Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 25, 2016)
With Ballers, we get a new HBO series that looks at life after sports for hotshot pro athletes. The Blu-ray includes all of Season One’s 10 episodes across two discs. The plot synopses come straight from the Blu-rays’ menus.
Pilot: “A retired football star named Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) looks to forge a new career as financial manager to several current and former players in Miami.”
Like most opening episodes, “Pilot” devotes much of its energy to character introductions and exposition. Programs such as this tend to feel a bit stiff, and that’s the case here – though a cameo from some Dolphins legends amuses. The “Pilot” creates a decent framework – we’ll see where the series goes from here.
Raise Up: “Spencer tries to close a deal with Vernon (Donovan W. Carter); Ricky (John David Washington) chafes at practice; Charles (Omar Benson Miller) struggles to stay positive.”
Two episodes in and Ballers feels like a sports-based riff on Entourage. Is that good? Maybe, maybe not. “Raise” still sticks us with basic character development, so it doesn’t do a lot to entertain beyond that. I want to like the series but the first two shows leave me a little disenchanted.
Move the Chains: “Spencer’s rivalry with Reggie (London Brown) hits the boiling point; Ricky learns about an awkward connection to his teammate.”
“Chains” takes an unusual twist in that it focuses almost entirely on events at the party thrown by Spencer and his colleague Joe (Rob Corddry). Unfortunately, it fails to do much with that structure other than show a lot of hedonistic behavior. It doesn’t even move along the Reggie/Spencer conflict all that much, and this leaves it as a moderately entertaining but somewhat stagnant show.
Heads Will Roll: “Spencer takes a stand; Charles is pursued; Joe tries to bag a big client; Ricky attempts to mend a fence.”
“Heads” deepens some plot elements, but that doesn’t make it a great show. Still, it’s a bit more interesting than its lackluster predecessors, so perhaps it’ll send the series in the right direction.
Machete Charge: “Spencer steps in when Vernon is victimized; Charles's marriage is put to the test; Ricky tries to find common ground with Alonzo (Antoine Harris).”
With “Charge”, we stay in something of a holding pattern. Like “Heads”, the episode moves along story points, but also like “Heads”, it doesn’t quite lift the series into a higher gear.
Everything Is Everything: “Ricky and Spencer face their fears; Charles decides to be selfish for a day; Joe buddies up to cut a deal.”
Like the last couple of shows, “Everything” continues the series’ relative upward trajectory. I still don’t totally buy what it’s selling, but matters show improvements.
Ends: “Spencer and Charles say goodbye to Roddney; Ricky lashes out; Jason (Troy Garrity) meets him mom’s (Marlo Thomas) new boyfriend.”
I think my main issue with Ballers is that it’s not funny enough to be a good comedy and it’s not involving enough to be a good drama. Those tendencies emerge during the mediocre “Ends”, as it tries to serve both sides of that coin, and it falters in both ways.
Gaslighting: “Spencer faces his past to try to save Vernon; Charles puts his football skills to work; Ricky tries to win back Bella (Anabelle Acosta).”
As usual, “Gaslighting” comes with some decent elements, but the show’s soap opera vibe causes it to lose some points. I get that episode TV tends toward melodrama, as the programs have to go with overt drama, but I think Ballers could’ve opted more for laughs.
Head-On: “Spencer tries to make amends; Charles gets some news; Joe feels slighted at work.”
With the season close to its end, “Head-On” tries to wrap up some story points. It does so with reasonable efficiency, if not with a ton of entertainment value. This becomes a serviceable show that doesn’t do a lot to push me toward the final episode.
Flamingos: “Spencer faces a major decision; Ricky is confronted by his dad; Charles gets a second chance.”
I expected something of a cliffhanger from “Flamingos” – or at least material that points us toward the second season. Perhaps those involved weren’t sure they’d get another year, as “Flamingos” ties up matters more tightly than I anticipated.
Because the various events that lead to the season finale never became all that interesting, “Flammingos” lacks a lot of drama or intrigue. I never cared that much about the characters, so it doesn’t mean much for me to see how matters resolve. This becomes an adequate conclusion to a fairly mediocre series.