HBO’s “Entourage but with football” is back, and well…it’s back. It seems just like the past three seasons until you actually look at what’s going on.
After spending the past three seasons following former NFL player Spencer Strasmore’s (Dwayne Johnson) rise as sports agent extraordinaire, Ballers has flipped to the next logical chapter: Broadcasting.
Really, that’s the elevator pitch. On the surface, it’s pretty mundane if not a tired retread. But upon deeper consideration, it has to be appreciated that this wasn’t the first chapter in Spencer’s post-football life.
It’s a tired idea for former athletes to go into sports media, so it’s an interesting inversion of the arc. Further credit to creating even more personal conflict for Spencer when it’s revealed he doesn’t want to be stuck in L.A. because it’s where his brother committed suicide years ago.
When the season premiere ended, it felt like it missed the mark not weaving current events into its plot. There’s no mention of the league’s anxiety surrounding the national anthem, no stance on Colin Kaepernick or the owners. The only political moment is a meta-reference to The Rock’s potential bid for president, as he misunderstands being on the Hall of Fame ballot for running for office.
Not putting out support for Kaepernick, or even representing any of the political anxiety seems like a missed shot. But what could an HBO show about a man who carries around wine in a metal briefcase along with a multi-million dollar check add to the conversation?
The show has never been about the NFL. It has never been about football. Those are just two vessels for a character study. Ever since the pilot, this has been a character study of Spencer, and if the current events don’t directly sway him, there’s little room for discussion.
Furthermore, Spencer’s major clients are out of the game for the time being. Ricky Jerret (John David Washington) is window-shopping during a tentative retirement. Charles Greene has now taken over as general manager for the Los Angeles Rams, so there’s potential for him to deal with more political issues but at the moment, his conflict rests with typical business drama.
If the premiere is anything, it’s a tease of what’s to come. Spencer’s mental health was a Hughe point of emphasis last season, dealing with his mortality and fragility both mentally and physically. So far this season, that has barely been scratched.
Setting him up with a potential Hall of Fame nomination could further test his idea of legacy and an existential crisis. His new business venture with Joe (Rob Corddry) is perhaps a bit shoehorned, but adding another ghost from his closet is intriguing at the very least.
Looking further down the episode list, it’s likely to take add politics into the mix. though. The second episode is entitled “Don’t You Wanna Be Obama?” So we’ll find out soon enough if it will dive into HBO Sorkin territory or continue the good path it has set itself on to open the season.
Even on a technical side, it seems to flourish more than the past couple seasons, if not just become a bit flashier with long takes and letting the ensemble roll on its own volition. You can’t take that away from the show, the cast is comprised of nothing but charisma. Johnson is still in fine form and the banter with Corddry is ultimately the show’s greatest asset. Add in Russell Brand as an eccentric business owner passing the torch to Spencer and Joe, what’s not to like? The brand continues to grow.
Everything feels familiar. That’s simply to say if you’re not already invested in the show or its characters lives, there’s little reason to start watching now. Without a political hook at the moment, there’s little chance of expanding the audience beyond The Rock’s pull as the ultimate showman.
Overall Grade: 7 out of 10