Tag Archives: Jason Segel

TV Review: Winning Time S1E7 “Invisible Man”

The iconic Lakers/Celtics rivalry takes center stage in “Invisible Man” with a rematch between college enemies Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) and Larry Bird (A hick-ish Sean Patrick Small) being the talk of the country and also serving as commentary on race in the United States. However, on an immediate level, “substitute” coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) has to win the game, or he loses both his job and his old boss Jack McKinney’s (Tracy Letts) to former Laker Elgin Baylor (Orlando Jones in a bad wig), who accidentally calls Pat Riley’s (Adrien Brody) hotel room instead of a scheming Jerry West (Jason Clarke), who is doing the opposite of retiring.

Director Payman Benz frames the episode like a game of Monopoly, which is Jerry Buss’ (John C. Reilly) favorite board game because it relies on both chance and strategy, and it connects well to the plot of the episode. If Michael Cooper’s layup at the end of the Lakers/Celtics bounced another way (And the editing shows how desperate it is.), Westhead would have lost his job, and who knows if the Lakers would have won a championship under Baylor. So, it’s safe to say that Westhead is under a lot of stress this episode especially as the losses pile up. He gets talked over in the locker room and hides behind Riley, who shows a real talent for coaching and motivation, complete with shots of him slicking back his hair that hint at the legend he would become. There’s a great scene where Riley gets into it with Westhead and soaks him with cold water basically showing him the harsh reality of what will happen if they don’t win a game on this road trip. They’ve been buddy buddy up to this point, but coaching (Especially against the Celtics.) brings out an angry side of Pat Riley and lets Adrien Brody cut loose a bit with his acting culminating with getting thrown out of the Boston game.

While the coaching situation of the Lakers continues to be unresolved, writers Max Borenstein and Rodney Barnes thread the needle and show how the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson (And by extension, Lakers/Celtics) rivalry connects to race and white privilege in the United States. In demeanor, Bird is the complete opposite of Johnson with his one word answers to the press, Bud Light, and spit cup while Magic Johnson is all smiles and gives the journalists something to work with for better or worse. However, despite this and Johnson outperforming Bird on the court in the 1979 national championship game, the media treats him like God’s gift to basketball. Bird makes him feel invisible, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) uses this feeling to have a serious conversation with Magic Johnson about race in the United States, and how since Johnson was bused to an all-white school in Lansing, he’s been trying to stand out with his smile, charisma, and basketball game. However, Abdul-Jabbar tells him that the media will continue to chase Bird even if Johnson dominates him tonight or has a better season overall.

Invisible Man

This conversation between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson flows out of a very frank one that the Lakers captain had with Earvin Johnson Sr. (Rob Morgan) at the Christmas dinner that he and his wife host for the team after they’re upset by the last place Detroit Pistons. They start by making small talk about Abdul-Jabbar’s appetite, and how much Johnson Sr. respects Abdul-Jabbar and is glad that his son gets to play with one of the greatest centers of all time. However, the chat turns into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asking Earvin Johnson Sr. why Johnson doesn’t seem to harbor any anger about race relations in the United States and, on a lighter note, if he’s always smiled all the time. Johnson Sr. says that he has been puzzled by this too, especially since he grew up in Mississippi when lynchings were common. Benz, Borenstein, and Barnes also use this scene to frame two men who genuinely care about Magic Johnson and don’t want him to be overwhelmed by folks who would take advantage of him with Abdul-Jabbar starting to take on a kind of surrogate father role for Johnson. This is in contrast with his agent Dr. Day (Steve Harris), who urges him to immediately take a deal with Buick focusing on the money that Magic Johnson would make while Earvin Johnson Sr. warns him that the cars are less dependable than they used to be according to his friends who work at their factory.

The complicated relationship between Magic Johnson and Cookie Kelly (Tamera Tomakili) continues in “Invisible Man” as she doesn’t use his tickets to the Lakers/Pistons game, but buys her own nosebleeds ticket. However, Isaiah and Tomakili demonstrate great chemistry with Johnson almost missing the team bus to Boston and calls her family hinting at an actual future for their relationship. But then Payman Benz does a quick cut to Kelly’s friend Rhonda getting dressed in the bathroom after their conversation. Yes, Johnson slept with the supposed love of his life’s best friend, and the rumors about him picking out women in the crowd at different games to sleep with makes sense. Max Borenstein and Rodney Barnes continue to show that Magic Johnson cares about Cookie Kelly deeply, but he also wants to enjoy his life as a young NBA star and not settle down just yet. (This is probably why the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t sign off on the show!)

Invisible Man

The climax of “Invisible Man” is the Lakers vs. Celtics game, and there’s a lot on the line including Westhead and McKinney’s jobs, Johnson’s place in the Rookie of the Year conversation, and West’s sanity as he says that one loss to Boston is what led to the Lakers’ inability to beat them in the playoffs. Director Payman Benz shoots the Boston Garden like a haunted house complete with a racist, animated leprechaun, and both Pat Riley and Norm Nixon talk about the arena in the same hushed tones as a ghost story. And the ghost stories are true with the referees giving the Celtics every call to the soundtrack of Johnny Most’s (G. Larry Butler) incredibly biased/homer commentary while cutting to Buss and Bill Sharman sitting in the nosebleeds, and West getting taunted by his driver while listening to the game in the car because he doesn’t want to set foot in the Boston Garden again. Most and Chick Hearn’s (Spencer Garrett) makes the scene incredibly entertaining and also is a contrast between the old and new NBA.

Somehow, the Lakers win the game after Riley is ejected for saying he slept with the referee’s mother, and a fight breaks out after Larry Bird throws a ball at former All-Star/current ring-chasing enforcer/power forward Spencer Haywood (Wood Harris), who is finally getting some playing time from Westhead after benching him because of a misunderstanding that’s nagged at him the past two episodes. Like in the game at the beginning of the episode, the team is pretty much self-coaching, and the only reason Buss doesn’t fire Paul Westhead is because that would lose him McKinney too. However, Jason Segel taps into some rage and finally shows a little backbone with a “Fuck Boston” chant in the huddle and also giving the referees a piece of his mind down the stretch. He also has a good defensive game plan for Larry Bird, but Bird is that good telling his defender how and when he’ll make shots.

In the game sequences and through the reactions of the crowd in Boston plus animated and documentary-style elements like racist Boston fans putting human excrement in Bill Russell’s bed even after he won them 11 titles, Payman Benz shows how exciting the Lakers/Celtics rivalry was and also how it’s a microcosm of race relations in the United States through well-acted scenes with Quincy Isaiah, Solomon Hughes, and Rob Morgan as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Earvin Johnson Sr. Segel also brings a lot of fear and anxiety to the role of Westhead while Adrien Brody adds a little more confidence and charisma to his portrayal of Pat Riley with the ejection sequence showing that he makes a great head coach.

As someone who has said “Fuck Boston” many times (Including today when they beat the Brooklyn Nets on a last minute shot in the first game of the NBA Playoffs), I’m definitely biased, but “Invisible Man” is one of the stronger episodes of Winning Time with a compelling visual style (Sunny LA vs the Crypt Keeper’s Lair aka the Boston Garden), strong characterization for Johnson, Riley, Westhead, and a demon-facing West, and sociopolitical commentary about being Black in the United States using the ultimate NBA rivalry as the lens.

Overall Verdict: 9.0

Review: Winning Time S1E6 “Memento Mori”

With head coach/Showtime mastermind Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts) in the hospital in a coma, this episode of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty titled “Memento Mori” deals with the fragility of life and success. The main plots that writers Max Borenstein, Rodney Barnes, and Rebecca Bertuch focus on are Paul Westhead (A frazzled Jason Segel) coming to terms with being the Lakers new head coach with the help of William Shakespeare and Jerry West (Jason Clarke), Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) dealing with fame and everyone literally or metaphorically wanting a piece of him, and finally Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) using wine, women, (probably) cocaine, and the Jacksons to get Great Western Bank to postpone the payment of the loan he used to purchase the team.

After the heights of last episode, the ensemble cast of Winning Time is in a dark place, especially Westhead, who isn’t just McKinney’s assistant coach, but his best friend with director Tanya Hamilton lingering on a picture of them in better times. There’s a little bit of Segel’s usual roles he takes in his portrayal of Paul Westhead as a flailing Muppet even though he does show a cool-headed intellectual side that kicks in when he quotes Shakespeare in the locker room and goes with his game plan against the Denver Nuggets instead of McKinney’s. (Seen in hallucination sequences) He’s definitely more English professor than NBA head coach. In the space of an episode, Westhead exhibits growth going from barely being able to speak to the players and getting chewed up and spit out by the media to switching up the depth chart and freezing out a player (Spencer Haywood) that McKinney wanted to play a major role on the Lakers. But this is after freaking out in his car and offering the Lakers job to West and travel secretary/color commentator Pat Riley (Adrien Brody). Riley plays a nice cheerleader role to Westhead throughout the episode laying the foundation for his future role…

Memento Mori

On the flip side, “Memento Mori” spends a lot of time with Magic Johnson, and it’s not the most flattering picture as he chases fame and fortune while his coach is in a coma. Hamilton and cinematographer Todd Banhazl make a scene set at a sporting goods conference feel like visual overload using a nine-way split screen set up that’s The Brady Bunch meets Watchmen showing how every shoe company wants Johnson to hawk and wear their product. A Converse exec even uses some uncomfortable farm metaphors, but of course, he signs with them to have the opportunity to stick it to Larry Bird. It also fits the family friendly, “play it safe” image that his agent/current girlfriend’s dad Dr. Thomas Day (Steve Harris) wants for him instead of the gamble (That would have paid off.) of taking stock options and $1 per shoe sold from Nike. In the sales pitch sequence, Olli Haaskivi is a quirky scene stealer channeling the eccentricity and start-up energy of Phil Knight, who wanted to put Johnson’s name on the shoe and made it actually help his speed and performance, but everyone laughs him off in the episode, including the bankers that Buss parades Johnson to.

Magic Johnson’s relationship with women has been a recurring theme in Winning Time, and as mentioned in a conversation with Day, it’s his only vice because he steers away from drugs and alcohol. “Memento Mori” features his short-lived girlfriend/agent’s daughter Cindy Day (Rachel Hilson), who he is unsure actually loves him or just wants to be close to a famous person. In a monologue where Isaiah brings out an angry and darker side of Johnson, he talks about how they would be in a relationship while Johnson was calling Cookie Kelly in the other room basically cheating on her. And Cindy is cool with this. She also oversteps her boundaries by bringing flowers to Jack McKinney’s hospital room and getting Magic Johnson to sign autographs for the Great Western bank execs, which makes him uncomfortable because he’s in casual relationship mode and honestly just wants to be with Cookie, who appears in the final scene of the episode, and isn’t into the whole fame aspect.

Throughout the episode, Johnson is told by everyone from shoe execs to Richard Pryor (Mike Epps), who gives him great advice and helps get Spencer Haywood interested in cocaine, that his real first name, Earvin, is a thing of the past. There’s a little bit of sadness in Quincy Isaiah’s eyes every time someone uses the Magic nickname to refer to him personally and not in a marketing context all culminating in Cindy moaning “Magic” when he gives her an orgasm from oral sex and realizes that she cares him about him more as a celebrity than a human being. Although, he puts “Magic” on the prototype shoe, Knight actually does use his real name hinting at how Nike would use an athlete’s name and personality to sell now-iconic shoes a few years down the road. Borenstein, Barnes, and Bertuch show Magic Johnson basically being consumed by the fame aspect of his job as he skips a team hospital visit to sign a shoe deal with Converse and does business transactions and chats with Richard Pryor and cocaine baron Dr. Mike in the tunnel before the game. However, he does manage to find some distance between his personal and work life by using a line Dr. Day said about Magic not bringing good news to have him relay the news about breaking up with his daughter before sending him to Michigan State’s campus to personally invite Cookie to a Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons game.

Memento Mori

The third main plot of “Memento Mori” shows Jerry Buss and his business partner Frank Mariani (Stephen Adly Guirgis) try to wheel and deal their way out of losing the team by getting Great Western to extend their loan and line of credit by marketing them as “the official bank of the Lakers”. They don’t buy it, but Buss shows them enough of a good time at the Forum Club to extend the loan until June 1980 aka right after the NBA Finals. Unbeknownst to the players, coaches, and other front office folks, the Lakers basically have to win a championship or go broke. John C. Reilly also gets to show a vulnerable side of Jerry Buss when his mother Jessie (Sally Field), who raised him by herself has health issues that hinder her from doing her job as accountant. What begins as him being furious that she used the wrong checking account for vendors and didn’t file the right paperwork to transfer team ownership to his ex-wife ends up with him monologuing on a balcony about how she raised him as a 19 year old single mom in the middle of the Dust Bowl. Jeanie Buss (Hadley Robinson) continues to show her quality by alerting her father to her grandmother’s health issues and also acting as a buffer between Magic Johnson and Cindy and Dr. Day when she can tell that they’re making him uncomfortable before the game.

By contrasting Jack McKinney’s coma and time in the hospital with Magic Johnson chasing fame and Jerry Buss sweet talking Sacramento bankers, Max Borenstein, Rodney Barnes, and Rebecca Bertuch really put life in perspective in a sobering downer of an episode. Jason Segel’s Paul Westhead is the standout performance of “Memento Mori” going from goofiness to anxiety and poignancy with Shakespeare quotes that befuddle his team and sports journalists, but act as kind of coping mechanism for him to deal with a stressful situation. Quincy Isaiah also continues to find the darkness and charisma in the character of Johnson switching between Magic and Earvin by lowering his eyes, dropping his smile, and in some cases, raising his voice.

Overall Verdict: 8.2

TV Review: Winning Time S1E4 “Who the F**k is Jack McKinney?”

Who the F**k is Jack McKinney?

Showtime’s growing pains continue in Winning Time Season 1, Episode 4 “Who the F**k is Jack McKinney?”. Training camp is about to start after last week’s murder of Vic Weiss, Jerry Tarkanian has decided to not take the Lakers job with Weiss’ wife smacking Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) at his funeral. So, per Jerry West’s (Jason Clarke) recommendation, Buss and the Lakers decide to go with Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts), who might have the stage presence of an accountant, but has ideas that would go on to revolutionize the game of basketball. But, for now, they’re just scrawlings on resort napkins and clipboards, or slides loaded by his assistant coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel), a floppy-haired former English professor that is really a non-presence in this episode. Like he just mumbles and quotes Shakespeare and immediately fits in with this quite kooky set of characters

Along with the growing pains on the court, there is still the financial issues with team, and Buss’ accountant/mom Jessie Buss (Sally Field) finds a way out by saddling some of the liabilities with his ex-wife JoAnn Mueller (Kate Arrington). From an awkward opening scene where she and their children have lunch at the same Mexican restaurant as Buss and one of his girlfriends (And Jeanie Buss sees him fingering the woman at the table.) to walking in on him and another woman with the liability paper work, Arrington plays the part with scene-stealing contempt shattering the fantasy that Buss wants everyone to see about him. Writers Jim Hecht, Max Borenstein, and Rodney Barnes follow the thread of Jerry Buss’ true desires through the perspective of Jeanie Buss (Hadley Robinson), who gets real depth in this episode walking the line between an intern and boss’ daughter.

From being quiet and meek in the first couple episodes, she speaks up in a meeting and even builds a connection with two of her co-workers over a shared bong. This episode shows how much Jeanie cares about her dad and the Lakers and also how she’s unhappy that he would rather hang out with random women than spend time and communicate with her going all the way back to the opening flashback. However, she does have some real vision in regards to setting apart the Lakers from a college basketball experience, and Claire Rothman (Gaby Hoffmann) packages her ideas in something that will sell to Jerry Buss. But it’s all just theory for now. There are no Laker girls or Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon sitting courtside just yet.

Who the F**k is Jack McKinney?

This theme of theory versus practice definitely is the driving engine of Hecht, Borenstein, and Barnes’ training camp A-plot although there’s all kinds of squabbles and subplots going on from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) hazing Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah), Michael Cooper (Delante Desouza) battling to get a guaranteed contract, and Jerry West not wanting to walk away from the team. Director Damian Marcano excels at shooting the basketball action at its best (Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, and Norm Nixon showing glimpses of real chemistry) and worst (Veteran Ron Boone getting hit by one of Magic Johnson’s no-look passes) while going the montage and voiceover narration route for McKinney’s ideas. With references to Buddhism that reminded me of a future Lakers coach, Tracy Letts nails Jack McKinney’s passion for basketball as well as the heartbreak and compromise he feels when West tells him that he needs to combine his system with some of his old sets. The practices and a verbal sniping show that doing things a new way is painful even as Magic Johnson and Nixon start to buy into system the system while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar simply doesn’t give a fuck. He doesn’t say a lot of words, but Hughes’ physical presence and taciturn looks show that he knows he’s the undisputed leader of the team and won’t be running suicides or “McKinney miles” with the rest of the Lakers.

I do have to applaud Marcano, Jim Hecht, Max Borenstein, and Rodney Barnes for showing viewers the building blocks of Showtime and fast break basketball with montages and film sessions showing how it sharply contrasts with the stagnant half court sets most NBA teams were running at the time. No wonder the league was struggling. There’s also a kind of cheeky animated sequence featuring Magic Johnson that connects his philosophy of basketball to McKinney’s with a focus on making his teammates and basically being good, giving, and game as the basketball court dissolves into Johnson giving oral sex. However, this whole being everyone’s friend is a little bit of facade as Cookie Kelly (Tamera Tomakili) reminds him that Magic Johnson basically stole her from one of his teammates. Their phone conversation doesn’t end well, and Isaiah shows a little bit of the darker, sadder side of Johnson, both on and off the court with Boone fighting him because he’s frustrated at his playing style and also that he has a guaranteed contract even though he hasn’t played a minute of professional basketball.

“Who the F**ck Is Jack McKinney” is set in a bikini-clad women-filled oasis in a harsh desert, and no one shot understands the facade that is Jerry Buss’ life and ownership of the Lakers than him mouthing “Fuck” under the pool when he realizes that the Lakers and Forum have no chance of turning a profit this year so he can pay off his creditors. Being together in an enclosed space (Even though McKinney closes practice to the ownership and front office) brings out temper and negative feelings with the Lakers continuing to have a long way to go both on and off the court. However, it’s not all downbeat as Hecht, Borenstein, and Barnes position Jack McKinney as one of the true, unsung heroes of the game even if the players hate him for now. Plus there’s strong characterization for Jeanie Buss as Winning Time leans into its greatest strength and weakness: it has a huge cast so it’s hard to get to know all the players, but most of them are fascinating and opportunities for strong, nuanced performances.

Overall Verdict: 8.1