Season 2 Episode 2 of HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty keeps the spotlight on Quincy Isaiah’s Magic Johnson and for the most part, it works.
Welcome back once again to the land of purple and gold. Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty started off its second season rather dramatically last week and set up or continued building on storylines for the team, Dr. Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), and Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah). Season 2 Episode 2 does not really let up on the dramatics, but there is more of the balance between comedy and drama that helped make the first season so good.
Something I noticed last week but did not bring up was the pacing. While Season 1 was slower and gave the narrative more room to breathe, things have been switched up for Winning Time Season 2. Much like the players are getting adjusted to the new system put in place by Head Coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel), audiences will have to adapt to this change. At first, it caught me off guard, and Season 2 Episode 2 gets a little bumpy as a result, but the more I thought about it, the more it largely made since.
Season 2 Episode 2 of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty sees superstar point guard Magic Johnson continue to deal with ramifications of his knee injury. In the process, he and Lakers Assistant Coach Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) grow closer as Riley assists Magic with his rehab to have him ready for the playoffs. Lakers Head Coach Paul Westhead and his new play system have had a positive impact on the team and their chemistry. As they pile up wins without Magic, how will his return impact his teammates, coaches, and management? Meanwhile, Dr. Jerry Buss attempts to reconnect with an old flame, as his children continue to bicker.
With Episode 2, viewers will begin to realize the shape that Season 2 is taking. While Season 1 had more of an even pace, it also only focused on one season of Lakers basketball in 1979-1980. It has become clear that Season 2 of the series will at least cover the NBA seasons from 1980 to 1984 and as a result of that and a shorter episode count (Season 1 had 10 episodes, while the second season has 7) things will have to move faster. This week will give you a greater sense of the direction this season and possibly the series as a whole is taking moving forward. Without diving into major spoilers for this week’s episode, especially if you are not a basketball fan, speeding things up makes sense.
Magic Johnson continues to be the focus in terms of the players, with his comeback from injury taking most of the spotlight even when he is not present. The team is thriving in Paul’s new system and winning, but Magic’s return threatens to derail everything. When he returns, it does in fact throw a wrench into the team’s chemistry. Pat Riley notices that the star is not 100 percent and offers to help him rehab in order to be ready for the playoffs, without telling Paul and Dr. Jerry Buss the truth about Magic’s health.
The injury and comeback make up a vast majority of the dramatics this week. You get the feeling that it is only a matter of time before Magic’s injury and return cause massive damage to the Lakers’ organization. No one expresses that frustration better than Jason Clarke as LA’s front office executive and NBA legend Jerry West. Clarke’s performance is not only the source of absolute comedic gold in Season 2 Episode 2, but it seems as if he and perhaps Pat Riley are the only people working with the Lakers that understand what will happen if Magic Johnson cannot get healthy and if the team is not able to adjust their play style to fit arguably their best player back in.
Speaking of Riley, this week’s player of the game is Adrien Brody. When Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty began, I had the feeling that Brody looked the part but questioned if he had what it took to bring Pat Riley to life. Time and time again, he proved himself to me with his various performances. In Season 2 Episode 2, Brody is closer than ever to being the Pat Riley that NBA and Lakers fans are most familiar with. Riley and Magic Johnson are beginning to grow closer, and Brody sells himself as a person in Pat that will not only do what it takes to win, but also understands the unique position that Magic finds himself in coming off an injury.
John C. Reilly’s Dr. Jerry Buss is largely away from the team this week, instead dealing with the anniversary of his mother Jesse’s (Sally Field) passing and deciding to rekindle an old flame by connecting with Honey (Ari Graynor). While it is interesting seeing Dr. Buss partake in something that does not have to do with the Lakers, I am a little dubious on how the creative team chose to do it. According to Deadline, Honey is “a fictional character inspired by the former girlfriends and wives of Dr Jerry Buss” and personally, knowing what I know about the man, it kind of seems pointless to throw in someone that is not real. Maybe it is just me, but perhaps you could focus on what was set up last week, with Dr. Buss attempting to rebuild his family unit instead of chasing tail. It really proves his ex-wife JoAnn Mueller (Kate Arrington) right because that is exactly what she said he would do.
With regards to the Buss family, the Succession: Basketball edition storyline is taking more shape with Jeanie Buss (Hadley Robinson), and Johnny (Thomas Mann) and Jimmy (McCabe Slye). We also get the return of the delightful Molly Gordon as Linda Zafrani, a Lakers employee and one of Jeanie’s best friends, who helps move this plot forward quite well even with brief screentime.
The comedy and drama are more balanced in Season 2 Episode 2 of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty with Jerry West providing some comedy and in a surprise that should not really be one, Lakers announcer Chick Hearn (Spencer Garrett) helps ease the tension from time to time this week. The reason I say that should not be a surprise is because by all accounts Chick Hearn was able to make Lakers games fun even if the team was not performing well in real life. It is nice to see Garrett be able to capture some of that magic and charisma on the small screen.
One final note I have before I get out of here is that it felt like Solomon Hughes was oddly sidelined in Season 2 Episode 2 as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It at least seemed to me that the creative team behind Winning Time was putting more of a focus on the tension between Kareem and Magic this season, and that was not there in the second episode. I will be curious to see if that rivalry comes up again and if Kareem gets more of the shared spotlight with Magic like he had in Episode 1.
Season 2 Episode 2 of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is a slight step back from the season premiere, but we have a clearer direction for what is to come this season, and the series seems to have regained the balance between comedy and drama that was missing in the opener. As tensions are clearly rising inside the Lakers organization, we will just have to wait and see if everything truly comes crashing down before they have a chance to establish themselves as one of the NBA’s premier dynasties.
Season 2 Episode 2 of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is now available to watch on Max.