Free Ballers: Tune in for ‘The Rock’ Charm Prepared to Party


By all accounts, Dwayne Johnson is a nice guy. A behemoth, granted, and one that I’d never want to piss off, as any self-respecting, self-preservationist is wanton to do when encountering someone nicknamed “The Rock.”

Still, despite his abnormally huge biceps, Johnson merely needs to flash his pearly whites and the crowd applauds and the children (and women) clamor to his side for an autograph, something he grew familiar with as a prep and college football star, then under the bright lights of WWE and, now, as a bona fide Hollywood A-lister.

Those same qualities radiate in HBO’s Ballers, which is set to conclude Season 1 – or, as some would call it, Season 9 of Entourage – this Sunday.

Set mostly in Miami’s South Beach, a predictable East Coast alternative for creator Stephen Levinson to the Beverly Hills of his and co-executive producer Mark Wahlberg’s Hollywood predecessor, Johnson plays Spencer Strasmore, a recently retired NFL star who suddenly realizes he’s on the verge of bankruptcy, financially and morally. He turns to the money-grubbing, heavy-partying arms of his former financial manager (Rob Corddry) for a job with is firm with the promise of bringing into the fold some of his big-name NFL friends and their even bigger wallets.

Amid all this, of course, are plenty of fast cars and faster women. There’s actually very little football except for a scene here and there on the practice field. But that doesn’t seem to be the point. Like Entourage, which showed relatively little of on-scene filming during its eight seasons but instead focused on the party-fueled lifestyle and excess of the entertainment industry, Ballers is more about the good time than it is about social commentary on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in football or the rampant infidelity of superstar athletes. Sure, the show touches on these subjects but only with a brush in the dark. At only 30 minutes, Ballers instead focuses on string bikinis, mansions and out of control foam parties.

Not to say that these things don’t happen, because they definitely do. But the show, not unlike The Wolf of Wall Street, glances over the deeper issues and relegates the plot to vicarious living for the audience. And with the demographic Ballers is going after, namely 18- to 35-year-old males, believe me I get it. What 20-something, single guy (or 40-something and married with two kids, a house payment and two car notes, for that matter) doesn’t dream of being ushered through the VIP line to the booth with bottles popping and the ladies rocking?

Ballers is what it is, but it could be much more, and Johnson does his part. Not surprisingly, his over-the-hill, yet extremely likable character Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) is trying hard to be a good man for a change. He sets to look out for the best interests of his friends/clients Vernon (Donovan W. Carter), a defensive star aiming high for a new contract despite the best efforts of his arrogant sidekick, and Ricky Jarrett (John David Washington – yeah, Denzel’s son), who is in the twilight of his career and trying to make a difference on the field and off but who can’t seem to get out of his own way. Last week, he even tries to make amends with the opponent (Michael Cudlitz) who he knocked out of the NFL several seasons ago with a vicious hit.

Unfortunately, like in Entourage, we don’t see enough extended drama aside from ongoing contract negotiations and the knowledge that the superstars will once again colossally screw up so Spencer can once again come to the rescue. We’ll have to see what’s in store for Sunday’s season finale, as we are teased that Spencer has an important decision to make. Is it joining Joe (Corddry) to start their own firm? Is he taking his relationship with Tracy (Arielle Kebbel) to the next level? In the end it doesn’t really matter, because if you’ve been watching thus far you’ll still tune in.

Let’s face it, you tuned in to Ballers to vicariously live the NFL party life and see what “The Rock” is cooking. It’s mostly lukewarm, but it still satisfies.

About Ryan Gray

An award-winning, professionally and academically trained journalist. I'm a reporter and editor of news, business, sports, and entertainment and manager of the entire production process for print, online and multimedia/interactive for my company. I drive our brands and those of our clients via storytelling and audience engagement. I also direct curriculum development for related conferences and provide quality assurance on all projects and facilitate teamwork throughout the company and convert traffic and readership into dollars. In my spare time I enjoy music, playing with my daughter, blogging and consuming great TV shows and films. Specialties: News/feature reporting, editorial direction, editorial production management, video direction, multimedia, blogging, content marketing strategy, social media, editing/proofreading, page layout, HTML, public relations, photography/videography

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