Ballers is actually HBO’s second TV show focused on the world of Football. The original HBO venture was 1st and Ten it was a football sitcom, and lasted six seasons. Unlike 1st and Ten I highly doubt that Ballers will get six seasons. It’s not a terrible show by any stretch, but if you compare it to the rest of HBO’s catalog the first episode doesn’t really impress.
Dwayne Johnson is often times an over the top action hero, who looks like he could tear a building down with his bare hands. Watch the Fast and The Furious franchise, or Pain & Gain to see him play an insane muscle bound lunatic. With Ballers however he somehow manages to be a really likeable, and understated presence. He still has all of the muscle, but now it’s covered up with a nice suit, and a calm attitude. Early in the pilot we see him wake up in the morning momentarily wincing from a prior injury, and throughout the rest of the episode you believe that this is a character masking his pain. This was a big surprise, as I was expecting more of the same from Johnson. The show is anchored by a great performance, but suffers from a somewhat lackluster supporting cast.
Everyone who isn’t Johnson really kind of blends into the background and is incredibly bland. The blandness is even more exemplified by their sheer unlikeability. HBO is the king of unlikable characters leading their shows, but this time it just doesn’t quite work. The only characters asides from Johnson that I actually enjoyed were Omar Benson Miller who plays the one ex-football star not cheating on his wife, and Rob Corddry who plays Johnson’s over the top boss. Omar known as “Charles Greane” on the show has an interesting arc in the pilot, and has a unique status quo for the future getting a job as a car salesman. Rob Corddry is the absolute epitome of his sleasy acting prowess, but like most of the show so far we’ve seen Corddry play this exact role in countless other TV shows.
The worst thing about Ballers is how it retreads ground covered already much better on other HBO shows. We watched the Sopranos cheat on their wives, lose money, and get bailed out. We’ve seen unlikable stars try to deal with being famous, causing controversy, and dealing with agents in Entourage (which coincidentally has the same creator as Ballers). Not every show has to deal with some new and exciting hook, but if you are going to use a tired TV trope do it amazing, or don’t do it at all. True Detective is an example of taking an overused concept “Buddy Cops” and taking it into a new groundbreaking territory. I’m going to continue to watch Ballers for one sole reason Dwayne The Rock Johnson. Lets just hope the rest of the cast can live up to his amazing performance.