The White Shadow: The Complete Second Season

Forced into early retirement by a knee injury, NBA pro Ken Reeves (Ken Howard) is offered a job by old friend Jim Willis (Jason, later Ed, Bernard) coaching basketball at Los Angeles' Carver High. Over the course of the series, Reeves transforms Carver's players from misfits into winners, as he and his team wrestle with racism, sex education, illiteracy, drugs, prostitution, and the untimely deaths of friends and relatives. The White Shadow's second season is punctuated by two episodes demonstrative of the series' balance between comic and dramatic moments. The first, "Globetrotters," features an appearance by the Harlem Globetrotters, who do Reeves a favour in teaching the over-confident Carver High team a lesson. (The acrobatic athletes often aid the needy in the Kingdom of Television, having helped the castaways of the S. S. Minnow teach some evil robots a lesson in 1981's "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.") The other episode, "Needle," is far darker. Coach Reeves attempts to stop one of his players, Hayward (Thomas Carter), from killing the drug dealer responsible for his young cousin's death. A highlight of the series comes via an intense confrontation between Hayward and the dealer, Trotter (credited only as Leopoldo). The machismo egoism that the heroes emit at times is so realistic that one is compelled to blame such noisome light moments on The White Shadow's compelling performances. So painfully convincing are Coolidge, Hayward, Salami, Gomez, et al., that by comparison the fantasy that is Kotter's Vinnie Barbarino, "Boom, Boom" Washington and Arnold Horshack becomes a comfort. Howard began his career playing supporting roles in films by Otto Preminger and John Huston, and soon made the move into television and TV movies. His work here is exceptional. Coach Reeves is heroic, struggling against the affliction of failure to provide his students with a strong role model, and unlike the young cast, Reeves shifts between light and heavy moments with great ease. Created by Bruce Paltrow (of St. Elsewhere success) and produced by MTM, The White Shadow, like All in the Family and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, mixed comedy and drama in dealing with serious issues facing the American people. Here, situations involving bigotry and poverty are placed in an arena for the disapproving gaze of the viewing public, the series writers using the medium to judge and condemn their opposition, be it whites-only country clubs, street prostitution, or Los Angeles drug culture. The DVD set includes all 24 episodes from the second season, two of which ("Needle" and "The Death of Me Yet") feature commentary — one by writer Marc Rubin, the other from director Victor Lobl. (Fox)