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Winning Time's fourth wall-breaking is just too much

  • It's time to declare a temporary ban on breaking the fourth wall on TV shows and movies, says Kelly Conaboy of Adam McKay's new HBO Showtime Lakers series. "For the time being, if you want the audience to understand something, you will have to find a way to portray it in action and dialogue," says Conaboy, who adds: "It’s a pretty good trick when the person speaking directly to us is Anthony Bourdain, and he’s explaining whatever 'collateralized debt obligation' is. The reason behind that use of fourth-wall breaking, in The Big Short, was clear: this was boring, but necessary, information that had to be relayed in a captivating way. The reason for (Adam) McKay’s trick is less clear, though, when the person speaking directly to us is John C. Reilly, and what he’s explaining is that basketball is 'like great sex' (because there is rhythm involved, and bodies). Ahh … like great sex you say? Well, I might just be interested in this 'basketball' after all! In the first 15 minutes of Winning Time, four main characters break the fourth wall, each multiple times. There are two instances of meta-fourth-wall breaking: characters replying directly to camera to what another character has said directly to camera. There are three instances of informative fourth-wall breaking graphics. The gimmick is immediately tiresome, and it continues, though less frequently, throughout the entire series. It is as if Adam McKay saw Fleabag and thought, 'But what if every element of a TV show were Fleabag talking to the camera?' And 'but what if every element of a TV show were Fleabag talking to the camera?' is a fine thought to have while watching Fleabag, sure, as long as it is followed at some point by the thought, 'It would be very annoying.' Alas, in this case, it was not."


    • Winning Time is so great because it avoids the glorification of and pandering to sports and athletes: "There’s something exciting about how unsentimental it is about this particular era in the NBA’s history and all the principals involved," says Israel Daramola. "Sports entertainment is both booming and stagnant at the moment. The market is currently flooded with documentaries and ten-part docuseries that are really just overlong commercials. There’s a lot of carefully orchestrated, brand-conscious targeted media promising to take you into the game from 'the player’s POV,' which mainly serves the purpose of selling whichever athlete has lent their brand to the project. It’s a savvy method of making sure the official history is glossed over by the select few winners with enough equity to tell it. Magic Johnson himself already has a deal in place with Apple TV+ to do his a big docuseries on the order of Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance from 2020, Kareem has a similar deal with Hulu, and both players have already made splashy documentaries about their legacies that are interesting enough in their own ways, but which exist mostly to buff the shine on all their previous successes. This seems something like the point. It’s not just the nonfiction entries that pander, movies as diverse as Draft Day, Moneyball, and the Academy Award nominated King Richard all essentially serve this same function—easy mythmaking and wholesome Americana, both for players and the sports themselves, with a heavy emphasis on the heroes. The contemporary sports film is an offshoot of the big Hollywood biopic, which is to say a flattened version of history that leans heavy on inspiration and the supposed value of being a 'great' man."
    • Winning Time is hard to like when there's so much "outright making things up": "I know, I know: This cinematic adaptation of Jeff Pearlman's bestselling 2014 book Showtime is merely meant to be a dramatization of the Lakers' wildly successful (and just plain wild) 1980s as opposed to a documentary like The Last Dance," says Marc Stein, a longtime NBA journalist for ESPN and The New York Times. "Some of you will inevitably say: Lighten up, Stein. I'm sorry, friends, but even such disclaimers have limits when it comes to the dramatization of real-life events involving one of the most culturally significant and well-chronicled teams in the history of modern sport. I want to love this show so much. We're only one episode into what proper TV critics who have seen so much more of the series say is a slow-moving arc, so there is apparently still plenty of time to get there. I intend to watch every single second of every single episode we get, whether or not the series gets any more accurate from here, but too much of Episode 1 wasn't even in the proverbial ballpark for accuracy. For this viewer and presumably many others eager to relive such glorious days, that's a problem. Sensationalized sex and drugs and party scenes were to be expected. This is HBO. Yet when it comes to the sports stuff, especially when we're talking about a period of Lakers history filled with no shortage of actual documented outrageousness for the show's brain trust to draw from, outright making things up because of the supposed need to create dramatic tension comes at a credibility loss that, for certain segments of the audience, will be hard to shake."
    • Winning Time's year-long pandemic delay allowed producers to rethink it as a Game of Thrones-style saga: “It gave us a year in which to really dig deeper, to rethink how we were approaching it, to slow the role,” says co-creator Max Borenstein. “And rather than playing it as something that was gonna finish a whole decade in two seasons, we realized: No, this is a continuing saga. This is every bit as rich, material-wise, as the books from Game of Thrones. It’s world-building in the same way. And we thought we could tell a real American epic.” 

    TOPICS: Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, HBO, Fleabag, Adam McKay, Max Borenstein