Ballers Premiers On HBO

Published: June 22, 2015

Ballers Premiers On HBO, With “Game of Thrones” and “Silicon Valley” finishing their seasons last week, HBO welcomes a host of season premieres on Sunday. Among them: “Ballers,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rob Corddry and a host of NFL stars.

The quick description you’ll hear, even from Johnson himself, is that the show positions itself as “Entourage” meets the NFL.

The basic frame of that is right: Gratuitous everything and general fantasy camp for anyone who ever wanted to know what the life of some NFL stars is like. (Certainly not all, of course.) That whole thing isn’t by accident as Stephen Levinson is the executive producer, who was also the executive producer of “Entourage” during its run on HBO.

Charles Greane, played by Omar Benson Miller, has a storyline that actually shows a lot of promise. The Rock’s character, Spencer Strassmore, also has a ton of potential, but through just four episodes, there are a ton of plates spinning for him and it’s hard to imagine how they develop much story for any of it in 30 minute episodes of a short season. Rob Corddry’s character is probably the closest thing you’ll get to Ari Gold on this show.

But “Ballers” fails to produce some kind of laughs, even on a sophomoric level, like “Entourage” did early in its run.

It’s also unlike “Entourage” in that the people we generally focus on have already made it. They’re already a big deal. Even those who are “struggling” are driving Ferraris or coming off of successful NFL careers. There is no Eric, Turtle or Johnny Drama striving for relevancy. So when there are stumbles for the characters, at least through the first four episodes, there’s no great feeling of loss or drama.

Alan Sepinwall of sums up the first four episodes nicely with this in his review. “‘Ballers’ isn’t especially bad, but nor is it especially good. It’s a show that’s neither fish nor fowl: not nearly funny enough to really qualify as a comedy (and it’s not until the fourth and final episodes sent to critics that it even seems to be trying all that hard to function as a comedy), not serious or complicated enough to qualify as a drama. It’s just… a show.”

Sepinwall is right. The show isn’t bad. Just as no one watched “Entourage” seeking “The Sopranos,” no one should watch this seeking the high-stakes drama of “True Detective.” Hopefully the second half of the season at least establishes a little more identity, even if that identity is mindless fun and humor. “Entourage” made eight seasons of TV by knowing what it was.


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