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Repetitive, or at least duplicative, programming is nothing new and it’s only going to become more common as the TV landscape expands.
In the case of anniversaries, that can mean dozens of shows focused on 9/11 or the Los Angeles riots. In the case of freshly concluded news, it can mean multiple Fyre Island films or more Jeffrey Epstein/Ghislaine Maxwell documentaries than I care to count.
Legacy: The True Story of the L.A. Lakers
Director: Antoine Fuqua
It can be more arbitrary than that, though. Why have we needed to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of Woodstock ’99 with two different documentaries pushing fundamentally similar buttons? I get that only TV critics and topical completists will feel any need to watch every iteration on every topic, but it doesn’t seem particularly artistically adventurous for multiple filmmakers to be telling the exact same stories at the exact same time using many of the exact same talking heads — usually with the exact same limitations of aesthetic imagination.
Even when there’s variation, it’s easy for fatigue to set in. Since March, for example, we’re on our third high-profile depiction of the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers after the team was purchased by Dr. Jerry Buss.
Antoine Fuqua’s 10-part — yes, 10 — Hulu documentary Legacy: The True Story of the L.A. Lakers boasts a slightly ludicrous title that implies that other recent chronicles of the Lakers might or might not be “true” — though its first chapter is beat-for-beat the story recounted in the first season of HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty and its first four chapters are very, very, very close to the story recounted in Apple TV+’s They Call Me Magic.
Yes, that’s one scripted show, one show with more of a singular focus and one multi-decade omnibus. No, not everybody will watch more than one (or any) of these Lakers-centric projects. But I’m guessing even the most devoted of Lakers fans may begin rolling their eyes at some of the creativity-free storytelling in the early installments of Legacy. There’s a point at which Legacy locks in on its themes and on its areas of differentiation, but that point comes near the end of the six episodes sent to critics.
That differentiation, which may or may not end up being an asset, comes from the extensive participation of the Buss family, specifically Jeanie, plus siblings Johnny, Jimmy, Joey, Janie and Jesse. Access is great, but Jeanie, current CEO and controlling owner of the Lakers, is an executive producer on Legacy along with several other key Lakers executives. And while the six episodes I’ve seen don’t shy from acknowledging tensions between the siblings — and, presumably, the last four will delve into this even more deeply — it’s hard not to feel that this is a very involved commercial for a luxury brand, of the some-warts-and-all type that Disney+ has been doing extensively for Disney properties.
Legacy is pretty decent when it’s the story of a tension-plagued family passive-aggressively, and eventually active-aggressively, competing for the family business — like Succession if Kendall Roy were an executive producer, with a fun, star-studded basketball story in the background. The problem is that you can’t do the story without honoring Jerry, and Jerry Buss died in 2013, so the first four episodes are primarily generic basketball stuff with Jerry appearing in archival footage and the rest of the kids discussing their wildly nepotistic variations on Bring Your Kid to Work Day.
So it’s the same old stories about how the NBA was on the verge of disaster when Buss bought the Lakers; the same old stories about Buss’ playboy (and Playboy) lifestyle and how he turned the Lakers into a Hollywood-style show; the same old stories about drafting Magic Johnson and the early butting of heads between Magic and future THR columnist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; the same old stories about the rivalry with the Celtics. And it’s all of the same talking heads, from easily frustrated executive Jerry West to most of the necessary Lakers stars led by Magic and Kareem to poor Larry Bird as That Representative Boston Adversary. The archival basketball footage is all very similar, as is the stock imagery of smoggy vintage Los Angeles, as are the musical needle drops that bridge the shift from disco to hip-hop.
It’s almost easier to point out the well-known anecdotes that go unmentioned or the ubiquitous talking heads who opted to sit this one out. Like where’s Michael Jordan at? That dude will talk to anybody! It’s still amusing and there are different levels of candor here compared to previous projects — Magic, oddly, seems much more comfortable as a supporting figure than in the series that bore his name — but it’s basically never revelatory. It’s a Lakers story with the Buss family in the background and it’s exclusively by-the-numbers documentary filmmaking.
Eventually, though, the different Buss kids start exhibiting different personalities and taking on different leadership roles. Finally, Fuqua is able to build a structure in which the Lakers’ on-court family and their executive-box family are compared and contrasted, which you’ll know because the director leaves in so many quotes in which the players refer to the team as their “family” that it would make a deadly drinking game. Being able to see which questions Jeanie, Johnny and Jimmy eagerly answer versus the ones they evade is interesting and even entertaining.
And eventually, we get past the Showtime Lakers into The Lake Show and into the ’00s dynasty and the new voices — Shaq! Phil Jackson! Rick Fox! Nick Van Exel! — invigorate the proceedings. The absence of Kobe Bryant is a clear impediment. Even when people are talking about Kobe’s initial selfishness, there’s a tentativeness and an elegiac quality to the way they discuss him. That may or may not be a serious problem when the Shaq/Kobe feud escalates or when Fuqua attempts to deal (or not deal) with the Bryant rape allegations. The filmmaking doesn’t become more dynamic, nor does Fuqua ever find a way to tie the Busses and the Lakers into either a larger exploration of Los Angeles or the culture of the period. But at least it starts to feel like people are talking about things they haven’t discussed a thousand times before.
Will Legacy actually become something great in those last four episodes? I haven’t the faintest. There are some major speedbump topics coming up that could becoming thoroughly infuriating if they’re treated with kid gloves or obvious in-house protectiveness toward the L.A. brand, but at least I can say that Legacy gets better as it goes along.
If you’re curious, I think I’d recommend the boundlessly entertaining, if stylistically inconsistent, Winning Time for that initial Lakers chapter, then jumping into Legacy at the third or fourth hour. And then watch the last hour of They Call Me Magic if you’re curious about Magic Johnson as a businessman. But who has the time for all of that?
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