Good morning and happy Tuesday, good people. As always, thanks for kicking off your day with us here at The County Line—four out of five doctors recommend it as part of a balanced breakfast.
Today is National Shrimp Day, which is a delicious reason for a fake holiday, for sure, but not one that I could spend a few hundred words on like some previous observances. What’s there to even say about that one, other than it tastes pretty good? With that in mind, we’re going in a different direction with today’s kick-off-your-day post.
This author is running at less than 100 percent this morning, a little tired to be up so early, but it’s my fault. Last night, after the Grizzlies-Warriors Game 4 of the Western Conference Playoffs, I traveled back in time but stayed in the Western Conference.
HBO’s new hit series “Winning Time” — a dramatization of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 1980 season (which Jordan Willis recommended way back in March) — has captivated me since the very first episode. I foolishly stayed up way past my bedtime to catch the final two episodes and I’m paying for that decision this morning.
This series enthralled me not just because I’m a basketball fan, which yesterday’s morning post made abundantly clear. I also like history, and generally enjoy period pieces in general. If producers sink enough money into a project set in the past to get the aesthetic details right — the cars, fashion, décor, technology, etc. — I’m hooked even if the show or movie is otherwise forgettable.
“Winning Time” is not forgettable. In fact I was entertained throughout, but it’s far from perfect. Only Lakers owner Jerry Buss, played to perfection by John C. Reilly, is portrayed with any sense of nuance. Most characters are handled less kindly, with their personalities reduced to one-note, less-than-flattering caricatures: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an aloof jerk. Spencer Haywood is a drug-addicted jerk. Larry Bird is a redneck jerk. Jerry West is a deranged lunatic (and also kind of a jerk). I could go on, but you get the picture. It’s no wonder almost every real person portrayed on the show has spoken out against it, with West even publicly contemplating legal action.
It’s because of these flaws, however, that I got an idea. This wildly imperfect show captivated me by doing enough things right that I was willing to overlook its many shortcomings. The topic (early ’80s NBA) is unique and interesting. The characters are well-known figures. The sets, costumes, and props are all well done and feel authentic to the time period. If these successes are enough to overcome the show’s deficiencies, what else would make for a good period-piece mini-series?
I smell a top five list coming. Here are my picks for historic retellings, stories that I think people would find entertaining even if not every detail is historically accurate or every character properly portrayed. I’ve even come up with the titles already, so the studios can thank me later for doing that part of the job for them.
1. “No Sense of Decency”
A look back at McCarthyism, focusing on the maligned Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his reckless attempts to rid 1950s America of everyone he believed to be a communist, which turned out to be pretty much everyone he disliked. The quote for the title is from Joseph N. Welch, spoken directly to McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings.
There have been plenty of dramas about the Cold War already, I know, and probably some about McCarthy specifically, but this one would be different. This would be comedy, treating a clown like McCarthy with all the seriousness a clown deserves. Starring Will Ferrell as the villainous Wisconsin senator.
The 1980s were known for decadence and depravity, which is one of the draws for “Winning Time.” “Geeks” doesn’t focus on athletes, though.
This series follows Bill Gates and his top cohorts at Microsoft as they rise from upstart computer geeks to powerful billionaires. This is not, however, the typical biopic. I don’t really care about the technology or even the business (both of which were the focus of “Pirates of Silicon Valley”), so this is a more personal story about how people respond to success.
What would you do if all your wildest dreams came true? This retelling centers on what happens when a small group of young men suddenly have all the money. My guess is shenanigans ensue. I’m sure Gates would not like these stories to be told, but I’m also sure these stories are out there, I’m sure they’re outrageous, and I’m sure people would watch.
We go back more than 100 years for this one, to early 20th century Hollywood, before dialogue was a necessary or even possible aspect of filmmaking. This would be a period piece in the truest sense, and by that I mean the time period would basically serve as the main character. How were movies made back then? How did Hollywood power players dress, talk, and conduct business? Who were the stars? Who was in charge? What kind of scandalous behaviors were common? I don’t have any of these answers, but I’d watch to find out and I bet others would as well.
4. “Milk and Cigarettes”
I didn’t know I liked period piece dramas until I got into AMC’s “Mad Men” 10 or so years ago. Set on Madison Avenue in the 1960s, I was instantly enchanted by the culture of the time, and the attention to detail — from the way people dressed, their haircuts, how they spoke, the cars they drove, and the technology they used — really made you feel like you were watching something from a bygone era.
“Milk and Cigarettes” would bet set in the same period but focus on a wholly different type of people and culture. This story would take place in rural Kentucky, and instead of advertising executives like on “Mad Men” we’d follow the lives of dairy and tobacco farmers and others in their community.
Authentic machinery, tractors, clothing, and farming methods of this time could transport viewers back a few generations, and smart writers could foreshadow the looming decline of the small-time family farm. The dairy and tobacco buyouts were still a few decades away in the 1960s, but issues that led to the buyouts — and subsequent rise of industrial farming — were already beginning to fester.
5. “Region Champs”
For the sake of non-sports fans reading this column, I only included one sports-focused story on this list, but it’s a doozy.
If not for the above-mentioned consideration, I could write a book about sports figures and events that should be made into movies or shows: Josh Gibson, known during his heyday as “The Black Babe Ruth” is a fascinating figure who is long overdue for a biopic. Kentucky basketball’s fall from grace following the Chris Mills money-in-a-duffle-bag scandal and eventual rise from the ashes with the “Unforgettables” would surely be a hit in this state. Heck, just moving “Winning Time” to the other coast and focusing on Larry Bird’s Celtics of the same era would be must-watch for many of us.
None of those would be my top pick for a sports mini-series, however. My dream show, albeit one that will surely never get made, has a hyper-local focus.
In 1995, Keith Young coached the Adair County Indians basketball team to its first region title in 40 years. Before he ever had a chance to defend his title, Young was fired. What followed featured more drama than a soap opera could conjure in a hundred years. The site-based council went to war with the school board. Young’s wife was hired as his replacement, becoming the first female to ever coach a boys’ varsity basketball game in the state of Kentucky. There were lawsuits and countersuits and rumors and allegations galore. Young never did get his coaching job back, but he eventually got the job of the superintendent who fired him, Al Sullivan.
While I know this story is only known around here, and thus would never be deemed worthy of Hollywood, I can’t imagine a more interesting 10-part series. If I’m ever a billionaire, I’ll see to it this show gets made.
Thanks for taking this stroll down Hypothetical Lane with me this morning. Check back with us throughout the day, as we have a full slate of local news and sports content headed your way. Until next time…