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HBO Sunday Night Recap: Week of 7/5

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True Detective
Episode Three: Maybe Tomorrow 

True Detective has served up unequal portions of romance, sex and violence in its now 11 episode lifespan, but resurrection is the sorbet used to cleanse the palate for season two. Ray Velcoro was murdered, that’s what Frank told the waitress as she watched Velcoro leave their usual bar meet-up. We have witnessed the rebirth of the detective Velcoro. He even drinks a WATER at the bar in place of his usual liquor-drug combo, and saves the life of Bezzerides from oncoming traffic. Ray speaks to his father (Steve Earl), both in dream world and reality, but his idealized dream version of dad is very different from the disgruntled retired police officer he delivers weed to. Ray finds his father’s old police badge in the trash, and is pained when his dad tells him that real police work doesn’t exist anymore. We’ve reached a turning point with Ray, and he has a long list of people to repay for a lifetime of corruption and wrongdoing before the show wraps up.

Vince Vaughn continues to be the the most interesting storyline of this season, not his character mind you, but Vaughn’s efforts to be convincing in his role. You can tell that he wants to own this character, but he struggles under the weight of dialogue better suited for another actor. Vaughn was finally able to use his ace in the hole in Episode 3, putting his giant frame and propensity for old fashioned shit talking to use in a brawl for respect at the club. Pizzolotto wrote the role of Frank for Vaughn specifically, because great writers and directors find unexpected brilliance from actors that don’t necessarily make sense for their roles on paper. Vaughn fell into error when he tried to match the chops of his predecessors in McConaughey and Harrelson, two actors of a very superior caliber. We finally saw Frank go a little crazy, ripping the teeth out of a competing crime boss, and if he continues to find that little spark of insanity, Vaughn will find himself in Frank.

I wrote last week about Paul Woodrugh dropping less than subtle hints about his sexuality, and now we know with certainty that the motorcycle cop is hiding more than just a mysterious history of violence resulting in burns all over his body. Woodrugh does have a fun chemistry with Bezzerides, but is clearly the least effective officer in the story, and somehow feels like the most innocent to boot. Taylor Kitsch is effective in portraying a brooding cop with secrets, and is convincing as a lamb among wolves within the plot. Woodrugh feels more comfortable in the club among gay prostitutes than he does with his police peers working his case. That fact might become more important as we get further into the season.

Bezzerides continues to suck down her E-Cigarette as fast as she breaks up with her temporary fling from episode one. We don’t know enough about Bezzerides to understand the intrinsic motivation behind her personality, at least not the way we do for Frank and Ray. McAdams has a lot to offer the role, and genuinely seems tough enough to step into the ring with her male counterparts in scenes requiring tough guy cop dialogue. The question remains, what would compel Bezzerides to run into traffic after what is almost certainly NOT the killer? Her life debt to Velcoro now throws a serious wrench in her plans to expose him as a twisted cop.

Each character is actively working an angle aside from the murder case. Ray is working for Frank, Frank is working to start a family through the unnatural process of fertilization, Bezzerides is working Ray and Woodrugh is trying to establish an identity. We’re no closer to to getting to the bottom of the case, but it sure feels like we understand our core players much better than we did after episode one.

Episode Three

Rob Cordry has to be talked about first in response to this episode because I just can’t get enough of him in Ballers. Cordry has had a few roles in his career where he transcended both his cast-mates and the movie itself, Hot Tub Time Machine being the prominent example. He finds this niche again with Ballers because the role was so perfectly crafted for him. After finally achieving popularity at a yacht party he and Spencer (The Rock) threw to attract new clients, Cordry drops a hilariously unfortunate N-Bomb on the crowd and the good will comes crumbling down. Episode three of Ballers kept things really fun despite a temporary lull in the plot development.

Pill-popping Spencer is still trying to lure new clients, but mostly struggling to keep track of the ones he has. Receiver Ricky Jerret finds himself in a fight at practice after his J’s get soaked in ice water by team rival Alonzo (Antione Harris). To make matters considerably worse Ricky then gets involved sexually with Alonzo’s young mother, assuming that she was his wife. Spencer attempts damage control but his time is mostly consumed with handling his other new client, Vernon. Vernon’s buddy Reggie continues to resent Spencer’s involvement with Vernon and tries multiple time to get under Spencer’s skin, which ultimately leads to Spencer throwing Reggie across the party.

Episode three finally fulfilled the promises of the preseason trailers, with parties and naked girls alike. Once again, however, Director Pete Berg finds a way to insert an element of sadness and reality in the aggressive party scenes. Several players discuss their plans to spend money extravagantly but are repeatedly brought back down to earth by Spencer and Joe (Cordry) about the realities of financial management and how fast money can go.

Ballers won’t win any awards but for television fans of a certain ilk it is certainly a very fun 30 minute show. Dwayne Johnson delivers a really nice performance and provides a character for the audience to really pull for, not an especially easy task in a show like this. The writing and cast is strong enough to hold my interest for the rest of the season.

The Brink

I won’t be recapping The Brink any longer because it has reached flaming pile of garbage status. I will say that if you’re still awake after True Detective and Ballers, watching this show is a great way to fully appreciate the quality of the two programs preceding it. Keep in mind that HBO once passed on a little show called Mad Men, but paid money to have The Brink made…that is a head scratcher.

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