Scott F. Evans
It’s short-sighted to call HBO’s new comedy series Ballers some form of ‘Entourage on the Gridiron.’ Sure there are similarities. The shows share a network and are produced by the same company. And yes, they both showcase the lives of the rich and shameless. But where Entourage hammers viewers over the head with how awesome white male privilege is within the entertainment industry, Ballers shows us the other side of fame and wealth.
The show stars Dwayne Johnson as Spencer Strassmore, a retired player turned financial advisor. Ballers is a good showcase for Johnson. He gets to be an actual human being here and not another one of the larger-than-life characters he normally plays in feature films. Johnson has always had loads of charisma and a strong screen presence. But with Ballers, he gets to truly act. The show is built around him, and he carries it with relative ease.
Rob Corddry co-stars as Joe, Strassmore’s partner at Anderson Financial. Corddry is funny, and plays it fairly broad. Sometimes he goes a bit too far in that direction, and feels like he’s part of a different program. But so far he’s kept to the show’s edges and isn’t too much of a distraction. Omar Benson Miller plays Charles Greane, another recently retired player. In many ways Miller is the heart of Ballers. We watch him struggle with being a car salesman who misses the game and the glamorous life that comes with it. John David Washington rounds out the supporting cast as Ricky Jerret, a spoiled star player who cannot get his personal life together. Washington is decent, and gives Jerret just enough charisma and humanity to keep viewers rooting for him (even though he doesn’t really deserve it).
Four episodes in, and without a doubt the shows biggest weakness is the use of actual athletes in several key and minor roles. They’re not actors, and it shows. Ballers is about football players, so having real players pop up occasionally might actually add authenticity. But watching them struggle to deliver lines with any semblance of talent is distracting, sometimes to the point of frustration.
Despite that, it’s worth your time to give Ballers a shot. It’s only a half hour, and it doesn’t insult your intelligence or beat you over the head with its opulence. Plus, Dwayne Johnson is actually putting in the work to become a better actor, one role at a time. And his effort is evident on this particular playing field.