Aidan Smith's TV week: Why Winning Time is my drama of the year, why Mike Myers' comeback isn't my comedy of the year and the grim and gripping Darren McGarvey's Addictions

If you had told me my favourite television drama of 2022 was going to be about basketball I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But then if you’d told me my favourite documentary of 2020 would be about basketball I’d have doubted that as well.
Down two men and with the 1980 NBA Championship on the line, the Lakers look to an unlikely source for inspiration.Down two men and with the 1980 NBA Championship on the line, the Lakers look to an unlikely source for inspiration.
Down two men and with the 1980 NBA Championship on the line, the Lakers look to an unlikely source for inspiration.

The Last Dance - the doc - was the story of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. If you know your slam-dunk, the title of Winning Time: the Rise of the Lakers Dynasty tells you that Sky Atlantic’s series concerns the La-La Land luvvy-endorsed team from Los Angeles and Magic Johnson.

I’ve come to it from Don’t Look Up, the knockabout movie about the end of the world directed by Adam McKay and he’s responsible for the similarly buzzy, frantic, cut-up images here. It’s like McKay shot Winning Time while sooking Sherbet Fountains - or maybe something stronger - as he listened to early DJ Shadow albums.

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There’s a fantastic hip-hop track used as the theme music - and judging by the YouTube comments I’m not the only one who hadn’t heard The Coup’s “My Favorite Mutiny” before it started signalling another dollop of sex ’n’ drugs ’n’ basketball.

Darren McGarvey delves into Scotland's deadly relationship with alcoholDarren McGarvey delves into Scotland's deadly relationship with alcohol
Darren McGarvey delves into Scotland's deadly relationship with alcohol

The show had begun in the Playboy Mansion, new Lakers owner Jerry Buss stumbling out of an orgy to declare: “Goddam basketball! I mean look at it. It’s like great sex. Always moving, rhythmic, up close and personal, no pads, no protection, just you and these other guys out there trying to get the ball into the hoop. There are two things in this world that make me believe in God: sex and basketball.”

Originally McKay’s long-time associate Will Ferrell was slated to play Buss but after a fall-out between the pair the part went to John C. Reilly. I love Ferrell but he would have been wrong in this: too dominant, too goofy. Reilly is funny without it being all about him. He’s good at the fourth-wall, talk-to-the-camera stuff and he looks great/terrible in his wig.

There are a lot of wigs. We’re in the 1970s and no actor is going to have those flicks and bangs for real. The Lakers play in canary yellow but the show is a symphony in brown: brown cars, brown decor, brown big-lapelled suits, brown rugs on the floors, brown rugs on the heads.

Winning Time is a big, crazy, lurching sprawl of a drama totally at odds with the tight, quick play on a basketball court. When a timeout can be called in a game with two seconds left on the clock and that can be sufficient to devise a killing piece of play, it seems odd that the show is so casual with some in the cast. For instance, early on I spot Lola Kirke - one of Free drummer Simon Kirke’s acting daughters, so of Scots baronet ancestry - but after mere minutes as the wife of Lakers legend Jerry West she disappears.

Mike Myers searching for his old comedy genius in The PentaverateMike Myers searching for his old comedy genius in The Pentaverate
Mike Myers searching for his old comedy genius in The Pentaverate

Still, there’s terrific fun to be had here and Quincy Isaiah as Magic and Solomon Hughes as the team’s captain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’s initially dismissive of the perma-grinning rookie but eventually passes on his famous “skyhook” shot, are afforded plenty of screen-time and use it winningly.

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Before Will Ferrell, Mike Myers was the funniest man in movies. Wayne’s World schwinged into Britain on 22 May, 1992 - where does all the time go? The 30th anniversary is marked by Myers’ Netflix comedy The Penteverate but not in a good way.

Were his jokes this puerile three decades ago? Maybe so but we were younger, he was younger - 28 - and so was comedy. It’s got more sophisticated in the interim though not always funnier.

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The Penteverate, we learn from Jeremy Irons’ voiceover, are a secret society dating all the way back to 1347, which might be where some of these gags originated. Unlike most secret societies they’re “nice” and exist to do good. Top of the in-tray is climate change.

Former members include Darwin, Da Vinci and “the Quaker Oats guy” with Billie Eilish set to join in 2047. The current lot include an Australian media mogul, a Kremlin renegade and Alice Cooper’s manager. Myers plays all of them and other characters too, and seems to be reminding Winning Time’s John C. Reilly: “No one wears a bad wig quite as niftily as me.”

The show looks expensive with Netflix stumping up for lots of extras in chain-mail and mustard hoods. This is actually funny, just as Stanley Baxter persuading London Weekend Television to blow an entire light-entertainment budget on a song-and-dance number featuring a thousand human teacakes was funny. But it’s an incidental joke, and better ones not involving bums are required if The Penteverate is to be saved, never mind the world.

Darren McGarvey’s Addictions (BBC Scotland) is grim. I mean the subject matter, not our host, his presentational style or the answers he obtains from the experts and victims. The first programme concerns booze and in Dumfries a German medic, expert at treating cirrhosis of the liver, breaks from cautioning one patient that he can no longer even “sniff the cork” to tell McGarvey: “You Scots are the best at killing yourselves. I have never experienced, in any other country, people who drink with the aim of getting pissed and to forget about the night.”

As someone who progressed from fortified wine in a swing park aged 14 to “four-day weekends, drinking alone, in the mornings, sometimes at work”, McGarvey isn’t the least bit shocked.



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