track of the characters’ names, roles, and responsibilities never feels like a chore.

Winning Time’s inclination towards drama over historical accuracy mirrors Borenstein and Hecht’s dedication to presenting a highly entertaining story. This entails stretching the truth, exploring “what-if” scenarios, and amplifying specific dynamics. Although the show’s portrayals are not always flawless, particularly with West and Buss, their well-intentioned approach allows for forgiveness despite occasional lapses in empathy. The key events of history, such as Westhead’s firing, Pat Riley’s appointment as his replacement, and the Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird rivalry, remain largely intact. The creative team does justice to these pivotal moments by elongating their impact throughout multiple episodes, acknowledging their seismic influence on the game.

However, Winning Time suffers from a sense of self-importance that significantly hampers its overall quality. The showrunners frequently overestimate the audience’s interest, delving into unnecessary explanations and adding context that goes unrequested. Yes, Bird is a significant opponent for Magic, but is it truly necessary to dedicate 15 minutes to his recruitment? Do we genuinely care about Buss’ struggles to host a family game night without turning it into a cutthroat business affair? These details are thrown at us, despite our lack of interest.

Thankfully, the exceptional cast of Winning Time salvages the series from mediocrity. Their performances surpass the limitations of the writing, and this becomes increasingly evident as the final episode concludes. Reilly’s presence is consistently delightful, even though his portrayal of Buss sometimes borders on caricature, making it difficult to take him seriously. Isaiah, Hughes, and Nixon form an irresistible trio, and the show thrives whenever the three collide on screen. Adrien Brody and Jason Segel brilliantly portray the friendship between Pat Riley and Paul Westhead, infusing it with pain, ambition, and mutual respect. This dynamic serves as one of the series’ few heartwarming elements, providing narrative anchors for both the characters and the viewers.

Thankfully, Winning Time’s cast saves it from mediocrity.