Miko Malabute | Monday, August 24, 2015
So as you may or may not have seen, I spent the better part of the past summer watching and reviewing the second season of “True Detective,” with all-star names like Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn. In a nutshell, it was very hit and miss — too often “miss” rather than “hit.” HBO usually has high standards for their weekly shows (“Game of Thrones” immediately comes to mind), so it was flat-out a disappointment that the second season of “True Detective” wasn’t something consistently better, especially for a show that prides itself on intricate plotlines, deep character development and witty dialogue.
So how does HBO make sure that their next show succeeds? Do the exact opposite of “True Detective.” Enter season one of “Ballers.” The show — starring Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) and Rob Corddry — not only seems to ignore, but glorifies their shallow plotlines, predictable character development and borderline corny dialogue.
But let me make one thing clear: I don’t write that to sound ironic or condescending. I absolutely love “Ballers.” The show follows Spencer Strasmore (Johnson) as a freshly retired NFL great converted to a financial manager and informal sports agent. He works closely with Joe Krutel (Corddry), who is also a financial advisor who originally brought Strasmore to their firm. Strasmore represents a link between the life of a professional athlete and life thereafter, and thus proves crucial to bringing in high-profile athletes to the firm.
Yet the show is far from number-crunching and contract negotiations. The show is about football and the lives of NFL athletes. Think “Hardknocks,” but a vastly exaggerated — and possibly even more exciting — rendition. Strasmore is still very close with two star NFL players: Dallas Cowboy Vernon (played by Donovan W. Carter) and, my personal favorite, Miami Dolphin Ricky Jerret. Both deal with drama on and off the field, and when rubber meets the road they turn to Strasmore and Krutel to help.
Vernon is the stereotypical athlete who is too nice for his own good. When he made it into the league, he didn’t hesitate to share his success with every single person from his circle. Needless to say, with the way he takes care of everyone, the money doesn’t last. He is in deep financial trouble while also trying to secure a new contract with the Cowboys. His closest advisor is his childhood friend and risky hothead Reggie. And this is all while he is blackmailed by a scandalous photo circulated on the internet.
Meanwhile, Jerret is the flashy superstar wherever he goes and he commands too much attention for his own good. He constantly finds himself with his foot in his mouth, stepping on his teammates’ and friends’ toes. Every now and again he finds himself in a fight, highlighted by his greatest confrontation with Miami Heat basketball player Chris “Birdman” Anderson. Jerret gets the last laugh when he chides Anderson, saying, “And YOU, LeBron did the right thing going back to Cleveland.” But deep down Jerret is a kind-hearted, sensitive soul. Charles Greene, another newly retired NFL player, rightly sums up Jerret as a “charmer.” As soon as you’re about done with him, he finds a way to pull you back in.
Greene, has some problems in his own right. He feels that he left his football career at “the right time,” with his head held high, body intact and right around the peak of his prowess. Yet throughout the course of the season, he wonders if he left too early — maybe there’s still some football left in his body.
The show is a lot of fun and doesn’t require any kind of critical thinking. But despite the shallow feel of the show, the characters are endearing and easily lovable, and the storylines all compelling. Plus, the acting — despite the sometimes corny dialogue — is pretty good, and the chemistry between all of the main characters is uncanny. If you haven’t managed to keep up with this first season, I strongly suggest you do, whether or not you’re a fan of football.