Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of basketball-themed shows on the small screen. From Netflix’s stunning The Last Dance to AppleTV’s less than impressive Swagger, both of these have been joined by a newcomer in the field – 2022’s Showtime drama, The Winning Time. With this scripted basketball series growing from strength to strength, it’s a good time to be a fan of basketball.
Never one to miss jumping on a trend, AppleTV return for a four part docu-series, diving into the illustrious career and life of Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr.
Fleshed out with colourful commentary from various different influential figures, including Snoop Dogg, Barack Obama, Michael Jordan and *checks notes* Bill Clinton, each of these figures are somewhat overshadowed by Magic himself, who talks us through every step of his career.
Predictably, the first two episodes show Magic’s rise to the top, starting from humble beginnings and taking the sport by storm. All the pressures and tensions are there to see, showcased across these hour-long episodes that really take the time to dive into the attitudes and thoughts of the time, intertwined around the psyche Johnson adopted at these moments of his career.
Episode 3 then changes tact slightly, as the focus moves across to Magic (reluctantly!) passing the torch to Michael Jordan while simultaneously dealing with the crushing reality of receiving his HIV diagnosis.
With his world turned upside down, the attitudes of the time are shown in their ugly truth, with many newspaper publications labelled this as the “homosexual disease”.
The fourth and final episode then changes to that era beyond the primetime playing days on the court. Magic’s Olympics run in 1992, the LA riots, the late night Magic Hour talk-show and Magic’s reaction to his son coming out as gay are all explored here, and the documentary does a pretty good job detailing a lot of this.
Fans of basketball will be in their element with this one, as there’s a lot of archival footage, plenty of talking head interviews and raw court action to sink your teeth into. Some of the basketball shots are cut around famous photographs from that time, in a slick bit of editing that’s an easy highlight in this four hour depiction of a magical icon.
They Call Me Magic is a thorough and comprehensive profile of a man who changed the face of basketball forever. His work both on and off the court has been plain to see. Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr is a special basketball player and this celebratory docu-series does a pretty good job capturing all of it, making for an enjoyable ride from start to finish.
They Call Me Magic releases on AppleTV+ this Friday 22nd April!
Verdict - 7.5/10