Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) is a retired football superstar who is trying to reinvent himself as a financial manager for current players in sun-soaked Miami. His inner circle includes Ricky (John David Washington, former pro-football player), a talented but volatile wide receiver who seeks to balance his off-field antics with his passion for the game; Charles (Omar Miller), a reluctantly retired lineman who's finding it hard to adjust to civilian life; and Vernon (Donovan Carter), a player with a rookie contract, whose promise never to forget "where he came from" brings scores of hangers-on into his life, and lands him in big financial trouble. Though they're pros when it comes to playing the game, each one has a harder time navigating life off the field.
Other series regulars include Troy Garity, Rob Corddry, London Brown and Jazmyn Simon. Ballers was created by Stephen Levinson (Boardwalk Empire, Entourage); executive produced by Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, Peter Berg, Evan Reilly, Rob Weiss, Julian Farino, Denis Biggs; and co-executive produced by Hiram Garcia.
‘Ballers’ desperately wants to be HBO’s next ‘Entourage,’ even though ‘How to Make it in America’ already tried that and failed miserably. ‘Ballers’ might have a better shot though. It’s got the star power and charisma of Dwayne Johnson packed into a half-hour HBO comedy slot. It’s a show about adolescent dudes who have too much money and not enough brains. So, you know, it’s got the whole ‘Entourage’ formula nailed down.
‘Ballers’ stars Johnson as retired NFL player Spencer Strasmore. He enjoyed an illustrious career in the league and is now looking to reinvent himself into a player’s agent of sorts. Not the kind of agent that negotiates contracts with teams, but the kind of agent that manages player wealth, buys off blackmailers, babysits 20-somethings with too much money. He’s the guy players call when there’s nowhere else to turn. Because, as you might suspect, the fictional NFL players portrayed on the show can’t stop getting into trouble.
Ricky Jarret (John David Washington) is one such head case. A veteran who’s been passed around the league and is looking to clean up his image while playing for the Miami Dolphins. Only he’s not quite sure how to clean up something so dirty. Jarret owns a “playhouse,” which is essentially another mansion filled to the brim with topless women and dudes who smoke weed all day. See what I mean? ‘Entourage,’ right?
Rob Corddry as Spencer’s partner Joe is a nice fit for the cast. Corddry is the right kind of manic and he fits well next to the calm and cool demeanor that is the Rock. Joe frequently flies off the handle. He’s basically the Johnny Drama character. A character who is too wrapped up in himself to understand just how pitiful he really is. Corddry is perfect for the part.
The problem with ‘Ballers’ comes when every episode feels a tad too much like the last. This makes the show easy to binge watch, but it doesn’t provide a whole lot of conflict. Johnson does try to provide some dramatic acting to the otherwise ridiculous proceedings. There’s a subplot in which Spencer is scared that he may have contracted lasting brain damage while playing football. However, that conflict never feels all that encompassing. It’s a storyline that could possibly drive the show with an emotional undercurrent, but it’s left to waver and is then forgotten almost completely.
There is a sort of heartwarming story about retired player Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller) who, refreshingly, acts like a grown-up – most of the time. Greane is enjoying a quiet life at home, however, he’s jonesing to get back on the field. As was always the case with ‘Entourage’ the story always steers toward the characters succeeding rather than dealing with any real, lasting effects. So it’s not surprising when Greane receives a call from the Dolphins to come train with them because one of their players coincidentally got hurt.
‘Ballers’ is juvenile, but in a passably agreeable way. Though after a while it becomes tedious to watch these rich sycophants traipse around Miami blowing through money, driving expensive cars, and drinking expensive drinks. Also, you can only watch so many bro-shows where men act like dummies and women seem to exist simply for window dressing, before you’ve had enough. Of course I’m speaking for myself here. I’d be lying if I said I found ‘Ballers’ boring or unengaging. It just seems like more of the same and never offers much in the way of freshness to HBO’s comedic slate.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 2-disc set consisting of two 50GB Blu-rays. It also comes with a code for an iTunes or UltraViolet Digital Copy. Finally, a standard slipcover is provided.
HBO usually produces great looking transfers when they bring their shows to Blu-ray and the 1080p presentation of ‘Ballers’ is no exception. Bathed in the south Florida sun, the picture is awash in strong colors and slightly oversaturated tones.
The sun-drenched visuals offer up an expected yellowish tinged picture that provides that sleek, faux look that pairs well with Miami Beach. It looks like a Michael Bay shoot. Or a Peter Berg shoot (he’s one of the producers and directs the first episode). Every color comes off just a little on the hot side. Whites are a tad blown out. Skin tones are just this side of unnatural looking. Again, this isn’t anything you haven’t seen in films and TV shows that cook in Florida’s sun. If you watched ‘Burn Notice,’ then that’s a good comparison.
Detail is extremely well represented here. I felt like I could see every vein in Johnson’s arms whenever he was shirtless. The greenery of the Sunshine State is well-defined with trees, bushes, and artificial turf appearing lifelike. Black areas are nicely deep too. There’s nothing to complain about here. It’s a technically proficient video presentation.
As is expected ‘Ballers’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is decidedly front-heavy. Voices are the main focus here and they’re presented with clarity. There aren’t a whole lot of scenes where tricky sound effects are needed. So, the strength of this mix is performing the fundamentals flawlessly.
There are numerous club scenes that do feature some full-bodied surround sound. These scenes are also welcomed by the sub-woofer, which gets to crank out some thumping hip-hop bass. A few scenes on the football field offer some hard-hitting tackling effects, but those are very few and far between. There’s not much actual football ever seen in the show.
It’s a decent mix that does what it’s supposed to do. It provides clean dialogue and on occasion dabbles in more active scenes that require more than a few channels to be firing at once.
Inside the Episodes (HD) – Each episode gets a roughly 2-minute snippet from executive producer Evan Reilly and various members of the cast.
It’s not HBO’s best show by any means. If you’re looking for a vapid show to fill that space left by the equally vapid ‘Entourage’ then you’re in luck. Johnson is great, as always. He just knows how to command a presence. This release as strong HBO-produce audio and video. I would say that ‘Ballers’ is worth a look if you’re at all interested in it.