‘Ballers’ Review: No Money, Mo’ Problems

Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot
Grade: B

“Never buy a depreciating asset. If it drives, flies, floats, or fucks, lease it.”

Good advice, Ari Gold.

Oh wait, wrong HBO series.

After getting rid of the visual diarrhea that was the Entourage movie, HBO has moved on to Ballers. From the trailers, it seems as though the show would be Entourage mixed with Hard Knocks, with The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, playing an Ari-type role. The series is centered around Johnson’s character, Spenser Strasmore, a retired NFL player who now works for a money manager. It’s crazy to think that Johnson is now a bonafide star, which speaks to his charisma, talent, and work ethic.

HBO chose the right guy in Johnson to lead the series. It’s absolutely believable that he was once a former football player. Yes, his acting chops leave a bit to be desired in some of scenes, but his charisma powers through regardless of the writing.

Strasmore is jolted from his humdrum retirement after a former buddy of his is killed in a head-on collision. Of course, this being HBO, it’s not just a simple head-on collision, it is a head-on collision due to a player arguing with his mistress. At the funeral Strasmore is forced to confront the reality about life after football, and he talks to some of his former buddies in the NFL about life, and most importantly, what to do with the money that they have left. Of course, because half of this show is fueled by testosterone, the talk of “funeral hos” comes up. As misogynistic as this show is, it sadly doesn’t seem out-of-place. With the NFL and its player’s activities recently, the tone of the show hits exactly where it needs to. Whereas Entourage’s forced machismo is laughable, the use in Ballers is a fitting portrayal of what the players probably feel, and what gets them into so much trouble in the first place. Yet, in spite of all of that, Strasmore seems removed from that world, and because it’s in such contrast, it makes him much more likable.

At the club, Strasmore’s buddy Ricky punches out a guy after screwing a bottle service girl in the bathroom. Ricky’s action get him cut from the Green Bay Packers and looking for a job come the next day. The rest of the episode revolves around Strasmore using his connections to set up Ricky with an interview. Of course, Ricky blows it, but manages to bungle himself into a job with the Miami Dolphins in the end.

What’s surprising about Ballers is how the NFL is featured front and center. Ballers uses real NFL logos, NFL teams, and NFL players. This show in no way portrays the players in a positive light. I think the show is actually shining a light on the off-field exploits of the player lifestyle, and the sad realities of the players who aren’t superstars, the players that you hear about being broke in a couple of years after retirement. With all of the bad press surrounding the NFL these days, I’m incredibly surprised that the league hasn’t tried to intervene and pull the branding from the show.

By the end of the episode, Strasmore lands a client in Ricky. In addition, Strasmore also lends $300,000 to a rookie who blew through his savings so he could get him as a client. This bankrupts Strasmore, so he’s taking a huge leap of faith with this move. This pilot episode doesn’t really offer a lot of substance, but I feel the setup could lead to something more interesting. Ballers provides an interesting, albeit dramatized look at the other side of professional sports. The half-hour is all set up, leading to the middling grade, but with Dwayne Johnson carrying the load, I think the show could be entertaining, but we’ll see in the weeks to come.

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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