After the Entourage run was over, HBO had an Ari Gold sized void in it’s lineup. Apparently someone high up at the network felt as though HBO had abandoned their devout audience of frat boys seeking the thrills of an unattainable lifestyle involving drugs, sex, and alcohol. Well, gentleman, you can turn off the reruns of Workaholics because the debauchery is back with Ballers.
I was stunned not only to find out that Pete Berg (Friday Night Lights, the TV show & film) was not only directing the debut episode but will be portraying the head coach of the Miami Dolphins! This fact (and this fact alone) compelled me to actually sit and watch the show, which was a pleasant surprise. Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is a former NFL Defensive Linemen turned Financial Manager after the conclusion of his career. Johnson dresses the part, and drives a Range Rover but an “Insufficient Funds” experience at an ATM with his girlfriend indicates that he is flat broke.
To Ballers credit, the show gives a realistic portrayal of how painful and mundane life can be like for retired NFL players. Spencer struggles to get out of bed in the morning, and immediately dips into his pain pills. He speaks to his friends and clients that still play in the NFL sternly about the dangers of their financial mismanagement and party lifestyle.
Spencer’s buddy, and former Buccaneers OL Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller) is forced by his wife to seek a job, presumably to get him off of the couch, and ends up landing a sales gig at the largest Chevy dealership in Miami. The direction the show is taking is still somewhat unclear, however its first-episode roots were firmly planted in the stories of former athletes struggling to adapt to life outside of the spotlight, or an income. The previews painted the picture of an endless yacht party, but the first episode carried the classic Pete Berg hallmarks of struggle and the search for identity after sports. Mark Wahlberg, HBO’s current muse of choice, is attached to the show as the Executive Producer, and between him and Pete Berg I have confidence that an entertaining plot structure can be created and maintained.
As the episode unfolds, the shows conflict becomes increasingly apparent. Spencer must choose to leverage the friendships he made in the NFL to help grow his career and blur the lines between old friendships and prospective clients. In one scene Spencer delivers a $300,000 loan to a Defensive End still on his rookie contract with a house full of strangers partying his money away. His message about fiscal responsibility doesn’t land and the player walks away without agreeing to become a client. Ballers has an opportunity to tell this story about the business behind the game, which is fascinating and a relatively unknown aspect of professional football. Ballers could also easily fall by the wayside and give us Entourage 2.0 with a way bigger (physically) cast. The former would be a great show, and the latter would be largely forgettable.
The supporting cast includes Rob Cordry, playing Rob Cordry, and Spencer’s boss who hired Spencer specifically for his celebrity status. It’s safe to say anyone with convincing NFL size and an IMDB page will cycle through the show.
For you aforementioned Entourage fans, there are going to be plenty of boob shots, drug use, and boat parties to tide you over. The fact that the show discovered a loophole allowing it to use the real NFL team names and logos adds a sense of legitimacy that will greatly benefit the show in the long run. As long as Peter Berg and and Mark Wahlberg continue to put their stamp on the show, Ballers is worth checking out.
The “10 Minute Test” is a concept that I definitely didn’t come up with, but have adopted as my own philosophy when it comes to trying a new TV show or movie. I’ll watch for ten minutes and if I’m not thoroughly engaged I’ll turn it off, because life is short. I knew from the previews “The Brink” was not going to be any good, but good and entertaining enough to watch aren’t necessarily synonymous, especially on HBO.
Part political satire and part “National Lampoons Congressional Rager,” the show features a reasonably strong cast with Tim Robbins as the Secretary of State, Jack Black as a young foreign service officer for the US Embassy in Pakistan, and Pablo Shreiber (Orange Is the New Black) as a drug-dealing fighter pilot. Three or four separate plot lines revolve around a military coup in Pakistan. The show hardly seeks depth or Sorkin-like banter between its characters, but rather settles for a plethora of cheap sexual, albeit marginally funny jokes.
Robbins manages to be believable as a booze-fueled, prostitute-friendly member of the cabinet, but is way over the top in his delivery. Black brings his usual arsenal of overly confident fat/funny guy to the table, and creates a “Veep” like culture of amusing incompetency from the US Government.
The show is essentially a lesser extension of Veep, only crafted specifically for college-aged males or major Judd Apatow enthusiasts. Because I happen to (sort of) fit into that demographic, and because I suffer from extreme immaturity, I laughed hard enough at the show to give it a passing grade in the “Ten Minute Test.”
The Brink is another show that will be giving you plenty of naked females, drug use, and heavy alcohol consumption, as HBO has decided that the summer months are for bro-ing out apparently. Schreiber and Jack Black are worth checking in on, but tread carefully with this one.