×

TV Review: ‘Ballers’

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

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

More TV

  • Love Island - Pictured: Kyra Green,

    TV Ratings: Is 'Love Island' Deserted?

    Two weeks have passed on “Love Island” and plenty of singles have coupled and uncoupled in their bid for love and a fat $100,000 pay check. However, there’s one couple that doesn’t seem to be hitting it off: CBS and “Love Island.” Ratings for the show have been far from paradisiacal, and with the network [...]

  • Jenny Wall Eryk Casemiro Nickelodeon

    Jenny Wall Named Nickelodeon CMO, Eryk Casemiro Named Senior VP of Nickelodeon Preschool

    Nickelodeon has hired two new executives, tapping Jenny Wall to become chief marketing officer and Eryk Casemiro to become senior vice president of Nickelodeon Preschool. Most recently CMO at Spotify-owned Gimlet Media, Wall will be responsible for all on- and off-air consumer marketing, brand creative and content launches across all of Nickelodeon’s platforms, including Nicktoons, [...]

  • Liz Garbus on Why We May

    Liz Garbus on Why The World May Never Know 'Who Killed Garrett Phillips'

    By the time Liz Garbus’s two-part documentary “Who Killed Garrett Phillips?” debuts on HBO, there could be a new public lead in the case of the murdered titular 12-year-old. As least, that’s what many may hope after the new St. Lawrence County district attorney admitted a new tip earlier this spring. Garbus says she would [...]

  • Mike Fleiss

    'Bachelor' Producers in Wait-and-See Mode Amid Police Probe Into Fleiss Incident

    Those working on “The Bachelor” and its sister shows are in wait-and-see mode as a domestic incident involving creator Mike Fleiss continues to be investigated in Kauai, according to sources close to production. The results of the police investigation are still pending, after Fleiss’ wife, Laura Fleiss, had accused him of attacking her in their [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Cable Blackouts Growing More Common, Even If Subscribers Get Angry

    Among media companies, “going dark” was once a matter of last resort. Now it’s an option that is seeing more light. CBS is not currently available on DirecTV or AT&T’s U-verse, the result of a battle over how much the two outlets’ owner, AT&T, ought to pay for the right to send CBS into millions [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content