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HBO's 'Ballers': Fast Living Concept Obscures A Show With Real Potential

By Lord Castleton | TV | June 23, 2015 |

By Lord Castleton | TV | June 23, 2015 |

Warning: Some possible NSFW-ish images below

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

That line may best sum up the transient nature of HBO’s new series Ballers, a fairly transparent attempt to grab the male demo that left after Entourage ended and didn’t necessarily align themselves with Girls. To that end, the show succeeeds pretty well, offering the glitz and swagger that the various NeverNeverlands of Hollywood and NFL stardom provide.

Unfortunately for Ballers it actually could be better than that, if it could distance itself from what are some pretty clear preconceptions about what this demographic wants to see. It took all of ten seconds of screen time to get this shot of the sculpted Dwayne Johnson,

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…and then only like fifteen seconds more to get this shot of the naked girl in his bed.

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In fact, I was so conditioned to expect that T&A was part of this show that I didn’t realize in the intro of Troy Garity’s character, an agent named ‘Jason,’ that he was actually having sex with his WIFE.


Huh? Sooooo, Jason has a smoking wife who does the reverse cowboy? I know what you’re showing me, Ballers, but what are you telling me?

You know who loves seeing The Rock with his shirt off? Me. And I have zero problem (read: I like it) with seeing naked ladies. But with men we get the full spectrum, and with women we don’t. This is a malady of many shows these days where you just sit back and think, “It’s 2015 right?”

Over the course of the episode we get two separate instances of girls getting fucked who don’t need to necessarily get fucked and/or who’s nudity doesn’t necessarily inform any character or move the plot along. That’s where you sigh and hope that creator Stephen Levinson (who was an Executive Producer on Entourage) has more than just fake tits in his bag of tricks. Then again, Entourage was on for eight seasons, so someone out there likes the escapist allure of hot, easy women. Again, I’d be all for it if Ballers made some attempt at developing better female characters elsewhere, to kind of show the whole spectrum of women in the NFL, not just the groupies who will let you plow them in a club bathroom.

I write about the NFL for Pajiba and so I know that there are tons of interesting women in the NFL. Too often we only see these tawdry hangers-on, and we don’t get to see the women in the front office, scouting players. We don’t get to see the TV executives. We don’t get to see the football-indoctrinated daughter of an NFL owner who is being groomed to helm one of the thirty-two most coveted franchises in the world. In that, Ballers has a ways to go.

I’ll give Ballers the benefit of the doubt for now, and assume they’ll develop some female characters who aren’t the standard, hard-edged-being-cheated-on player wife who talks nasty to agents cause she’s all about dat money or the Britt McHenry types, who seem like just the narrow-minded, reprehensible moths that are perpetually attracted to the NFL flame.

For those of you that don’t know, this is ESPN NFL reporter Britt McHenry, who was suspended for a whole week after this incident.

So yeah, that’s not exactly the kind of association the NFL wants.

Ballers follows the story of former player Spencer Strassmore (Dwayne Johnson) who starts the pilot episode by waking up and immediately popping pain medication. I mean the second he wakes up. We meet ‘Spence” at the one year mark of his employment with an unnamed talent agency and he has the look of a winner. Sharp suits, fit as a fiddle, he looks like a man in charge of his life. When the widow of a deceased colleague suggests that he needs to take a long, hard look at himself, we are meant to believe that she knows something we don’t.

“I got a handle on that.” Says Spence.

“Is that what you tell yourself?”

“I’m good,” he says.

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We come to find that things aren’t as good as they look, and damn- they look good. Dwayne Johnson is just a great way to spend time with your eyes, and it occurred to me about halfway through the episode that this is probably the meatiest actual “acting” role he’s ever had, Unsurprisingly, he rises to the challenge. In fact, you really want him to rise even more. I was recently on the set of his new movie Central Intelligence and all anyone could talk about was what an excellent human being he is. It’s such a nice world when the Dwayne Johnsons and the Chris Pratts are killing it.

The crisis, we come to find out, is that Spence needs to “monetize his relationships” and that is much tougher than it seems. His boss, played by the always note-perfect Rob Corddry, gives him an ultimatum. Do it, or else…

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It’s good, relatable fare. How many of us are truly immune from money issues? We’ve all looked at that ATM machine and seen insufficient funds at one time or another. How Spence plans to rectify that is what will make us come back for episode two.

Ballers is just what the doctor ordered for fans of football and people looking for a lighter meal than the HBO Sunday night entrees. It’s empirically good, but if it can cast off some of the shallower, less elegant barnacles from its Entourage proclivities, it has the potential to be much more than that.

Lord Castleton is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

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