Here’s the problem with Ballers – not enough happens in each episode. Like its predecessor Entourage (both shows are/were produced by some of the same people including Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Rob Weiss, and Denis Biggs) these episodes are full of high-wattage stars, flashy cars, dialogue that holds nothing back, trendy clothes and restaurants, and big money which of course is fun. However, each episode is so incredibly short (usually 27 minutes) that hardly anything transpires and most of them end abruptly.
Unlike Entourage, which focused on the main four friends and Ari Gold, there are too many people in the cast of Ballers and most of them are unnecessary. Dwayne Johnson is fantastic as Spencer Strasmore – a former professional football player turned money manager – who has a serious painkiller problem and a sketchy past that includes some financial messiness he’s trying to clean up. Clearly Johnson looks the part as he is a former Miami Hurricane who helped the University of Miami win the 1991 national championship (GO CANES!), played for the Canadian Football League for a short time, and obviously did his time as “The Rock.” Fun fact: If someone out there doesn’t believe Johnson played football they can check out the opening credits where old school Hurricane footage of him is used.
Anyway, back to acting. Johnson steals every scene he’s in whether his character is trying to keep his cool while talking to former football rivals, advising current NFL players on why they should listen to him and not be greedy derelicts, sweet-talking doctors into giving him more pills instead of having the hip surgery he needs, or dealing with NFL coaches and managers who want to keep their players out of trouble. Spencer is more than a financial advisor – he’s a life advisor for clients like wide receiver Ricky Jerret (played by John David Washington aka son of Denzel) who is talented but conflicted which makes him a huge pain in the ass.
There are a handful of other athletes who are or become Spencer’s clients but so far their storylines are boring – except the redneck Florida State University (love the UM/FSU rivalry jab) player who decides it’s a good idea to skip the NFL Scouting Combine. As much as I like Omar Miller as Charles Greane, a former Miami Dolphins player in limbo about his next careers move, Donovan W. Carter as Vernon Littlefield, a current NFL player who seems to take care of everyone and their mother financially, and Dulé Hill as Larry Siefert, the Miami Dolphins GM, they are treated as extraneous characters. And they shouldn’t be. Why? Because they bring authenticity to the show by representing real issues that surround the NFL, its management, and its players.
The other two interesting characters are Spencer’s partner, Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry aka “The Violator” from Hot Tub Time Machine) who, because he is the perfect comedic yin to Spencer’s yang, I wish got more screen time. I feel the same way about sports agent Jason Antolotti (Troy Garity aka the son of Jane Fonda) who is levelheaded but tough, and not afraid to get in anyone’s face when it comes to closing a deal.
So what needs to happen to elevate this show from good to great? Maybe make it an hour each week instead of just shy of 30 minutes? I like Andy Garcia as a business rival who apparently knows where all of Spencer’s skeletons are buried, but, once again, bringing in more characters means they need more time to be developed and explored. We’re six episodes into a 10-episode season and I feel like all that’s happened is Ricky’s father came out of the woodwork after 30 years, Spencer’s girlfriend (can’t even remember her name she was so unnecessary) moved away, Vernon put his career in jeopardy by injuring himself playing paintball, and the Everglades nutjob from FSU is too stupid to take advice from seasoned veterans who know more than he does about succeeding in the NFL.
On July 28, Ballers was renewed for a third season but we all know that sometimes those renewal announcements are premature (i.e. Vinyl) so it will be interesting to see what happens. Entourage ran for eight seasons and then was followed by a movie four years later. Hopefully Wahlberg and company realize that Ballers needs fewer characters and more time to flesh out the central people because the show is already pretty entertaining but has a lot of potential to be better. Also, who doesn’t love a good story about the glitz and glam of a sports town like Miami?