In defense of ‘Winning Time’s’ Jerry West
Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who spent this week wondering if Jerry West has a point.
In case you’re just tuning in, the Lakers legend has demanded a retraction of his “cruel” portrayal in “Winning Time,” HBO’s drama series about the team’s Showtime era — and threatened to take his case “all the way to the Supreme Court.” The simmering dispute erupted into a war of words this week when the network defended the series, citing “extensive factual research and reliable sourcing,” and an attorney for West called the depiction “character assassination for the sake of ratings.”
Who’s in the right?
As I’ve discovered researching The Times’ “Binge Sesh” podcast, the first season of which digs into the true stories behind “Winning Time,” the answer is complicated, at least from a creative point of view. (If you’re looking for an answer to the legal question, we have you covered there too.) On the one hand, according to Jeff Pearlman, whose book inspired “Winning Time,” there’s strong evidence — in West’s own account of his “charmed, tormented life,” no less — that he was a demanding perfectionist whose rages drove him out of coaching. On the other, Australian actor Jason Clarke told The Times that he purposefully “went big” with the performance, bolstering the criticism that Clarke’s version of West is “over the top.” Then, as a number of social media comments on our coverage have noted, there’s the “Barbra Streisand effect” of it all: By coming out so vociferously against “Winning Time,” which had before now largely failed to catch fire, West has only brought attention to it — and, arguably, underscored certain of the personality traits it depicts.
Having grown up elsewhere, I don’t have the same skin in the game that lifelong Lakers fans have here. Indeed, I suspect the cause of the heartburn over the series is the disconnect between the Jerry West of “Winning Time’s” first season — former player, thwarted coach — and the ingenious general manager and elder statesman of more recent memory. If you’re tuning in to the HBO series to see the latter, you’re sure to be disappointed. But if you’re open to the poignant undertones in Clarke’s multifaceted turn, a portrait of the on-court artist dragged kicking and screaming into the front office and middle age, you might well come around to his Jerry West.
Whether it’s the “real” Jerry West or not. —Matt Brennan
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Streaming recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times
Hugh Laurie — Bertie Wooster of “Jeeves and Wooster,” Gregory House of “House” and so much more — has written, directed and taken a small part in “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?,” a first-rate Agatha Christie adaptation currently streaming on BritBox. Christie, as much as any author in the library, left excellent blueprints for screenwriters, her mysteries often combining puzzles, action, comedy, love interests and human perversity, and “Evans” gets it all in. Caddying on a Welsh golf course, Bobby Jones (Will Poulter) spies a body at the bottom of a cliff, a man who survives long enough to ask the title’s question. A slow road to answering that question, in cahoots with Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent (Lucy Boynton), and an even slower road to romance, are spread across three satisfying episodes that carry the pair from countryside to courtroom, manor house to sanitarium, via a variety of nice old cars driving at high speed. Jim Broadbent and Emma Thompson (a Laurie collaborator since Cambridge) take a comic turn as Frankie’s parents; “Fast Show” fans, and I do mean me, will additionally delight in the presence of Paul Whitehouse. —Robert Lloyd
The feature debut of writer-director Kate Tsang, “Marvelous and the Black Hole” (VOD and digital) follows Sammy (a fantastic Miya Cech), a young teen brimming with anger and grief after the death of her mother. On the verge of being sent to a boot camp for delinquents by her exasperated father, Sammy meets Margot (Rhea Perlman), a magician who performs for kids and shows her how magic and storytelling can help us heal and forge connections. The heartfelt coming-of-age tale is in theaters in select cities, but you can also now check it out from the comfort of your home. —Tracy Brown
Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about
Despite a pilot directed by Michael Mann and a milieu — Tokyo’s yakuza underworld circa 1999 — tailor-made for crime drama obsessives, “Tokyo Vice” (HBO Max) has largely flown under the radar since it premiered earlier this month. I suspect Thursday’s season finale, in which the tension that’s rumbled through the narrative from the outset bursts forth in a flurry of action and violence, may change that, though I sincerely hope it doesn’t reshape the show completely. After all, it’s “Tokyo Vice’s” more workaday rhythms that won me over: Rinko Kikuchi’s resolute newspaper editor remembering a weeks-old daily from vague context clues; Rachel Keller’s expatriate hostess picturing cut flowers as adornments for a club of her own; Shô Kasamatsu’s soft-spoken gangster slicing scallions for midnight eggs. The plot features the usual warring factions and corrupt cops swirling around an upstanding detective (Ken Watanabe) and ambitious journalist (Ansel Elgort), but by season’s end, these seem incidental, if not detrimental, to the series’ less ostentatious charms. At its best, “Tokyo Vice” is a portrait of yearning — misplaced, displaced, thwarted — we can all identify with, keeping its characters in motion even as it leaves them stuck. —Matt Brennan
A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching
Perhaps it’s the COVID-19 pandemic. Or the overheated housing market. Or the rapid collapse of democratic institutions. But the old adage “You can’t go home again” has never seemed less apt than it does now, when curling up under a blanket in your parents’ basement no longer seems like an illogical reaction to current events. Enter comedian Nikki Glaser. Echoing Bridget Everett’s recent “Somebody Somewhere” (HBO Max), the unscripted “Welcome Home Nikki Glaser?,” premiering Sunday on E!, returns Glaser to her hometown of St. Louis, where she reconnects with her parents, her childhood best friend, her ex-boyfriend and more while trying to figure out her next act. Glaser swung by Screen Gab to answer a few questions about the series — and about what she’s watching. —Matt Brennan
What have you watched recently that you are recommending to everyone you know?
I wish I could say something less dark, but here we go: I thought it was too long, like every doc on Netflix, but I thought “Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story” is important for people to watch in order to understand how shifty, insidious and damaging pedophiles can often be.
What’s your go-to “comfort watch,” the movie or TV show you go back to again and again?
I love “You’ve Got Mail” and “When Harry Met Sally...” (both on HBO Max). Great jokes, great dialogue and unrealistic expectations of what your own personal love story should be.
A successful person returning home has inspired countless films and TV series. Do you have a favorite in this genre, or one you drew inspiration from while making “Welcome Home”?
“Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” (Seasons 4-6 on Bravo’s website) wasn’t necessarily Kathy returning home, but in it, she found a way to make a show that would allow her to hang out with her family and friends while working. It was brilliant.
What’s something you discovered about your hometown this time around that you didn’t know or fully understand before?
I learned that just because you don’t “make it out” of your hometown doesn’t mean you failed in some way. It might mean you value a good life. I did make it out and then I came back, and while I was back I realized that I got lucky and happen to be from a really cool town.
The TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on in the coming week
Fri., April 29
“Shining Girls” (Apple TV+): As a newspaper archivist chasing her own attacker, Elisabeth Moss elevates an otherwise workaday serial-killer story, writes TV critic Robert Lloyd: “Her choices are never pat; the series wouldn’t be half as good without her.”
“Ten Percent” (Sundance Now/AMC+): A British remake of French showbiz comedy “Call My Agent,” with the cameos to prove it: Helena Bonham Carter, Dominic West, Kelly Macdonald and more.
Sun., May 1
“I Love That For You” (Showtime): The cabler continues its strong run with this comedy about a home-shopping-network host, with Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon.
“Ridley Road” (PBS): The relatively benign title might lead you to believe this series focuses on a vicar or midwife or rural veterinarian, but it in fact adapts Jo Bloom’s 2014 novel about a Jewish hairdresser in London who infiltrates the rising neo-Nazi movement on behalf of an anti-fascist group.
Thurs., May 5
“The Pentaverate” (Netflix): Mike Myers pulls an Eddie Murphy in this Netflix comedy about a journalist who discovers a secret society, playing eight roles in addition to writing and executive producing.
“The Staircase” (HBO Max): The French docuseries (2004) that inaugurated the modern true crime boom becomes its ouroboros in this a glossy limited drama starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette, with the (fictionalized) documentary crew a key presence.
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” (Paramount+): The greatest sci-fi franchise in history has its latest entry in “Strange New Worlds,” set on a pre-Kirk U.S.S. Enterprise.
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