While the Lakers prepare for their season opener, Kareem experiences a crisis of faith, and Buss clashes with those closest to him.
JOHN C. REILLY– The first two-time MVP of this award goes to the man spearheading this show. John C. Reilly is doing nothing short of Emmy-worthy work in this series. The show up until this point has been of him being a renegade businessman, a doting yet irresponsible father, and an absolute visionary. Maybe not exactly a genius, but a man who often acted on his instincts and got the genius-like results he wanted…or did he?
As we find out in this episode, Dr. Jerry Buss is not a man addicted to instant gratification as much as he is a person who is generally unappeasable, and he knows it. We get a version of Jerry Buss that is failing to suppress his general unhappiness during this whole episode. We see it in little outbursts throughout the episode. Personally speaking, I’ve always wondered if visionaries such as Buss are operating off of inspiration or frustration. Innovation can come from both things. The effortless cool that John C. Reilly portrays in this show’s first couple of episodes is starting to disappear. Jerry Buss is not falling apart mentally….yet. Reilly is next-level fantastic in this show.
ALL THINGS KAREEM– I do appreciate that we finally got a Kareem-centric episode, even if I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of what they’ve done to him on this show. Solomon Hughes is doing a fine job as Abdul-Jabbar, but unfortunately, he only has one note to play. Based on the books I’ve read of the man, he did have joy playing the game. The outside world consistently frustrated him, and basketball was his escape. The Abdul-Jabbar portrayed in this show is doing basketball as a job, and that’s fair.
The flashbacks to his youth and the narrative juxtaposition to Spencer Hayward (who was indeed a revolutionary himself) leading up to the conversation/confrontation with Magic Johnson is a lovely way to introduce him to the proceedings, even if it is five episodes in.
TRACY LETTS– Here I am thinking I went on at length about the efforts of Tracy Letts last week in his wonderful performance as playing Jack McKinney, and it is to my shame that I look back at that to see that I did not. I apologize. Some people are putting on stunning performances in this show, such as the aforementioned Solomon Hughes, Sally Field, Adrien Brody, Quincy Isaiah, and the list goes on. But the Emmy award-winning work being done is kind of separate from everything else. I mentioned John C. Reilly already, and last week I should have mentioned Tracy Letts.
There’s a mad scientist kind of eccentricity when it comes to the personality of Jack McKinney that I’m going to miss from this show if he is no longer a part of it given…. the circumstances of this episode which I will not spoil here. Tracy Letts should be anticipating his name being announced for Emmy nominations relatively soon if there’s any justice in the world.
LINE OF THE WEEK
“There’s more to the cliff than the edge. You got to give yourself permission every once in a while to take a step back and enjoy the f****** view.”
–Frank Mariani offering some wise words to calm down Jerry Buss the day before opening night.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE
RILEY & HEARN– I would like to think that I understand the pace of this show so far. Someone gets their introductory arc, and then they sit for an episode or two before they are given an entire backstory. It happened with Abdul-Jabbar this week. It happened with McKinney last week. And Pat Riley the week before that. But for now, the ongoing back and forth that he has with Chick Hearn is wasting up screen time that could be going to one of the four or five more interesting side stories that are going on. I understand why it’s being shown here, but narratively it’s the same thing as it was last week.
For a man who’s been begging this show to highlight some of the complexities of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I am delighted that they did exactly that, all while showing us, even more basketball action and starting the season. Also, the introduction of Paula Abdul as the first-ever Laker Girl was nice sprinkles on the sundae of this very good episode.
It’s available on HBO Max.