‘Ballers’ Review: Deal or No Deal

Season 1, Episode 2 – Raise Up
Grade: B-

I will say one thing for Ballers after the somewhat sensationalist pilot, the show is trying to treat its subject manner seriously. Whether that tone works for the show or not is another matter, but I for one am glad that HBO isn’t taking the ‘Entourage’ route with this and showing gratuitous displays of wealth and nudity for the sake of getting males age 18-35 to watch.

Raise Up picks up where the pilot left off, and starts on Strassmore working on elderly lady at the firm who has some very pointed things to say about his football career. While he’s trying to get this client out the door, Strassmore’s boss Joe (Rob Corddry) shows up to kiss ass and speed up the process. Joe is sick and tired of having Strassmore around without him picking up A-list clients for the firm. Strassmore then dangles Vernon (the player who he lent $300,000) in front of Joe as a big signing. Before Strassmore can fully bask in the glory however, he reveals that he hasn’t signed papers, and without papers, the deal is worthless. Eager to make his mark, Strassmore sets out to get ink on the dotted line.

Ricky on the other hand, fresh of his brush with humility, is handed a gaudy piece of jewelry by his girlfriend (paid for by his black card), which is immediately rendered useless by the Dolphins assigning him a different number than the one that he’s worn all his life. He’s reduced to attempting to bribe his teammate to get his number back, only to be rebuffed. At this point in the series, it’s obvious that they’re going to use Ricky’s career as a plot point, but this episode was all setup with no pay off, a theme that will be recurring.

Elsewhere, retired player Charles Greane, who runs in the same circles as Strassmore, is settling in at his new job as a car salesman. Before he can do that however, he’s visited by the General Manager of the Miami Dolphins and while under the pretense of a car sale, is given a pitch to come back and play. For any retired player, a pitch like that is hard to forget, and long after the GM leaves the dealership, Greane thinks about the possibility. Like that, the seed planted, waiting to be harvested in a future episode.


To bring things full circle, Strassmore arranges a brunch meeting with Vernon at the Biltmore, a super swanky Miami establishment. What is supposed to be business turns into a family affair with all of Vernon’s extended crew on the patio for an outing. Strassmore and Joe, obviously caught a bit unawares, maneuver and try to fit in with the gathering, until Strassmore seizes an opportunity to get a moment alone with Vernon. Finally cornering Vernon, Strassmore works his charm and gets Vernon to sign papers, though not without a verbal agreement allowing Vernon’s current “financial advisor” Reggie to sign off to any big deals. Reggie, who has been Vernon’s friend since childhood, is the type of person that your parents warn you about, and seems to be the parasite that feeds off the success of others. Pushed into a corner, Strassmore reluctantly agrees, and gets a signature from Vernon.

This week’s episode was short of a filler episode, but it was all setup for the season. I understand that it is important to build the plot of each character, but I do wish that the time was better spent with a deeper look into one character, as opposed to glancing upon each. Ballers strikes again a more interesting tone than the pilot, but it’s still waiting to spill its guts. I still believe in the premise of the show, but I hope that the plot will gain speed quickly.

Terence Chen
Terence Chenhttp://theerrantbachelor.wordpress.com
is someone who realizes that his love of comic books since he was a child is one of only things allowing him to understand pop culture right now. He's irreverent and irrelevant most of the time, but every once in a while, he can put together a few coherent thoughts. He is currently a contributing writer on the Workprint. You can follow him on twitter @ErrantBachelor, and read his personal ramblings at TheErrantBachelor.wordpress.com

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