Summer 2015 Review: Ballers

22 Jun


Ballers is created by Steve Levinson, one of the executive producers of Entourage, and it’s executively produced by Mark Wahlberg. It’s already becoming somewhat trite to simply call Ballers Entourage for sports, but it’s also not really wrong. If you’ve seen one trailer, if you’ve heard one thing about this show, or if you’ve seen any of Entourage, well, you probably don’t need to hear any further; you know exactly what this show is, and either feel like watching it or don’t need to waste your time. However, if you haven’t, here we go.

Entourage, a show that ended a mere four years ago (but to be fair, had been losing steam for a couple seasons before that), has come in for some piñata treatment from critics everywhere this year due to its spin-off feature film, highlighting the fact that the show seems crazily dated considering it existed so recently. The levels of misogyny and general male-fantasy fulfillment were among the top reasons for its negative critical reexamination, but Entourage had other issues as well. This being considered, it seems strange that HBO, either unaware of this, or having not watched a whole lot of Entourage since its conclusion, would come back to the team behind it for more. Entourage, which is worth remembering, certainly had its positive qualities as well, and if Ballers could harness what made Entourage a fun, breezy half hour that was a welcome break during an era of uber-serious hour long anti-hero driven dramas, while attending to Entourage’s flaws, it could be on to something. Unfortunately, it simply repeats Entourage, warts and all, without learning anything from its predecessor.

Duane Johnson stars as a former football player whose career was suddenly ended before he could realize it, and he’s trying to recover and find direction in retirement as a money manager of athletes who don’t have any idea how to handle their money. If there’s any chance of this show rising above the sports Entourage cliché, it’s on the back of the always charismatic Johnson, who you’d be hard pressed to find a bad word said about anywhere. The rest of the cast consists of another retired player with no plans, who gets a job as a car salesman, a quick-to-temper wide receiver Johnson is trying to help out, Johnson’s old agent and current friend, and Rob Corrdry as Johnson’s kind of asshole-ish co-worker.

Oh, and about the women problem. This was so expected, and while everything else is easy to mock from Entourage, this was probably the single most problematic aspect of the show, and Ballers doesn’t look like they’ve given this any thought. Ballers has one potentially strong women character, the retired football player-turned-car-dealer’s wife, who seems to have a pretty solid head on her shoulders and the actual respect of her husband. The woman who the Rock is sleeping with might be a PR person, or something, I’m unclear on that, but we saw her as much naked as non-naked in this episode. Otherwise, women of course are sex objects. It’s deeply disappointing that Ballers didn’t have a feel of the zeitgeist and try to remedy this problem. It’s a football show – no one is expecting there to be an equal amount of male and female characters, realistically. But, you know, they could try, a little.

Will I watch it again? No. I did watch all of Entourage, and for all I generally agree with the criticisms of the show, I’m not sorry I did. This does make me wonder if I would though if I started the show today.

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