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Review: Ballers

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Sunday nights are less entertaining now that Ballers has concluded its first season on HBO. The 30-minute show about a fictional former football player Spencer Strasmore, portrayed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who does everything and anything shy of Jerry Maguire office phone screaming to fix things for his clients. Strasmore is an agent that handles the financial side of top-tiered athletes’ money…drawing from his own experience (or lack thereof) as a pro in managing his cheddar. Agents usually have a “sucking up” or “crumminess” public perception about them; therefore, Strasmore’s Captain America physique and attitude is balanced out by his partner agent Joe Krutel. Rob Corddry’s performance of Krutel makes Ballers more of a buddy comedy than just The Rock as the standalone star.

Leveraging Athletes and Public Opinion

Ballers does a good job of exploring the world of what it must be like to fix what happens when athletes have lapses in judgement. We’ve all seen the press conferences and interviews when the microphones are shoved in front of our athletes’ faces. Allen Iverson and “practice” comes to mind. The words, “TMZ footage” makes agents and public relations reps cringe when it involves high-profile athletes. It makes for some great entertainment, but what we don’t see are the people behind-the-scenes scrambling around to fix situations and hoping that the athletes stick to a pre-planned script. The world that Ballers now captures has drastically changed from what Cameron Crowe conveyed back in 1996 in Jerry Maguire and Rod Tidwell. Smartphones, social media…it’s about protecting athletes from today’s very heavily scrutinized world.

Real NFL Athletes and the Media Around Them

Much like Jerry Maguire and more recently, Draft Day, Ballers is able to connect to us with the use of NFL teams and logos. This is incredibly important for us, the audience, to connect to the show’s realism and authenticity. The Ballers universe is located in Miami, which means that legendary NFL Coach Don Shula will show up. NFL players like DeSean Jackson, Antonio Brown, and Steven Jackson portray themselves to lend credibility to the show. Victor Cruz actually does more than just a cameo as he appears multiple times as someone who is being wooed by the team of Strasmore and Krutel. Recognizable media covering the NFL, Mark Schlereth and Jay Glazer, also lend a helping hand. With Mark Wahlberg as an Executive Producer, these cameos are similar to how his other HBO show – Entourage – where mixing real celebrities with the fictitious Ballers story makes for an appealing 30 minutes of television.

The Other Hits

Acting performances are on point. Dwayne Johnson has gotten better and better since“Haku Machente!” in his 1992 debut in Mummy Returns. Much like his character Strasmore, The Rock stays within his lane and capitalizes on the charm and charisma that’s made him loved by the millions (and millions) of fans. Did we really need to see The People’s Butt though in that finale?

Johnson is supported with a great cast that not only includes the previously mentioned Rob Corddry, but brings in great support by Omar Miller (Charles Greane), Troy Garity (Jason), John David Washington (Ricky Jerret), and Donovan Carter (Vernon). West Wing veterans Dule Hill and Richard Schiff round out the second level of support. Collectively, the cast is an impressive one.

The Missed Tackles

There’s not much that’s missing in Ballers except we wish we had more time with the engaging stories. 30 minutes and 10-episode seasons are consistent with the HBO formula laid out by Entourage. The only real issue is a much better release cycle during the year. Maybe the show can air to take advantage of all of the NFL activities (pre-season and Fantasy Football) so that more fans who can’t get enough NFL are turning in. Ballers has been renewed for a second season. With that, we hope the show’s creators will evolve Strasmore’s character further and can’t wait to see how they take their game to the next level.

Overall: A-

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