TV Review: Ballers, Season 1, Episode 1
PLOT: A former quarterback-turned money manager struggles to acclimate to his new high-finance world while staying loyal to his NFL pals, all of whom heís now encouraged to look at as commodities.
REVIEW: Lots of folks are saying Dwayne Johnsonís Ballers is going to be the next Entourage. Not a knock on that show (which certainly has its fans) but even after only sampling the pilot itís clear the folks behind Ballers have somewhat loftier goals. While Iíd still categorize it as a comedy, there are a lot of serious issues at play in Ballers, namely how pro-athletes frequently wind-up dead broke when their careers are over, either the victims of unscrupulous money managers or their own immaturity (no one is left off the hook here).
Despite his job as a money manager, Johnsonís Spencer Strasmore is as desperate as the guys youíd see in a documentary like Billy Corbenís BROKE. Too old and too battered to play, Spencer has one ace up his sleeve, and thatís his extreme charm and charisma. Johnsonís ideal casting, in that not only does he fit the role to a tee, but his marquee name value will likely help further breakdown that feature/tv wall, with him getting to show more chops as an actor here than heís ever been allowed to on the big screen.
While you might assume that money managers and agents would be depicted as cutthroat and unscrupulous, Ballers doesnít play to that clichť. The agent character, played by BOSSí Troy Garity, is shown to be a good guy, while side-characters like Rob Corddryís coke-addled money guy are played for laughs, although Iím convinced something more sinister may go down with him as the show goes on. While desperately trying to make himself solvent, Johnsonís wheeler-dealer is as honest as they come, with him jockeying the best he can to make sure his clients Ė who are his friends from his pro-ball days Ė get the best value they can for their athletic prowess. That includes protecting them from themselves, with the first episode focusing on a self-destructive player (John David Washington) whoís burning bridges left-and-right and about to get bounced from the league.
As in life, the players themselves take a lot of the blame for their own financial ruin, with the show opening with the death of a former player who was so busy buying trinkets for his side-ladies that his death leaves his wife and kids penniless. A young draft-pick, who just got a multi-million dollar signing bonus is shown as dead broke, having spent all of his money on keeping his leech friends living in luxury. Spencerís best friend (Omar Benson Miller) is so broke that heís unable to hold a job or support his family Ė being a normal guy who just never planned for the future assuming his career would never end.
Yet, despite the very real financial devastation it depicts, Ballers is still funny and glamorous, depicting the good-life the athletes benefit from, including random hook-ups in bathrooms, fancy toys and more. In this way itís a bit like Entourage, but if the show is able to sustain the momentum of the pilot, this may well end up being much, much better.