“If it drives, flies, floats or f*cks…lease it!” First Season Review of HBO’s Ballers


The Razz this week takes on the more entertaining side of the NFL – literally a TV show about the NFL:

I came to Ballers late in the game. I needed some background noise for a hot Sunday filled with cooking and cleaning, but by episode 3, “Move the Chains” which involved a very elaborate yacht party, there was no more cleaning happening in my apartment. I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve waited up past my bedtime on Sundays to catch Dwayne formerly-known-as-the-Rock Johnson strut around and smile in tight-fitting suits as Spencer Strassmore, a successful and beloved former NFL player who is trying to make it as a financial advisor to young players who don’t know anything about life, let alone about managing their money. Spencer suffers from headaches and nightmares about some of the hits he dealt out and received in the NFL, and frequently pops what one can only assume are pain pills in order to deal with the daily stresses of chasing after 22-year-old millionaires.

The good-
1. This is the role the Rock was born to play. In some of his campier roles (Race to Witch Mountain, The Tooth Fairy), Johnson’s size makes his seem like a monster in comparison to the regular-sized actors he’s working with. And in his more action-y roles (Hercules, G.I. Joe), his pretty face and very white teeth give him away as not being as tough as an action hero should be. In Ballers, his size, swagger, tribal tattoos and that irresistible smile are right at home with all the pro athletes and beautiful people in bright sexy Miami. As my good friend @nicole_go tweeted: “It could just be reels of Duane The Rock Johnson eating steak in a suit and I’d still watch it.”
2. While not always fully explored (hard to do in a 30 minute show that often focuses on big boats, bimbos and blow instead of character development), some of the characters in Ballers are so great that it’s impossible not to root for them. My favorite is the duo of Charles (Omar Benson Miller), a giant former offensive lineman who retired from the game early in order to avoid injury and his wife Julie (Jazmyn Simon) or as Charles puts it “a fine-ass wife who always wanna smash.”  Julie is supportive of Charles’ decision to retire but refuses to let him sit around and get fat on the couch. When he lands the ultra-unglamorous job of schilling Chevys at a local dealership, she is genuinely excited for him. Even when she discovers some nudie pics Charles has been unwillingly receiving, she lets him escape to a friends’ “funhouse” and then drags him back home where he belongs. These two have the best on-screen chemistry. They are the ultimate #relationshipgoals.
3. The opening song for this show is “Right Above It” by Lil Wayne and Drake and the rest of the music for the show follows suit. If you love tacky 2000’s era hip-hop, and also want to see the Rock sing along to Taylor Swift, this is the show for you.

The bad –
The criticisms I’ve seen of this show often compare it to Entourage, another HBO comedy of excess. I’m mid-season 2 of Entourage currently, so I can’t make a totally accurate judgement, but I see the similarities. It’s centered around a main character and his sidekicks, high jinx ensue involving fake boobs, fistfights and Ferraris, and at the end of every episode, everyone’s conflicts are resolved and everyone is still very, very rich. However, Ballers has one thing that Entourage doesn’t have – Dwayne Johnson. He’s charming, he’s flawed, and he is capable of showing emotion (unlike Adrian Brody in Entourage who is more boring than cardio). Johnson is capable of making this role more nuanced than the script is currently allowing him, and I believe this show could really take on the hard-hitting issues, like the long-term effects of brain trauma on professional football players. The first season never really allows him to show his full range as an actor, only bits and pieces that get wrapped up neatly in a bow at the end of each episode. There’s so much more good material to be explored on this side of the NFL that we rarely get to see.

The ugly –
At its best, Ballers is fun as hell, the most entertaining high-budget television around. At its worst (like the season finale), its painfully boring and safe, and not giving nearly enough credit to its very talented cast. A second season has been confirmed, so let’s hope they can up the stakes emotionally.


In case you haven’t watched yet and need something to do on a Saturday afternoon when your team is on a bye-week, I’ve developed a Ballers season 1 drinking game for your amusement:

Take a drink any time anyone makes a comment about how Spencer is dressed.
Take a drink anytime Spencer’s outfit shows off his tribal tattoos.
Take a drink anytime Spencer’s girlfriend Tracy (Arielle Kebbel) is way sexier than she was in John Tucker Must Die.
Take a drink anytime Ricky mentions his dad.
Take a bong rip for any drug use shown.
Take a shot any time Spencer is popping pills like Tic-Tacs and chewing them in a way that makes you uncomfortable.
Take a shot anytime someone is shown having sex someplace other than a bed.
Take a shot any time anyone is driving a car that costs more than you make in a year.

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