August 24, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Ballers”


The ratings for BALLERS have more than justified its renewal by HBO, but the pieces of the series have yet to fit together.  Most of the show’s creative team hails from Entourage, and Ballers embraces the same bimbos-and-bling lifestyle porn and breezy pace, but having Dwayne Johnson as its central attraction has proved to be a bit of a mixed blessing.  Johnson is an honest-to-god movie star who can handle genial comedy and also has dramatic chops, and he gives Ballers a center of gravity that Adrian Grenier could never have hoped to do on Entourage.  (Plus he’s completely believable as a former NFL star, while a universe where Vinny Chase was anchoring blockbuster movies never made sense.)  The downside is that every scene Ballers spends with characters other than Johnson’s Spencer Strasmore feels like downtime.  None of the other leads–clients of Spencer’s financial services business, rather than lifelong bros as on Entourage–register strongly.  (The female regulars, all wives and girlfriends, are barely characters at all, another similarity with Entourage.)

Another frustration of Ballers is that the scripts constantly suggested that something important was going to happen to the characters, but nothing ever did.  For a while, Spencer was putting off his MRI, fearing that his years in pro football had given him concussion damage–but he was just fine.  Then there was his guilt about smashing into another player so badly that the man never played again–but no problem, a pair of free tickets for him and his boy to see a Marlins game, and all was forgiven.  Vernon (Donovan W. Carter) was caught in a compromising video while in the midst of contract negotiations–Spencer took care of it.  Ricky (John David Washington) had deep-seated resentments about the father who’d deserted him as a child–by the time they finished lunch, the two were buds.  Charles (Omar Miller) was fumbling with his post-football life–but not for long, since by the end of the season he was back with the Dolphins.  The world of pro sports is a hugely promising venue for the kind of no-holds-barred stories HBO can tell, but like the Hollywood of Entourage, this one has no consequences.

The sense of weightlessness carried into tonight’s season finale, written by series creator Stephen Levinson and fellow Executive Producer Evan Reilly, and directed by Julian Farino.  The central plotline had Spencer’s partner Joe (Rob Corddry), more experienced at finance than Spencer but also more irresponsible, fired by their boss Anderson (Richard Schiff), and Spencer supposedly forced to decide whether to take the promotion offered to him and let Joe founder, or struggle with Joe to build their own business without Anderson’s capital.  But once again, Spencer managed to have his cake and eat it, convincing Anderson to rehire Joe while still keeping his big new office and speedboat.  It’s not that every comedy needs to be dark, but if a show is going to play with the possibility of dark plot developments, eventually one of them has to come true, or the risks lose all credibility.

Ballers is amiable, and it provides the chance to look behind the scenes of a glamorous profession, as well as a weekly forum to watch Johnson be his magnetic self.  So far, though, it’s all too happy to play in the minor leagues.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."