TV Review: ‘Ballers’

Ballers TV Review HBO
Courtesy of HBO

Entourage” is currently back and in theaters, which makes “Ballers” — the sports-world version of the show — feel even more superfluous. Capitalizing on the mix of money and groupies that surround major sports in the same way they do Hollywood, this series created by an alum of that aforementioned HBO franchise, Stephen Levinson, is perhaps most notable for bringing Dwayne Johnson to TV (outside of the wresting ring), in a role that capitalizes on his football-playing past and knack for comedy. Still, he’s mostly the straight man in these opening episodes, in what could easily be marketed as “ ‘Entourage’ … with balls.”

Johnson, who starred at the U. of Miami before his wrestling/acting career, plays former NFL linebacker Spencer Strasmore, who has sought a second act beyond football by functioning as a money manager for current players. His boss, Joe (Rob Corddry), is a socially inept sort who clearly loves hanging around pro stars, and makes no bones about the fact that Spencer landed the gig only because of his perceived access to them as a former member of a very select club.

The players, meanwhile — both the current stars Spencer would like to represent, and his former teammates, dealing with life after football, and brought together by a tragedy — face an assortment of familiar problems. They range from juggling wives and girlfriends to being followed around by huge posses of friends and relatives, happily spending their money as if the spigot will never run dry despite the brevity of most pro careers. That leaves Spencer as a frequent voice of reason, trying to project an aura of success that masks some of his own financial struggles.

Nothing here is remotely new, of course, whether seen before on old movies like “North Dallas Forty” or “Playmakers,” a short-lived ESPN series the network jettisoned under pressure from the image-conscious NFL. Indeed, all Levinson (working on the premiere with director Peter Berg, who also has a small role in the show) has really done is substitute the gang from “Entourage” with African-American stars basking in the glory and headaches associated with fame and fortune, and moved the setting from L.A. to the equally bikini-friendly backdrop of Miami.

Johnson certainly brings star quality to the proceedings, and the mix of sports and male-oriented pastimes (the women here, as with “Entourage,” are generally little more than well-adorned props) should invest the show with appeal in bastions beyond traditional sitcoms. In the early going, that includes cameos by former NFL greats, like Miami’s Larry Csonka and coach Don Shula.

Yet despite knowing the turf, “Ballers” — premiering at a point when exploitation of athletes and debilitating injuries are very much in the news — isn’t savvy enough about its subject matter to leave a mark. Sure, it’s easy enough to watch, but almost wholly inconsequential, and forgotten as soon as the final gun sounds.

If HBO’s programming philosophy amounts to stitching together a quilt to satisfy different constituencies, “Ballers” is a logical patch to add, especially if the goal is to hang onto some of the men who watch the new season of “True Detective.” It’s just too bad that those responsible for this sports comedy forgot to bring their “A” game.

TV Review: 'Ballers'

(Series; HBO, Sun. June 21, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Miami by Leverage Entertainment, Closest to the Hole Prods. and Seven Bucks Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, Peter Berg, Evan Reilly, Rob Weiss, Julian Farino, Denis Biggs; co-executive producer, Hiram Garcia; director, Berg; writer, Levinson; camera, Tobias Schliessler, Jaime Reynoso; production designers, Kevin Kavanaugh, Chase Harlan; editors, Colby Parker, Jr., Jeff Groth, Jeffery M. Werner, Jonathon Schwartz; music, Scott Vener; casting, Sheila Jaffe, Susan Paley Abramson, Justine Hempe. 30 MIN.

Cast

Dwayne Johnson, John David Washington, Omar Miller, Donovan Carter, Troy Garity, Rob Corddry, London Brown, Jazmyn Simon

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  1. RB says:

    What an entirely uninsightful, uninspired glaringly boring review of a really great show.

    The show is exceptionally well written, funny, very well cast, beautifully shot without being too slick to appreciate and uses Miami’s surreal beauty as a character in the show. All this while managing to shine a light on the parts of the NFL that I wish pro football fans gave more than zero fucks about.

    I hope and pray the show sees many more seasons.

  2. Mantle Head says:

    I like The Rock, seems like a decent human being; though this sort of thing I find very unappealing, who cares about this world, a world most of us will never be a pat of; though even if the offer was made, I would stay far away from this world. Surprised to see HBO involved, seems more Netflix really; but I guess The Rock is outside their budget. I know football might be the cornerstone to many a minus intellect dumbass; but I hate football… when you have guys like Arron Herendez signing 40 million dollar deals and then putting bullets in people; well, what you have is a story… so why not that story? Right, NFL likes to keep the truth under wraps; which makes sense with the likes of Herendez in the Jacuzzi/huddle… and all the women who get beat up; and all the drugs, crime syndicate associations…

    So what we have here is Hollywood- this is what Hollywood is like… it has nothing to do with football, if it did it would it would have something to say.

    Is Vin Diesel going to make a cameo, ‘Duh, me like family, no friend…’

    F**king meathead… sh*t for brains… ‘Duh, me have loin cloth over small ball sack!!! Me like…’

    • TheGuyFromOhio says:

      You probably shouldn’t haul off and call people meatheads, dumbasses, or sh*t for brains when you can barely string together a coherent thought, much less a cogent argument. By the way, it’s Aaron Hernandez. Google is your friend.

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